Working in the foodservice establishment is not for the faint of heart. A job in a commercial kitchen usually involves working long hours in a stressful environment. Staff are expected to continuously hustle to meet hard deadlines and serve dishes that look like it took no effort to prepare and present them. To raise the stakes even further, kitchen employees are expected to work on not just one, not two, but three or more meals that need your constant attention all at the same time.
And the levels of stress your co-workers are experiencing and how they manage it can make it even more challenging. It’s not seldom that communication failures among colleagues cause problems in the kitchen, further creating even more strain in the workplace. To top things off for kitchen managers, there’s also the administrative side of the business, where they have to make sure things such as HR, accounting, and finances are in shape.
Indeed, working in a commercial kitchen is one of the most stressful jobs there is, no matter how glamorous the media may portray your job to be. Unless you learn to manage the daily stresses of your job and minimize your reactions to them, it won’t be long before you give in to the pressures of working in the industry or start looking for a new job elsewhere. The following are 12 strategies that kitchen workers can implement to help them deal with the pressures of their job and maintain a healthy work-life balance.
Know your triggers.
Different people are stressed out by different things. Do you get flustered when you need to juggle several things at once? Would you prefer your supervisor to stop looking over your shoulder every time? Does a coworker constantly nag, gossip, whine, and complain about every little thing he sees?
By being aware of what causes you stress, you’re taking the first step so you can adopt new behaviors and turn them into habits that allow you to cope better.
Work for leaders you respect.
Undoubtedly, if you’re new in the industry and you’re having a hard time looking for a job, you may not have the luxury of leaving your job just because you don’t like your boss. However, more seasoned chefs may have more experience and knowledge under their belt that allow them the opportunity to find a new workplace.
However, just because you and your boss do not see eye to eye doesn’t mean you should burn bridges. You never know when you’ll run into each other in the future. Besides, you will need a favorable recommendation for your next job.
Have a healthy after-hours stress-relief plan.
Some people turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as smoking, drinking, or gambling, to help them ease the stresses of their job. While these may be effective in the short run, they come with a lot of negative side effects that make it even more difficult to cope in the long run.
Instead of grabbing a cigarette or a drink or two after work, choose healthier activities. Going for a walk, a hike, or a run, for example, can help your body stay fit and strong so you can keep up with the hard, physical work often done in the kitchen. A relaxing activity, such as reading, writing, or painting, can also help soothe the nerves and promote peace and tranquility after a stressful day at work.
Get your mise-en-place game strong.
The most organized chefs will tell you mise-en-place is the secret to everything. Get all your ingredients ready and you have half the journey covered. Make sure all ingredients are washed, measured, peeled, sliced, grated, and prepared before cooking. Staff must also be ready with the right mixing bowls, utensils, cooking pots, and pans at all times.
This helps you spot any missing ingredients and make extra preparations, such as roasting nuts or softening butter, so you don’t have to rush to get things done. Mise-en-place also makes it easier and faster to clean up, and whatever makes the job quicker can help you avoid situations of stress.
Have a Plan B for everything.
We like to think that everything will happen perfectly, but that is not how it happens in real life. Especially in a commercial kitchen, where there are so many moving parts, there is a lot of potential for anything to go wrong. The ovens could suddenly break down in the middle of a busy day. Customers could arrive early and expect to be served ASAP. Or one of your staff could call in sick and nobody would be manning the griddle. There are even more of these that could happen in off-site events and catering operations. Make sure you have a contingency plan that you can implement at the drop of a hat if things don’t go as originally planned.
Find ways to take a few seconds off service time.
You might not think it’s significant, but being able to shorten service time by 5 seconds is a big deal. Let’s say you have 360 burgers to make for the night. If you can pre-assemble the lettuce, onion, and tomatoes and save 5 seconds each burger, you can actually save an entire 30 minutes that you can use for taking care of other tasks. That’s an entire half an hour’s worth of work saved every day.
Stay clean and organized.
There is something about being clean and tidy that makes people feel more in control of their universe. Studies have also shown that people who maintain a clean look and environment behave more ethically in general. When you catch a lull during shifts, take some time to clean your workstation and tidy yourself up.
Prepare for tomorrow.
Planning for tomorrow’s tasks allows you to momentarily forget about work when you step out of the workplace at the end of your shift. Before you go home, take stock of what you need to do tomorrow and list them down. if you have time to prepare any of the ingredients or equipment you need to work with the next day, do so. This is so you don’t wake up every morning rushing to get all the work done in time for the busy lunch hour ahead.
Train your staff.
For kitchen managers and supervisors, it is important that your crew lives up to your standards and the standards of the industry. If you have staff that you can rely on, there’s very little chance of you worrying about employees whose performance are not up to par. Of course, the burden lies on you to educate your staff. Take the time to welcome new employees and provide adequate training. It’s also helpful to have an ongoing coaching or mentoring program with the newer hires to make sure they are keeping up well.
Communicate your needs.
If you are suffering from a mental health problem as a result of the stresses of working in the culinary industry, do not hesitate to let your manager and coworkers know. Many people are starting to become more aware of the struggles of people who are suffering from mental health issues and are willing to work with you in creating a safe and healthy work environment for everyone.
Have a life outside of the restaurant.
One of the most rewarding things you can have is a career that you love and coworkers that you can get along with. However, it’s also important that you don’t live a life that revolves around the industry. Find time to simply cook for yourself, your family, or your friends without the usual pressures of cooking in a commercial kitchen. You can also participate in activities that are completely unrelated to food from time to time.
Take care of your needs first.
It should go without saying, but many people tend to ignore their own needs in a misguided attempt to be more productive in the workplace. Unfortunately, neglecting your most basic needs only leads to the deterioration of your health and a whole lot of pent-up anger and resentment. Don’t forget to take care of yourself first. Eat well, exercise regularly, and give yourself at least eight hours of sleep every night. You will thank yourself that you didn’t neglect to provide your own needs for yourself.