The Mindful Restaurant: Finding Calm in the Chaos
Restaurant kitchens –and newsrooms– are possibly the most chaotic work environments in the world. It’s here where heated exchanges and sensory overload are a standard operating procedure. There’s hardly a second to sneak in a breath, let alone time for thoughtful, deep ones.
From staffing and retention issues to food costs, waste, sustainability, and marketing, today’s restaurant operators have plenty on their plates, figuratively and literally. There always seems to be a barrage of information technology and data at their fingertips. They also have to deal with the immediacy of online reviews and the dilemma that is delivery. It’s an all-out digital, sensory assault!
So, how does a restaurant manager find the inner strength to both lead and keep calm under such intense daily pressures? Many industry insiders shared how their regular practices have helped them and their teams create a mindful restaurant workplace.
Finding the Calm
Dr. Julia Skinner, the founder of Root, uses mindfulness/meditation regularly to help her slow down and create a healthy work/life balance. She also feels having a more positive mindset enables her to create better food for guests.
As part of his prep work before each service, Chef Ryan McCaskey takes a moment for himself in his office. In his two Michelin-starred Chicago restaurant, Acadia, he employs techniques like yoga and meditation and even listening to the Grateful Dead! He can regain a sense of calm before heading out to lead his team at the South Loop fine-dining establishment.
McCaskey also readily understands how the grueling demands of running a restaurant can also foster a sense of isolation and create mental health issues for chefs and kitchen staff members. Each year, he takes time out for a summer sabbatical where he reconnects with nature, pushes a reset button, and advocates that others do the same.
Creating a Mindful Restaurant Culture
While it might be easier for individuals to stress the importance of mindfulness practices, how can restaurants create a culture that encourages a mindfulness mindset? Some are trying to foster a sense of mindfulness throughout their restaurants.
Besides being one of the owners of Speaks Clam Bar in Sarasota, Florida, Natalia Levey is a certified health coach and nutritional consultant.
“Mindfulness moments are a part of our company culture,” Levey explained. “As a team, we’re working on a collaborative project to fine-tune a mindfulness training program that will help us feel more connected to the food, coworkers, and customers. The energy that goes into everything makes a big difference.”
During management meetings, she shares quotes, books and encourages managers to spread positive vibes in daily pre-shift sessions and on the message boards in the back of the house.
“We use My Daily Intention and My Daily gratitude card decks for inspiration,” she added. “Even our back exit/employee door has ‘Good Vibes’ sign on it. It’s a reminder to keep smiling and certainly diffuses the number of potential conflict situations.”
She takes much pride in the fact that guests frequently comment on the teamwork and great attitude of the staff.
“I believe the hospitality industry is one the most important ones to have mindfulness as a core value,” she said. “We hope to set a positive example for the industry.”
As the owner of Sylvia’s Biscuits and Poboys in Mobile, Alabama, Scott Tindle considers mindfulness essential in achieving a balanced state of mind for himself and his team.
“We train our staff in mindfulness and emotional intelligence through the use of an online course by Dr. Jim Brennan, one of the world’s leading experts in mindfulness and emotional intelligence,” he said. “Through mindfulness, our team can consistently stay in a positive mindset allowing us to perform in ways that exceed our guest expectations.”
The Mindfulness Mindset
Having worked in both restaurant and newsroom environments, I’ve been practicing mindfulness for 40 years. I can attest to how valuable these techniques can be. They’ve helped me get through a tough day and given me the inner fortitude to handle situations like when an editor had a heart attack on deadline day and refused to go to the hospital, or a disgruntled ex-editor issued threats.
Finding a place to take a moment and breathe provides clarity and strength to find calm among the chaos.
We originally published this article on May 19, 2019. We’ve updated it slightly to make it as contemporary as possible!
A mindful restaurant environment is a healthy one. Learn how to identify a toxic restaurant work environment in our article below.
About the Author
Barbara Castiglia is currently Executive Editor at Modern Restaurant Management, an online magazine founded in 2016 that focuses on restaurant news and issues. During a 30-year career as a writer and editor, she’s covered the restaurant, commercial real estate, and computer industries and written articles on everything from trials, pets, and books to charitable endeavors. She co-authored a series of comic books with a forensic science theme and has written many press releases, white papers, and bylines.