Health and Wellbeing isn’t exactly synonymous with those working in the hospitality industry, especially bartenders.
Infact, the concept of a “healthy bartender” is almost oxymoronic, like saying; clean shaven hipsters, nutritious Pot Noodles or drinking a great Woo Woo. Bartenders are renowned for living the industry, partying hard, late nights, no sleep, caffeine fuelled, excessive alcohol, and living on a diet of crisps and sandwiches from the local all-night garage. This lifestyle - when you’re in your late teens and early 20s (and working for Colin Church) - is great fun let me tell you. But, in an industry where more and more people are choosing bar work as a career and not just a “money until I find something else” option, that lifestyle choice just isn’t sustainable, and over time will significantly increase the risk of serious physical and mental illness. We all know a bartender who, on the outside, seems a happy, fun-loving kinda guy or girl, but internally, suffers from exhaustion, fatigue, depression, and their insides are just one Wray and Nephew away from caving in. And what’s even more crazy, within this bar culture, it’s not only expected that we’ll work beside a person like this, but it’s accepted as simply an industry by-product. And that’s got to change.
For the first time in history, more people are choosing health and fitness over a night out on the town. The world is changing. And with it, so must the bar and hospitality industry and more importantly, this culture that it’s immersed in.
We all know the personal benefits of eating healthy and exercising more; I will not bore you by going into more detail on the hows or whys. But, as bar and restaurant owners, what benefits can our businesses gain from our staff being more health, fitness and wellbeing aware and active?
Obviously, forgetting the moral and ethical obligation we have, to look after the health of our staff as best we can, the business benefits of having a fit and healthy team are extensive:
Reducing their risk of exhaustion and burnout
Happier staff (and we all know, happy staff = happy clientele = happy owners)
Increased job satisfaction
Improved staff retention
Decreased sick time
The list goes on…
According to New York restauranteur and author, Danny Meyer, who is the owner of Union Square Café in New York, Gramercy Tavern, Shake Shack and a number of other hospitality businesses, he dismisses the old thinking that “the customer comes first”.
Instead, he believes that staff come first and everything else follows on from there. And he’s probably right. Your staff are your business. They are your front line and the first, and potentially last, impression your customers will have on your business. For you, employing great staff, and creating a work environment where happiness, health and job satisfaction are your number one priorities, will directly and positively impact on your customers’ experiences when they come to eat and drink at your restaurant and bars. So when it comes to running a successful hospitality business where your staff have direct access to your customers, why wouldn’t we want to do everything we could to try and ensure your staff are in the healthiest place both physically and mentally?
So, with all that in mind, where do we even start when it comes to changing a culture which is so heavily engrained in an industry? And, whose responsibility is it to start bringing around that change?
I’ll tell you. It’s the creative bartenders who spend hours developing new cocktail concepts and flavours. It’s the bar and restaurant owners who work tirelessly challenging the boundaries of what this industry can be. It’s the people pushing to make Scotland the global leader in hospitality. It’s the people that are part of The 100 Scots. You are the most respected and influential people in this industry. Collectively, you have the power to shape this industry and make having a career in it, an incredible and healthy one, but it needs to be a collective and united effort.
I’d like to give you a quote from Frances Hesselbein, who is the CEO of Frances Hasselbein Leadership Institute and randomly, former CEO of the Girl Scouts in the USA.
“Culture does not change because we desire to change it. Culture changes when the organisation is transformed; the culture reflects the realities of the people working together every day. “
So in practical terms, what can you do to start shifting this cultural balance in favour of a healthier lifestyle for our staff?
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not fighting the old, but on building the new”
So rather than us trying to step in and abolish the notoriously unhealthy lives a lot of the hospitality industry currently live, start by introducing a new reality, one where choosing to be fit and healthy is easy and accessible, a reality where being healthy is socially encouraged and embraced.
The bar and hospitality community are intrinsically social by nature, and I think the key to empowering this industry cultural change is to make health, fitness and wellbeing a community and social project.
One where the bar community work and exercise together, which in-time, will help establish a new industry cultural standard, where having a career in the bar world and choosing to be fit and heathy becomes concomitant. Linked to this, one of the initiatives we offer at Synergy is private, group fitness classes specifically designed for those working in the hospitality industry. It gives staff and owners a chance to come together outside of work and alcohol, to exercise and experience social fitness for the first time, and also help towards improving the health of the industry workforce and aiding this cultural change.
From my eyes, “Good fitness breeds good wellbeing”. If you’re exercising regularly, you are much more likely to make good health and nutritional choices and opposed to making poor ones which can then compromise what you’ve just bust a gut for in the gym. By establishing regular exercising patterns as a baseline, then everything else should lead from there.
If you’re not fortunate enough to have close access to our facilities in Livingston and Edinburgh, try contacting a gym more local to you and try to set up something similar, or look at corporate membership options where your staff receive a discounted rate at that gym just because they work for your business. If we can demonstrate to our staff that we genuinely care about their health and wellbeing; their sense of personal value, level of job satisfaction and subsequently your staff retention numbers will take a significantly positive upswing.
You could introduce staff nutritional coaching sessions, possibly even linked to new menu launches. Teach them about the ingredients and the benefits they can offer the body. If we educate our staff and can get them enthusiastic about eating well, they will not only be healthier themselves, but this enthusiasm will also rub off on your customers. Also, if you don’t already, make these healthy meals available as staff meals too, this will show you care, and will allow your staff to stay true to their new way of thinking.
Now remember, this is a serious cultural change we’re talking about, it will not happen overnight.
I’m also a realist, and I know asking a bartender to abstain from drink and asking them to live a Buddhist monks life, is like asking Donald Trump to stop being a tit... it’s just not going to happen. But, and however cliché this may sound, it really is all about balance. We all need to enjoy life, and food and drink will always play a massive part of that enjoyment, but if we can collectively get the industry physically and mentally healthier, whilst still maintaining our love and passion for hospitality, you, your staff, your business, and this industry really will have a much stronger and more prosperous future.