When you first begin your restaurant career, you’ll probably be excited at the prospect of working in a kitchen with good (and often free) food all the time. This is one of the best benefits for some people. After a while though, you’ll start to realize that restaurant life is beyond unhealthy. In addition to unhealthy (although often tasty) restaurant food, the hours are long, the job is stressful, and the industry itself is known for high alcohol and drug use.
So what can you do to avoid these typical restaurant pitfalls? Establish routines early on as far as diet. If there are no healthy options for meals while you’re at work, eat a healthy meal before work and bring healthy snacks to eat on breaks. Try your best to resist temptation when at work. Once in awhile, it’s okay to splurge and try a new dish, but if you do it every shift, it will catch up to you quickly. Try to keep your personal life and professional life separate. It’s very easy to start working in a restaurant kitchen for long hours every day and make friends with other cooks, servers, and restaurant workers.
It’s not that you shouldn’t make friends, but don’t get in the habit of leaving your workplace late at night and going to bars with co-workers, especially if you have a family at home. It’s easy to want to go out for drink or two after a stressful shift, especially when you don’t have to get up in the morning, but many chefs become dependent on alcohol and drugs this way. Many families have been ruined by this behavior, don’t allow yours to become one of them.
Do not under any circumstances drink alcohol while you are working. This can be tempting, especially if there is a full service bar and everyone else is doing it. Not only is it completely unprofessional, but you can get fired or worse. Same goes for drug or other substance abuse. Smoking while working in a kitchen is unsanitary and often violates health department rules. Find a healthy way to relieve the stress of restaurant work. Restaurants are open all day, seven days a week and this can mean long days, double shifts and overtime with few breaks. If you need small breaks, talk to the Head Chef or manager about scheduling short breaks, even 5 minute ones if this will save your sanity.
If you simply can’t take the stress of a fast paced restaurant kitchen, you have to bite the bullet and admit that this isn’t the job for you. There are other, less stressful jobs in the industry, and some people simply handle stress better than others. No job is worth sacrificing your health for. Get plenty of sleep, and although your hours may not be typical, try to get on a schedule. Not only will you feel better, but you’re work will be better as well. Finally, keep in mind your goal. If you want to be a professional and highly regarded chef, you have to be able to bypass the roadblocks that keep a lot of people from reaching their full potential. The restaurant industry is tough, and praise and acknowledgement is hard to come by. By doing your best to keep yourself in tip top shape, you can have a long and rewarding career.