Waiting staff plays a vital role in the food service industry. They are the face of restaurants and are the people who ensure that customers are enjoying themselves. Yet, how many of us stop and wonder what this experience is like? How do the waitpeople cope with rush hours and angry customers? Or what happens when we unwittingly shout at them for issues which are not their fault? The reality is that behind the pleasant smile they serve us with, many waiters face mental health issues and chronic stress. This article delves into the challenges waitpeople face and the impact it has on their mental well-being.
What Is the Effect of the Job on the Mental Health of Waiting Staff?
The restaurant service sector remains a significant employer of waiters worldwide. In both developing and developed countries, more and more people are eating out in restaurants regularly. But this industry cannot function without the presence and support of waiting staff.
Many people who join the service industry are aspiring individuals who are starting their careers. They are young people who wish to be financially independent. But there might be hidden costs to being a waiter or waitress. Psychologists who have studied this population have found that restaurant industry employees often experience negative effects on their mental health and overall well-being. .
Several factors in the job put waitpeople at high health risks, including mental health problems. Working in a restaurant involves coping with high-stress levels and a fast-paced environment. Emotional labor is also high because restaurant staff must manage and regulate their emotions while interacting with customers.. When this is combined with other issues like low income, and irregular working hours, the risk of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and stress increases significantly .
The common mental health issues that the waiting staff experiences are   :
- Chronic Stress
- Substance Use
- Sleep disturbances
- Increase in intentions and instances of quitting.
There is another sad reality. Many waiters and waitresses have to work in an environment that may be unsafe for them. Many experience misbehavior, including sexual harassment from customers . Despite all this, the restaurant owners expect them to manage their emotions and maintain a positive demeanor toward customers .
Further, the waiting job is highly stressful and provides very little control to the individual. Low control increases the strain of the job and it is well-known that a high-strain job puts people, especially women, at a greater risk of stroke . In other words, being a waiter is not only challenging but can be quite harmful to a person’s well-being.
Why Is the Mental Health of Waiting Staff Often Overlooked?
Working as a waiter can be exhausting, but more unfortunate is the aspect that both employers and customers overlook the health, especially mental health, of waitpeople. There are several reasons for this:
Nature of Job
Waiter positions are commonly perceived as low-skilled and temporary employment. Further, restaurants commonly impose conditions such as strict deadlines, extended working hours, and shift work . Since many employees work on minimum wages, they often rely on shift work and tips for their income. In such situations, they tend to overlook their own mental health concerns and keep working despite their difficulties .
Higher Focus on Customer Satisfaction
The primary focus of the food service industry is often customer satisfaction. The waitstaff is usually required to prioritize the needs and wants of customers, sometimes neglecting their well-being. In workplaces prioritizing customer satisfaction, employees’ mental health may not receive the attention it deserves. .
High Turnover Rates
Turnover is very high in the food service industry. Employees frequently come and go. In fact, many waiters do not want a long-term career in the service industry and they prefer to work for a few months and leave . Thus, the staff constantly changes. In these conditions, employers do not have any incentive to establish consistent support systems for the mental well-being of waiters. Their focus is to fill positions quickly rather than addressing long-term mental health concerns. Ironically, one of the reasons for high turnover is the stressful and unsupportive work environment .
Lack of Awareness and Stigma
Many people lack knowledge and understanding about mental health problems in the workplace. Further, there is also a stigma attached to mental health concerns which discourages people from seeking help or talking openly about their struggles. The fear that if others find out about mental health issues, it will be reflected in tips and getting shifts is real in waiters and waitresses. Hence they avoid seeking help for their issues .
How can we Support the Mental Health of Waiting Staff?
Everyone deserves a supportive work environment and good mental health. Thus, we must invest in supporting the mental health of waiting staff. Here are some strategies to provide support  :
Foster a Supportive Work Environment
Employers must strive to establish a work environment that prioritizes mental wellness. They can do this by creating a culture where people can talk about their concerns and garner support. For example, managers can plan regular supervisor check-ins where staff can discuss concerns. Apart from that, when employees face harassment and unwanted advances from customers, employers can create an environment where waiters are heard and helped instead of shamed or ignored.
Provide Benefits Like Wellness Programs
Employers can also offer training programs that increase awareness of mental health issues and train wait staff in positive coping strategies. Some examples can be workshops on stress management, resilience, and self-care techniques. Another benefit can be to provide access to places like gym memberships or yoga classes to enhance their well-being.
Flexible Schedule and Leaves
One easy way to encourage a healthy work-life balance is by implementing fair and flexible scheduling practices. This can include a schedule where adequate breaks are available and paid time off is present.
If the managers and employers create a culture where stigma around mental health is abolished, the staff will be more open to seeking help. One way this can be done is by implementing anti-stigma campaigns to raise awareness and encourage acceptance of mental health issues.
Collaborate with Mental Health Professionals
Professionals know best! Many organizations believe in partnering with mental health professionals who specialize in workplace mental health. Such partnership by restaurants can lead to on-site counseling services or providing referrals to external resources when their staff members face challenges.
We are a world which enjoys restaurants and food from the service industry but conveniently overlook the mental health of waiting staff in these industries. Their job is demanding, requires both physical and emotional labor and rarely provides financial security or control over their work environment. This leads to negative effects on their mental health. By recognizing these challenges and creating a more sustainable environment, we can greatly improve the life and well-being of these essential service providers.
If you are in the food service industry and looking for mental health support for yourself or your team members, contact our experts at United We Care. The team at United We Care is committed to providing the best possible solutions for your overall well-being.
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