How restaurants can support mental health during the festive season

For some people, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. Yet, not everyone feels merry around the festive season. In fact, YouGov reports that around a quarter of the  population find the festive period to be more challenging on their mental health than the rest of the year.

For hospitality workers, the season can be more of a grind than a party. Restaurant work often means long hours and high stress at all times of year, especially during the festive season.

And it’s true that mental health seems to affect a larger proportion of people who work in restaurants than the rest of the population. Tipped workers have a higher risk for depression, sleep issues and stress compared to people who work other jobs. For restaurant workers, the added pressure of one of the busiest periods of the year can be triggering.

Fortunately, there are things a restaurant owner or manager can do to help support people through this potential challenging time. Here are some steps you can take to support your team’s mental health during the festive season this year.

Be as flexible as you can with time off

With the ongoing labour shortage, it can be hard to accommodate time-off requests, especially around the holidays. Therefore, it’s worth thinking more broadly about how to make it possible for people to get a break.

Ask yourself, ‘How can I make sure my opening hours are optimised?’ Some restaurants have decided to work reduced opening hours, keeping the doors open five days a week out of seven in an attempt to prevent staff burnout. Restaurants are often surprised they can do this without losing revenue.

Give the team some control over which celebrations they work

Letting people choose which occasions they want to work gives them a sense of control over the situation. Depending on your needs, you may ask people to choose whether they want to work Christmas Eve, Boxing Day or New Year’s Eve. If your team is limited, you may need to ask them to work two. Still, it helps if people can have some say in the matter.

If someone wants to work all of them, make sure to ask them why. It could be that they don’t celebrate certain occasions or that they are motivated to earn extra money. Or it could be that they feel lonely and isolated, which is something managers can address and should be aware of.

Don’t forget staff meal

Now is not the time to skimp on a pre-shift meal. The team works longer and harder, and you want them to be fuelled up. This is also an opportunity to boost morale among your staff. You can make it fun and special by arranging a family meal swap with a neighbouring restaurant, and treat your staff to a restaurant meal.

An obvious but overlooked part of keeping the team energised is water. With people getting extremely busy this time of year, make sure to remind them to keep hydrated by having water and other soft drinks available to them at all times.

Put a floater on the schedule wherever possible

Even if it’s not standard at other times of the year, it’s a good idea to add a floater to shifts wherever possible through the festive season. Not only can shifts get busier than anticipated, but this is the time of year for cold bugs and it’s normal to expect some staff calling in sick.

Beyond that, transport strikes can also stop people from getting to their shift. Having floaters on stand by can ensure your restaurant keeps running smoothly even when issues arise.

Check in and notice changes

You know your team, so keep an eye out for unusual behaviour. Are early birds showing up late? Are friendly people irritable? Are people skipping meals? Any of these can be a sign of a mental health issue bubbling away under the surface.

When you do spot out of character behaviour, it’s time for a frank conversation and direct, but respectable, questions. Don’t hesitate to ask, ‘Are you OK?’

Plan a celebration in January

Restaurants make the season special for countless other businesses who hold their corporate parties there. Restaurant teams need to celebrate, too. Plan a team celebration in the new year, but get it on the schedule now.

A catered lunch, a yoga class, a dance lesson or a game night – whatever you choose, schedule it now so the team can look forward to enjoying it later.

Offering the right resources

When restaurant owners or managers do notice someone on the team in need of extra support, here are some resources Campbell recommends to share with them:

HSE Your Mental Health Information Helpline
The Your Mental Health information line is a phone service you can call any time to find out the different types of support offered.

The Burnt Chef Project
Since 2019, The Burnt Chef Project has continued to help eradicate the stigma around mental health in the hospitality industry. As part of the project, a free 24/7 text support service and training are provided.

Love Letters to Chefs
Love Letters to Chefs is an educational platform designed to help chefs achieve a better quality of life. The platform offers workshops and 1-1 coaching for busy chefs who want to learn how to prevent burnout.

Healthy Hospo
Healthy Hospo is a not-for-profit company working to build a healthier, happier hospitality industry through courses focusing on mental health, nutrition, sleep and leadership.

Me, Myself in Mind
Created by London-based chef Merly Kammerling, this organisation offers workshops, individual therapy sessions and group facilitations for workers within the hospitality industry. The organisation aims to provide stress reduction techniques, raising awareness on mental health, emotional resilience and self awareness.

Hospitality Action
Physical illness, mental health issues, financial difficulty, family problems and addiction are all covered by Hospitality Action, which helps people in hospitality get back on their feet again.

Offering the right resources

Mental health is an important issue for the restaurant community throughout the year. But the festive season can be a particularly impactful time to start giving it the attention it deserves and ensure that your staff are in the right frame of mind.

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