Working in a restaurant kitchen is notoriously stressful. A daily routine filled with precise techniques, an ever-ticking clock, and the constant pressure of hundreds or thousands of people critiquing your work, needless to say, those that thrive in these conditions have a high-stress tolerance. However, that doesn’t mean BOH employees aren’t susceptible to the detrimental impacts of being stressed out at least 10 hours a day, so here are some skills and tricks to help manage the pressures of the kitchen.

The Stress Response

Before getting to management, to understand the importance of it, it’s best to understand how our bodies deal with stress. Check out the infographic below.

stress response

As shown above, if you’re chronically stressed, there can be some major consequences. This is why it’s so important to find constructive solutions to manage the intense pressure that comes with working in the back of house, so here goes.

Stress Management 101

After Hours Stress Relief

Working in the industry means having good, bad, and downright bloody ugly days. We’ve all experienced a shift after which we simply wanted to go home, crawl under a rock, and never come out. This is why everyone, especially those that work in restaurant kitchens, should have a way to unwind outside of work.

If you’re thinking that you do and it’s with alcohol, think again. Although alcohol may help us unwind in the moment, it actually keeps our bodies’ stress response in full swing. In fact, studies have found that alcohol increases the release of cortisol to levels higher than that of a true stress response. While a drink or two after a shift is perfectly fine, and even shown to be healthy in some cases, more than that will do you more harm than good.

Instead, try doing something that takes your mind off of work but keeps it engaged like an outdoor activity, watching movies, karaoke, video games, enjoying good conversation, reading, working in the yard, chess, working out, or anything else which you enjoy doing. The possibilities are endless.

Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst

The typical plan of action usually covers what needs to be done on a normal day…here’s my menu, here’s my prep list, and this is who’s responsible for each station. However, as I’m sure you know first hand, even the best-laid plans fail (hello Murphy’s Law).

That’s why it’s never enough to make a plan solely based on what you need to accomplish. Your next step should always be to evaluate how that bastard Murphy could show his face and screw everything up.This is where always having a “plan B” just in case is the best plan of all.

Your plan B should provide a solution for things such as equipment failures, guests arriving late/early, being short-staffed, and covering for others just to name a few.

This will not only ensure that you keep your head in a crisis situation, but also keep your stress levels at bay.

Even knowing that if something were to go wrong, you’re prepared, will keep your anxiety low and stress in check. So, hope for the best, plan for the worst.

Seconds Save Minutes

A common stress trigger is time, or lack thereof, so finding places to save even a few seconds can be a huge stress management tool. If you can shave five seconds off of the service time of every dish you’re prepping or cooking, you’ll be eliminating several minutes work throughout service.

Not only will the speed of service increase, but the stress level throughout the kitchen will decrease.

Whether you’re in a lead role or just starting out, take a few minutes to think of the workflow in the kitchen to see if there’s anywhere you can find these precious seconds. This can be from changes in prep to reorganizing the kitchen.

Only Work for Management Whom You Like and Respect

All of us have worked under poor upper-level management. Whether it’s that imbecile manager who sets unachievable budgets and then tears you up for not being able to meet them or it’s the lazy operator that takes all the credit for your hard work, it’s not worth putting up with it for long.

Endure them only as long as you have to because their arrogance and stupidity will not change, but your stress will only build.

The bottom line is, if you are unhappy in your current position because of those in authority over you then it’s time to move on. Put in your year (for resume history purposes), do your job to the best of your ability, don’t burn bridges, and get out.

Deal With Problems… In a Constructive Way

Do not ignore problems… they rarely go away and usually only get bigger. Every position in the back of house has their own challenges based on their responsibilities and personalities. If you see a problem, deal with it immediately.

Decide what needs to be done, when you will do it, and what type of follow-up is required. Rip the bandaid off!

A Few More Stress Managment Basics

  • Schedule time to relax where you do nothing remotely work-related.
  • Learn a stress reduction method such as meditation, progressive muscle relaxation or guided imagery.
  • Follow a healthy diet.
  • Get an adequate amount of rest and sleep.
  • Exercise on a regular basis.
  • Speak to your supervisor if you feel stress building.

Whatever you do, don’t ignore the signs of chronic stress. If you’re not feeling or acting like yourself, take the time to find the right tools and techniques to manage your stress before it’s too late.

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