Thank you to Megan P. Howard for this guest post article about how to stay healthy and sane in a restaurant. -BW
Hospitality workers are the unsung heroes of the modern world, and I’m not just saying that because I am one.
Okay, I am, but it also happens to be true. Whether you’re in the kitchen, front of house, or working as a server, your job can be grueling, physically demanding, and often subjects you to some of the worst humans imaginable.
Think a bomb squad member or neurosurgeons have the most stressful job in the world? Nope. Research indicates that low-paid jobs with a high work-load result in a greater risk of heart problems and strokes. The researchers also linked disruptive shift patterns, which are quite common in restaurants to cancer and poor health. Furthermore, they believe people who work in high-stress jobs, take less care of themselves and tend to smoke and drink more.
So I get it. While you’re in the midst of lunchtime madness, it can be tough to keep perspective on your health. But it’s so, so important. Your physical and mental health are key to quality of life. Your life.
Follow these tips to make it easier to stay healthy at a restaurant job.
1. Don’t Skip Breakfast
I know clichés are boring, but it turns out there’s something to that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” thing. Shift work isn’t always conducive to healthy eating habits. Make a commitment to a healthy breakfast, no matter what time of day you wake up. As much as possible, keep a regular schedule for breakfast. Stay away from cereal and processed foods. Eggs, fruits, almonds, and other healthy options will give you the energy to face your day, no matter how hectic your schedule.
If you get meals at work, opt for nutrient-rich, fresh meals with lots of greens, proteins and healthy fats. Avoid loading up on “white” carbs such as white pasta and bread, as they can induce an after-dinner dip which wreaks havoc on the rest of your shift.
2. Keep Your Sleep On Track
I am a person who likes my sleep. Seriously, I need my big fancy comforter and at least 8 hours of sleep and three cups of coffee before I’m ready to start my day.
Irregular sleep hours and going without sleep can contribute to everything from hypertension, increased stress and lowered immune system, leaving you susceptible to every sniffle that passes through the restaurant. Adjust your sleep schedule so you can go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. That might mean missing out on your 7-8 hours. So take time to get in a quick nap here and there.
Sleep hygiene is super important, so the goal is to give yourself a regular sleep schedule, no matter how unconventional it is. And if you’re like me, and you know you need more sleep, make sure your schedule allows for it, so you’re not a zombie at work.
3. Keep Moving
When you’re working all day the last thing you want is advice that means spending more time on your feet. But unless you want pressure points and corns, you want to make sure you shift your feet and walk around. A good way to get through it is to make sure you have the right equipment. Get yourself some comfortable shoes for standing all day. If you’re working in front of house, and standing in one place a lot, find ways to walk the floor. If you’re a server and running back and forth is already in the job description? Make sure to take time to sit when you can.
4. Stay Hydrated
Staying hydrated on the job isn’t always easy, especially in a hot kitchen. Resist the urge to drink coffee, which is a diuretic, and will only dry you out faster. Instead, bring a water bottle to make it easier and more convenient. You can fill up at work regularly. You should also incorporate fresh fruits and veg in your diet to stay hydrated in healthy ways.
5. Practice Mindfulness
Whether you’re a server or a cook, chances are you’re really good at ignoring the signals your body is sending like, “hey when’s the last time you’ve eaten?” or “Ow, the finger I cut yesterday hurts!” We press on and do the job. But too much ignoring your body’s signals can really do a number on your overall health.
And it doesn’t stop there. Restaurant jobs can do a number on your brain as well. With all the crap you get from customers, your colleagues, your manager, topped with a mountain of big and little things you have to keep in mind while working, stuff can get heavy.
A study by Mental Health America showed a correlation between the work environment in the food and beverage industry and a high level of mental health issues. Stress, low pay, long shifts, job insecurity, a toxic work culture, substance abuse and sexual harassment are all factors prevalent in this industry, and detrimental to anyone’s mental health.
Several mental health programs have been launched for hospitality workers, for example: “I’ve Got Your Back” and “Fair Kitchens”. But as long as those programs have not been integrated into daily restaurant life, it’s up to you to take care of you.
Mindfulness can be the first step. By being mindful, you stay in touch with how you feel. If your body hurts or you feel anxious or down, take action. Create pockets of rest or movement for yourself, and speak up about it.
If your lack of breaks is starting to make you forget what it feels like to sit down during an eight hour period, talk to your employer about reasonable break times, so you don’t have to literally starve yourself to work. And yeah, take toilet breaks!
6. Get Your Exercise In
If you’re like me, the last thing you want to do on your days off is hit the gym. But living on restaurant meals can really do a number on your waistline. As your job is already pretty physical, you want to stay able to lift those weighed down trays. Exercising will also help you get some anger and frustration out, and give you happy hormones.
Instead of doing it because it’s good for you, find fun ways to keep yourself motivated. So how about a Fitbit contest at work? Yoga’s also great when it comes to staying balanced, and “un-cramp” those overworked limbs. So there are definite upsides to regular exercise. Also, you can totally crush Janet from Front of House, who is always bragging on her Fitbit scores.
If you like a gentle workout specifically for servers, try this great yoga routine by the lovely (and occasionally hilarious) yogi Adriene:
7. Take Care of Life Outside Of Work
Make your life easier by forcing yourself out of the house on those days off. If you’re lucky enough to get two days off a week, schedule one of those days for errands, and the other for socializing.
Give yourself at least one day to reconnect with friends, so they know you’re still alive. It’s a great opportunity to vent about the job and get back to yourself.
Try to cultivate an outside-the-house hobby (Something that isn’t Netflix, perhaps?) to keep you from moping around the house on those few days you have off.
8. Cultivate Work Relationships
Speaking of socializing. It’s really important to develop a good working relationship with your co-workers. Not only are they the only ones who really get why you have a least favorite table, or the sheer horror of that moment when you realize that group of five are just getting appetizers (why do they need to sit here for four hours?!).
But it’s also essential for a well-oiled team. Listen, you’re going to have sick days. And when you do, it’s a good idea to have people you can call. There are going to be days a group of 20 come in an hour before closing, and your co-workers are the only thing keeping you sane.
So do yourself a favor and build a great relationship with the people you’re working with. Sure, there’s a chance you only see them at work, but it turns out, that’s a depressingly large amount of time!
Working in a restaurant a stressful job no matter your position. Shift work takes its toll on your health and the day-to-day stresses leave you exposed to kitchen dangers and rude and aggressive customers. Keeping a tight grip on your health is just one way to ensure you close out your shift with your sanity intact. And if you fail, there’s always steak knives.