Young female restaurant manager talks to her happy team

The last few years challenged us — and took its toll. In life. In relationships. Not to mention our social wellbeing. When it comes to the restaurant industry, it’s even more nuanced than that. Not only are they among our frontline workers, they’ve also often bore the brunt of people’s overarching frustrations, perspectives and opinions about mask-wearing. Add increasingly high customer expectations at a time when restaurants are short-staffed, workers are burned out, and morale is low and it’s no wonder mental health — and employee retention — is on people’s minds.

To hire staff they had lost after the initial pandemic, Colorado-based Bonanno Concepts — which has 10 restaurants to its name — took a thoughtful, timely approach. After sending out a SurveyMonkey, its owner learned mental health and security were more important to his employees than pay. 

Although the restaurant group does provide quality insurance, the plan — like many plans out there — doesn’t provide adequate mental health coverage. Too often, for example, the cost of psychologist and psychiatrist appointments are an out-of-pocket expense. So, Bonanno’s restaurant owners decided to hire a full-time mental health clinician for staff members. 

As a fringe benefit, the offering delivers a competitive advantage — and helps the company retain employees. From stress reduction techniques to led mediation sessions, individual therapy and a mental health workshop on holiday-related sadness and grief, it helps navigate the challenges today’s restaurant workers face. 

Admittedly, having a mental health provider on staff is not yet common practice in the restaurant industry. However, supporting employees’ emotional well-being is part of a growing trend not just industry, but also nation, wide.

Culinary Hospitality Outreach and Wellness (CHOW) is one such example. Founded in 2018 by Denver pie maker, John Hinman, and food, travel and lifestyle writer, Alexandra Palmerto, it serves as a safe space for people in the hospitality industry to share their painful and challenging experiences, share mental health stories and discuss paths to recovery in order to better cope with stress and emotional or psychological challenges.

Meanwhile, Focus On Health was founded during the COVID-19 pandemic by bartenders Laura Paylor and Alex Jump and it advocates for the health and wellness of workers in the food and beverage sector. Its programming ranges from talk therapy to pre-shift meditation sessions and programming on topics such as mindfulness. 

Then there’s East Atlanta-based A Sip of Paradise, a bartenders’ community garden that aims to provide a healthy, safe space for bartenders to recharge and recalibrate. During the pandemic, its garden has helped bartenders work through anxiety, stress and loneliness by offering a communal place to grow their own vegetables and herbs. Members can choose to work on individual and collective plots, as well as meditate.

Whether you’re reevaluating the healthcare you provide or reconsidering your POS system to better equip your team, focusing on your staff’s wellbeing should be top of mind because happy, cared-for employees pave the way for satisfied, loyal customers and, by virtue, increased revenue

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