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12. September 2023, 5 min read

A Healthy Restaurant Work Environment: Lessons From ‘The Bear’

Author: Jake Juba
Carmey from The Bear nurtures a healthy restaurant work environment
Carmey from 'The Bear' nurtures a healthier work environment

Carmey by ©Mark Borgions

Season 2 of this captivating kitchen drama is back, exploring the idea of a more progressive and nurturing workplace for its team.

The first season shed light on the often-toxic work environment present in restaurant kitchens, a topic that still holds the restaurant industry in its grip. With the latest season taking a more optimistic turn, we can’t help but wonder: What if Carmy, the central character in ‘The Bear,’ could offer valuable insights into creating a healthier team culture?

About “The Bear” 

The show follows Carmy Berzatto, a young, award-winning chef who returns to his hometown of Chicago to manage the chaotic kitchen at his late brother’s sandwich shop. While fictional, “The Bear” realistically echoes the challenges faced by restaurants and their leadership. 

Carmy’s Journey from Perfectionist to Team Player

Being a chef, Carmy is no stranger to grueling hours and the relentless pursuit of perfection. Now, at “The Bear,” he’s stepping up, evolving into a leader who emphasises delegation, feedback, and striking that delicate balance between high standards and employee welfare. By the second season, Carmy’s journey as a leader stands out, showing how he nurtures his team in pursuit of a healthier work environment.

The Importance of a Healthy workplace in the Restaurant Industry

It’s no secret that the restaurant industry, with its high demands and often modest pay can see a high employee turnover rate. But for a restaurant to truly thrive, creating a positive work environment is crucial. This means having patience, building trust, communicating openly, and understanding that everyone makes mistakes. Engaged and satisfied employees are simply more productive and loyal.

Carmy’s Leadership Challenges

These are just a glimpse of the challenges faced by restaurant leaders. But by acknowledging and addressing these issues, you can truly improve the work environment and set your team up for success.

Carmy’s Tips to a Positive Work Environment

1.Trust Building

Building trust is fundamental in any work environment. If you aspire for your employees to trust you, start by placing your trust in them.

S2: E3 Sundae (03:18)

In this scene, Sydney, Carmy’s sous chef, proposes sending the restaurant’s pastry chef Marcus to Copenhagen to gain experience. 

Sydney: “Can I pitch you something crazy? We send Marcus somewhere…” 

Carmy: “No, no, I think that’s smart.” 

This interaction reveals Carmy’s humility and openness. Rather than dismiss the idea, he trusts Sydney’s judgment, allowing her the space to propose significant decisions. 

This Forbes article provides some great insights on cultivating employee trust.

Sydney from 'The Bear' welcomes a healthy work environment

‘Sydney Adamu’ by ©Mark Borgions

2. Embracing Empathy

According to Businessolver’s 2023 annual empathy report, “42% of employees believe their manager plays a pivotal role in nurturing a culture of empathy.”

Empathy is crucial for any leader. It signifies that you regard your team members as unique individuals with their own feelings, thoughts, and experiences, distinct from yours. 

S2: E3 Sundae (04:12)

When Carmy samples Sydney’s new dish, and picks up on her distress over a slight error, we see his empathy in action:

Carmy: “You marinated it too long – it’s okay though.” 

Sydney: “I mean, it’s not okay if it’s two times in a row.” 

Carmy: “That’s why we’re doing this, right?” 

Carmy displays empathy towards Sydney’s disappointment. He recognises her frustration over over salting the dish, and he shows genuine concern and a desire to assist Sydney in succeeding. 

3. Inspiring Your Team.

Carmy: “I think we need to go out, we need to try some stuff. Like a reset.” 

Sydney: “Are you asking me to go home?” 

Carmy: “I’m sending us out to get inspiration.” 

“When employees are not merely engaged but also inspired, that’s when organisations experience genuine breakthroughs”

The Harvard Business Review

And that speaks volumes. 

4. The Role of Mentorship

Let’s look at another instance of team nurturing from ‘The Bear’, focusing specifically on ‘The Science of Pep Talks’.” 

S1: E5 ‘Sheridan

Carmy gives a pep talk to Marcus, the pastry chef, who is feeling disheartened. Carmy provides Marcus with invaluable feedback and bolsters his spirit, showcasing his mentorship skills. 

Pep talks, such as the one Carmy gives Marcus, can be a powerful tool for nurturing a team by boosting morale, increasing motivation, and building confidence. In real-world settings, these motivational conversations often mirror the trials and tribulations faced by individuals in the restaurant industry. 

Real-world Inspirations Behind ‘The Bear’

Did the show’s producers draw on any real-world experiences? Absolutely. 

Matty Matheson, one of the show’s producers, is a former chef and restaurateur who claims to have used his industry experience to:

“Help bring accuracy and delectability to The Bear’s storyline”

While Carmy is not exactly modeled on Matheson, his contributions to the dialogue and character development have undoubtedly contributed to the show’s realism. 

Carmy’s Recipe for a healthy Work Environment

  • Trust: Like Carmy with Sydney, show your team you trust their decisions. It boosts confidence
  • Communication: Ensure open dialogue. Everyone should feel safe sharing feedback or concerns.
  • Empathy: Be aware of your team’s challenges. Show understanding and support.
  • Development: Help your team grow. It can be training abroad, like Marcus’s trip, or local opportunities.
  • Inspiration: Notice when routines get stale and shake things up. It can rekindle team passion.
  • Mentorship: Offer guidance more than orders. As Carmy did with Marcus, a pep talk can lift spirits.

Although ‘The Bear’ is fictional, it does remind us that behind every successful restaurant are the people who run it. Nurturing these individuals is the key to long-term success. The restaurant industry, with its demanding hours and high-stress environment, particularly needs leaders who understand this and prioritise the well-being of their teams. However, we understand that implementing these lessons in the real world may not always be straightforward.

All illustrations in this article were provided by Mark Borgions as part of his #twocolorcharacter project. You can see more of his work here: https://www.instagram.com/handmade_monster/