There’s no such thing as work-life balance in the restaurant industry

There’s no such thing as work-life balance in the restaurant industry

Hours are brutal, burnout is rampant, something’s got to give

Restaurant industry life is not nine to five. Most people in it end up working evenings and nights and often into the wee hours of the morning, then trying not to wake up their families while eating something quick and filling—a few forkfuls of Kraft Dinner, a bowl of cereal—before crashing. It’s a life that can make spending quality time with kids, partners, friends and family nearly impossible. Factor in a lack of weekends off and next to no personal or vacation days and you have a recipe for burnout.

Photograph by Daniel Neuhaus
Solution 1: “Offer rotating schedules”

Nuit Regular, executive chef and co-owner, PAI, Kiin and Sukhothai; executive chef, Selva and Rendezviews East

“When I began working in the hospitality industry, I quickly learned that the hours were brutal, especially with evening shifts and often working late into the night. After a few years of doing this, I intentionally set up my Sundays so that I would have time off to spend the whole day with my family. I think it would be nice to have rotating schedules for workers to be able to have some weekends off so that everyone gets the opportunity to spend more time with their families.”

Photograph by Daniel Neuhaus
Solution 2: “Daycare options for night-shift workers”

Alexandra Feswick, chef-owner, Fawn Over Market

“The current daycare system only benefits parents who work nine to five. The restaurant industry would be a friendlier career path for families if the government provided child care options for evening- and night-shift workers. This would also benefit health care and factory workers and could boost our entire economy by allowing us to make more of what we need in Canada. For example, certain packaging, utensils and equipment are often imported from overseas—it would be great if we could source Ontario-made products. Alternative daycare could help strengthen our supply chains, decrease shipping costs and lower our overall environmental impact.”

Photograph by Daniel Neuhaus
Solution 3: “Four days on, three days off”

Adrian Niman, founder and executive chef, Food Dudes

“If I were rebuilding the industry from the ground up, the European mentality toward service would be my inspiration. Raising staff wages is just the beginning. I’m a big believer in a healthy work-life balance. Time spent with family and friends is essential to everyone’s happiness, so I’d want to build in the four-for-three rule. This means structuring the workweek with four days on and three days off, enabling everyone to get more rest and spend more time socializing with family and friends. Closing restaurants on Sundays is a policy that makes this system easier. They’ve had this all figured out in Europe for quite some time, and I think we should be moving in that direction as quickly as we can.”

Solution 4: “Overhire staff”

Erin Smith, chef-owner, Smith Dining

“When I was in my early 20s, I wasn’t concerned with work-life balance. My goal was to work as much as possible, gain ranks in the kitchen and learn as much as I could. Now, in my 30s with a family of five, my priorities have changed. I created a private chef business, which works best for me as a professional and as a mother. The workload hasn’t lightened, but I’m able to control my work-life balance. Of course, not everyone can be their own boss. I’ve seen some restaurants overhire staff so that employees can take sick or personal days. Restaurants should be given more support from our provincial government to cap the rising costs—not only to increase profit margins but to pay staff more than the base amount and hire a crew large enough to allow team members to take much-needed time off.”

Photo by Daniel Neuhaus
Beast of Burden

A lightning round with chef Scott Vivian, co-owner of Beast, Beast at Blood Brothers and Beast at Blackburn Brew House

Number of hours you work in an average week: I was working 60 to 80 hours a week, but since opening three spots in six months—and I’m not necessarily in the kitchen—I’m always working but also not really working.

Time you get home: It used to be around midnight. Now I’m usually home around 10:30 p.m.

What’s for dinner then? Whatever leftovers are in the fridge or snacks. I love regular Wheat Thins and PC-brand artichoke-asiago dip.

Last time you got eight consecutive hours of sleep: It’s probably been about 15 years.

Last weekend off: When Beast was closed for renovations, I had a few weekends off. That was back in March.

Longest you’ve ever gone without a day off: Three weeks.

When and where was your last vacation? New York for 48 hours before we opened the pizzeria. But it’s been 12 years since I took a week off and went somewhere tropical.

Something you always missed because of chef life: I would say New Year’s Eve. I didn’t get to celebrate a New Year’s Eve for many years.

The most stressful thing about working in a kitchen: Time management. Even though I’m the boss now, it doesn’t matter, I still have anxiety getting ready for service. I think when you’ve done it for so long, it just doesn’t go away. But I think that’s good—it means you still care.

What would you be doing if you didn’t work in the industry? When I was a kid I always wanted to be a firefighter. I like the idea of the hands-on nature of the job. I definitely couldn’t do anything where I’m sitting at a desk and crunching numbers.

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