Calmer jingle bells: reduce holiday stress in your restaurant

Two chefs plating oysters and other food
Two chefs plating oysters and other food
Photo: Rene Asmussen

Cosy streets with sparkling Christmas lights, Wham on every playlist, and knitted sweaters with red-nosed reindeer. We’ve almost arrived at that magical time of the year. December is a lovely and busy time. But it’s also a time when the risk of stress increases for restaurant workers. We’ve put together a list of things that can help you and your team combat holiday stress.

The Holiday season is a good time to attract more guests with Christmas and New Year’s events. A busy December is great for your restaurant’s revenue. Nevertheless, it’s important to pay attention to each other and to do what you can to reduce harmful holiday stress. A successful restaurant is only successful when the teams running the show behind the scenes are feeling ready to meet the daily challenges.

Let’s look at some strategies you can use to protect yourself and your busy restaurant team in the upcoming holiday season!

Symptoms of holiday stress

According to NHS stress can appear as a wide variety of symptoms. Sometimes stress affects your body and other times your mental well-being. But many times it’s a combination of physical and emotional issues. During the holiday season, it’s especially important to pay attention to these signs. The earlier stress is noticed and handled the better. This is because long-term stress can cause serious damage to a person’s health, and prevent them from working and enjoying life.

Physical stress symptom

Emotional stress symptoms

Stress can also change the way someone behaves. Maybe you notice that one of your coworkers suddenly seems to be angry more often. Or perhaps they don’t feel like talking during breaks. Stress could be the reason for these changes.

Behavioural changes caused by stress

Pinpoint holiday stressors in your restaurant’s workflow

Preventing holiday stress is better than having to deal with it in the rush of busy days. If you manage a restaurant, you might roll your eyes at the thought of entirely avoiding stressful situations. We’re aware that that’s never going to be possible in the restaurant industry. It is and always will be a fast-paced work environment. That’s something most people who apply for a job in a restaurant are aware of before they start. But even in a fast-paced workplace, it makes good sense to improve things to avoid stressful situations. Why feel bad if changing things here and there can make things better?

Sometimes we feel safe and fine about our “good old” routines. That’s common in all situations and all aspects of life. But it can be an unfortunate approach if the old routine leads to more stress. Looking at a workflow and its routines with fresh eyes makes it possible to notice pitfalls and potential stressors.

Do you have enough staff for the busy days?

A chef plating dishes in a restaurant kitchen
Photo: Sebastian Coman

European restaurants have been battling understaffing in 2022. During the holidays, when your restaurant is hosting everything from family gatherings to large company Christmas parties, not having enough hands can lead to chaotic situations. If a restaurant team is overwhelmed by tasks, team members are at a bigger risk of experiencing holiday stress.

Often these situations can be prevented by having a clear plan and schedule in good time before the holiday rush.

Restaurant guests also experience holiday stress

It can often seem like December is a time with more demanding and difficult guests. If that’s the case in your restaurant it’s good to keep in mind that holiday stress affects guests as well. Having to deal with unreasonable demands from guests is always a challenge, but it does help to know that they’re not being difficult because you’re doing something wrong.

Prepare your staff for difficult situations, and remind them to always keep calm. Knowing that you can vent to your colleagues about these situations is a big help.

Some strategies for dealing with difficult guest situations:

Listen: What a complaining guest wants more than anything is to feel heard. Listen and let them speak out, even when they’re demanding something that’s far from reasonable.

Body language: Something as subtle as folded arms can be perceived as an annoyance by an unhappy guest. It’s absolutely fine if you don’t agree with them. Just stand there and listen, and let them know you’re taking their feedback seriously.

Pay attention to your tone: Keep your tone neutral and friendly. Remember you can take a deep breath and vent to your coworkers very soon.

A smilig waitress serving a cup of coffee to a guest
Photo: Andrea Piacquad

Keep holiday stress at bay with short staff meetings

During a busy holiday rush, it’s easy to forget staff meetings. Maybe they even feel like a waste of time when you have a million other things to do. Nevertheless, a short staff meeting where team members have the opportunity to voice their thoughts can help prevent holiday stress. Forgetting a staff meeting means that someone who is unhappy will feel this way for a longer time. Additionally, just knowing that one’s thoughts and opinions are welcome makes someone feel more appreciated

A short 10-15 minute meeting might be enough. Aim for the same day and time every week, so staff members can prepare themselves mentally before the meeting.

If it’s not possible to gather everyone at the same meeting you can split the meeting into two sessions.

Pay attention to coworkers and to yourself

Have our list of stress symptoms in mind during the holidays. If a coworker starts showing symptoms have a chat with them. Maybe you can’t do anything here and now, but the chat itself will make your coworker feel seen.

Don’t forget to pay attention to yourself and your own needs. It’s fully possible to suffer from stress without noticing it. Perhaps that sounds strange, but keep in mind that the symptoms don’t come all at once. They come bit by bit, and that’s why it’s easy to ignore or accept them for way too long time.

Holiday stress can sneak up on anyone. It doesn’t matter if you’ve handled similar busy periods earlier. It can still happen, and it’s never a sign of weakness. It’s simply the brain’s and body’s reaction to the environment. It’s as difficult to control as it is to control a cold or the flu. But just as we can prevent a cold or the flu by taking precautions, we can aim to prevent stress by removing stressors from the environment.

Have a merry Christmas with a big dose of the good kind of busy!