Working in the foodservice industry means you’re working in a bustling work environment where you get to create delicious food, be surrounded by like-minded coworkers, and take in the exciting nightlife. However, working in such a non-stop, whirlwind environment can start to take its toll. 

Fortunately, we can do something about the fatigue and discomfort we may see from logging in the (oftentimes) over eight hours on the floor or in the kitchen. Working in restaurants will always be hard work, but we can mitigate it and create solutions to perform and feel better. 

Here’s five self-care tips that can help you get through your workday in foodservice:

1) Sleep can be one of the largest performance boosters 

Sleep not only  gives us energy for our day, it also helps boost our immune system, promote tissue repair, and boost our cognitive potential. I know I’ve made the most mistakes on the floor when I didn’t get a good night’s sleep.

Working in a restaurant, ensuring that you get enough sleep at night is tough when you work until two or three in the morning. Even when you arrive at home, the adrenaline may still be running high from a full, busy day at work and it can take hours until we feel relaxed enough to sleep. 

5 Self-Care Tips for Working in Foodservice

Here’s a few tips to promote healthy sleep habits, and in turn, encourage a healthier, more balanced lifestyle:  

  • Reduce screen time before bed. Choose a habit like reading instead of scrolling on your phone. Screens comprised of LED’s wake us up with the blue light they emit.
  • What if you can’t reduce screen time? No Problem! Turn on the night time filter on your phone or install an app like Twilight.
  • Move your post-work parties to your days off. You may assume that drinking alcohol after work will help you fall asleep easier, but according to this source, alcohol is correlated to lower the quality of sleep you get. If you are finding that you are more tired after your sleep, the post-work cocktails may be the culprit.
  • Create a sleep sanctuary in your bedroom. Wear earplugs to cut the noise, hang blackout curtains, and keep the space between 15 – 19.5 degrees celsius.
  • Build a sleep boosting habit. I enjoy taking a hot shower 90 minutes before you plan to sleep. This will raise your body temperature and as your body cools down, you will start to feel sleepy.

2) Proper nutrition for long shifts 

Downing an energy drink and wolfing down a donut may seem like a good quick fix when you’re in need of energy before a shift, however a band-aid solution like this usually provides only a boost of short-lived energy. You’ll most likely find yourself crashing in the middle of service.

5 Self-Care Tips for Working in Foodservice

Instead, choose foods that are high in complex carbohydrates and fibre, which provide you with slow-burning energy that lasts for a long time. 

Here’s an example guideline of some of the best options to eat, and when to eat them:

  • 4 hours prior to physical activity:

A hearty meal high in complex carbohydrates. Think whole wheat pasta with a hearty sauce filled with veggies.  

  • 2 hours prior to physical activity:

 Smoothie that is high in fibre featuring fruit and greens (like kale).

  • 1 hour prior to physical activity:

A sandwich on whole wheat bread or oatmeal with yogurt.  

  • 30 minutes prior to physical activity:

One piece of fruit, like an apple.

  • During physical activity lasting more than 1 hour:

Handful of dried fruit. 

  • Post-workout recovery: 

A meal high in protein to promote tissue repair. 

Pro-Tip: Before work we are looking a complex carbs to promote long lasting energy. After work we want to aim for protein that will help with tissue repair. 

3) Hydration is key

It may seem obvious that drinking water to prevent dehydration is good for you. Nevertheless, you would be surprised at how many people aren’t drinking enough water. Moderate exercise will produce similar sweat levels as working in a restaurant, so knowing this, we need to think seriously about rehydration. In fact, on average, a person needs 2.5 L of water a day to stay hydrated. 

When we sweat, we’re not only sweating out water but also sodium and potassium. Sodium and potassium are vital for normal cell function, particularly when it comes to getting nutrients into our cells. You may recognize sodium and potassium going by another term – electrolytes.  

If you work in a hot kitchen for extended periods, you will begin to lose electrolytes and simply drinking more water won’t replenish them. A good rule of thumb is to take in a few gulps of water every 20 minutes. This will vary greatly on how much you sweat and if you are larger or smaller in stature. Remember to use your thirst as a guideline. 

To replenish electrolytes at the same time, add lemon and a pinch of salt to your water to replenish electrolytes as you rehydrate. 

4) Create a pre-shift routine for yourself

I used to work with a strength and conditioning coach who would always ask, “What do we need to do to create opportunities for success?” 

5 Self-Care Tips for Working in Foodservice

I like to use this motto throughout my entire life, not just when it comes to working out. Ask yourself – what do I need to have or do, prior to being in the kitchen, for a great work shift?

I always found that arriving at work in a state of chaos keeps me from performing at my best. I recommend to friends, family, and clients, to have a pre-shift routine that allows for a seamless, stress-free transition into work mode.

Here’s a few suggestions as to how a pre-shift routine may look for you:

  • Have a bag devoted just to work. Place your uniform, pens, notepads, knives, corkscrews, and any other essential items for work in the bag and have it ready to go for work. 
  • Take an extra 15 minutes prior to leaving to envision how your shift will go. Take this time to think about what will you encounter during the shift. Here’s a few questions to consider:
    • When are the reservations arriving? 
    • When is the rush happening? 
    • What kind of prep needs to happen? 
  • What activities will set you up for success before you arrive at the restaurant? This really depends on your personality and your personal likes/dislikes. Are you someone who needs to be amped up before work? Or maybe mellow out before a busy shift? Consider what activities will put you in the right mindset. Here’s a few recommendations to get you started:
    • Knitting (or a similar hands-on activity)
    • Workout
    • Take a walk in the park
    • Reading
    • Enjoy a coffee with a friend
  • Refocus, reset, and replenish yourself during breaks in your shift. Think about what you can do during your breaks to set you up for the next few hours of work. Ensure you are eating and drinking water and maybe stretch out to keep yourself limber. 

5) Boost your energy by building an exercise routine into your life

We all know that moving our bodies is good for us, but it’s difficult to build up the motivation to exercise when you work an already physically-demanding job with long hours. 

Consider exercise an investment rather than a quick solution to improve your workday. It can boost performance but it is going to take time and a consistent effort to create  results. Think of regular exercise training as a way to create a larger battery for yourself to last longer. And any exercise will improve that battery.

5 Self-Care Tips for Working in Foodservice

Finding the right balance when you already work in an active job is the tough part. I like using the 1 – 10 Rule. 

The 1- 10 Exercise Rule: Look at how often you would like to exercise. Then rate the chance of you doing it consistently on a scale from one – 10.  If it’s below a seven, chances are that it won’t happen.

Start small, if you think working out three days a week, for one hour is too difficult to commit to, then try dropping it down to one or two days per week. Or, keep it simple and try to go with 20 push ups at home, three times a week. 

It doesn’t matter what you do, it’s more important to do it consistently.  You may be surprised at the results you see by making small, simple changes and doing them consistently.

Working in foodservice can be physically and cognitively taxing. However by implementing these self-care tips into your life, you can promote better health and performance, ensuring a long and rewarding career.

Author

Aaron McCullagh is a registered kinesiologist and occupational health consultant based out of Toronto. He also has spent 15 years working various front and heart of the house positions in restaurants. He is the founder of Balanced Life, a consulting and teaching business that boosts restaurant employee performance by focusing on employee safety and health. Check out Balancedlifeservices.ca to get free health and performance resources and join the online Restaurant Portal.