Nov. 6, 2020

Work Life Balance vs. The Restaurant Industry

Hi, I’m Josh.

Hello Josh.

 And I am a workaholic. Or maybe let’s say I “was” a workaholic.

I have spent all of my adult life creating businesses and running restaurants. I don’t regret that time at all. It was invigorating, exciting, and fulfilling. But as the Coronavirus swept the nation and forced so many of us into effective unemployment, it really made me think about my workaholism in a new way. That’s to say, I had never really thought about it before!

Work-life balance has come up so many times on the Full Comp Podcast, as so many celebrity chefs, restaurateurs, and thought-leaders all ask themselves the same questions.

What is work-life balance?

Is it possible in our industry?

And how do we prioritize it in the next phase of working lives?

Today I want to untangle this mystery.

An Industry of Workaholics

Can you think of a single industry where 80-100 hour weeks are the norm?

ER Doctors? Stockbrokers? Lawyers? Nope. Their industry averages are actually 60-80 hours. Still pretty high but not nearly as ludicrous as our working lives.

Matt Jennings, amazing hospitality expert and founder at Full Heart Hospitality, started his consultancy firm to escape the vicious hospitality cycle. He was at the top of his game but it was destroying him.

“The industry is insidious in that it creates these monsters of success. It is built on this construct that you have to do more to be more,” he said “You don’t necessarily even see the road when you have so much coming at you constantly. In 2016, I was two years into running my own restaurant. I was doing 15-17hour days, 7 days a week. I was taking substances, drinking, and not sleeping. All of the quintessential chef pitfalls. I had some coming to God moments that brought me back to ground zero. I needed to rest. I needed to get well, and temporarily that meant leaving the restaurant business.”

Matt’s story really put things into perspective for me. Is it a curse of the hospitality industry to choose work over life?

Time Well Spent

I have spent more time with my daughter in the past 6 months than I have in the past two years of her life. This whole experience of forced unemployment has realigned my priorities.

I have thought deeply about what I want the next stage of my life to look like.

Time is so finite. Where do I want to spend it?

The truth for a lot of us ironically will still be “working”. At least in part.

I find a huge amount of value in my work. Don’t we all?

The buzz of running a restaurant is my drug. A stimulating addiction that only forced closing could solve. It fuels me and I miss it.

I don’t think it’s realistic to expect a complete 180 when it comes to work-life balance in the hospitality industry. Particularly as owners. It’s in our DNA to burn the midnight oil to an extent. But what if it were possible to make time for family, hobbies and, heaven forbid, rest for once?

What a world that would be!

Are We Chasing a Unicorn?

When it comes down to it, the real question is not “should we change?” but “can we change?”

The hospitality industry was built in a very specific way. We are there to serve our customers at all hours of the day, and often well into the night. High labor costs mean fewer hands on deck at the busiest times. Patrons expect to be able to visit or order from us whenever their cravings start.

With an industry like ours, is a 60hour work-week possible?

Could I have two full days off to spend with my family completely unplugged?

Would we have to close the restaurant at certain times or hire more people to accommodate that?

It’s so tough to call what the future may bring.

To achieve work-life balance, Matt decided not to stay in the brick and mortar life. He started his consultancy firm to escape the rat race. Is that what it takes to have a balanced life in the hospitality industry?

The future is so unclear. The only clear thing to me is that I don’t want to go back to missing precious moments with my wife and daughter. I don’t want to go back to running on the last few drops of gas in the tank. I can’t go back to a life so strained. There has got to be a better way. I have faith we’ll figure it out.