In the hospitality industry, we often talk about raw materials – how to choose and then work with them – we talk about techniques we need to know and use to serve unforgettable dishes; even technology has become one of our most important assets! We could go on and on mentioning factors playing vital roles, however, before all that, we have to remember our main factor: people, or what we call “the human factor”.
Restaurants are like a macrocosm where several different smaller macrocosms interact: people. Therefore, restaurants are complex systems where a network of relationships, interactions, conflicts and exchanges develop together with an extremely stressful workload.
In the last 15 years, the hospitality industry has developed a lot. Not taking into consideration the last two years and their limitations, the ever-present factor is always the same: the human factor. Behind a dish, there will always be a person, or a group of people that will work in order to complete their task.
Although the hospitality industry evolved using new techniques, it often overlooked its main factor, the human factor. We often hear experts talking about the sustainability of raw materials, the importance of their environmental impact, but we never talk about the sustainability of our staff or about employee care.
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that working in the hospitality industry is extremely stressful, the workload is often intense and emotionally challenging. However, are we doing something to handle this stress? (Since, as with many other jobs, stress is a given and it cannot be avoided).
The idea of adding a good Mind en Place to a good mise en place was born exactly as an answer to that question. The name is a pun that recalls the expression mise en place, so the preparation of dishes and ingredients before the beginning of service.
When you go from French to English, the word mise is replaced with mind, to highlight the importance of keeping your head in the game, “en place”. Therefore, a type of counseling service that would handle both food & beverage and the human factor.
It’s a type of counseling service that aims to improve people’s well-being inside a restaurant and reduce stress, improving communication between cooks and waiting staff since conflicts often arise between these two groups.
Our approach is obviously different depending on the situation, we think of Mind en Place as a tailored suit, meeting each and every of our clients’ expectations. Our main goal is to neutralize all those negative feelings that normally arise inside a restaurant among its staff, employees and employers.
Stress is extremely common, but it’s often overlooked as it is considered a given in the hospitality industry. Stress is not a bad thing, but a factor that should be dealt with and managed so that it won’t hinder our daily working life.
First of all, what does “stress” mean? It can be defined as “an organism’s response to a stressor such as an environmental condition.” It will activate both physiological and psychological responses from our body.
In other words, it’s the feeling of living an overwhelming emotional situation.
In medicine, there is no specific definition, but if we take biology into consideration, stress is the response of our body to a “sudden change” in our routine. It doesn’t really matter if it is a physical or psychological trauma, an extreme change in temperature, the lack of food or a dangerous situation.
So, stress, according to biology, is any environmental or physical pressure that elicits a response from an organism and hinders its balance.
How does our body react?
Our body will take action and make sure that the situation goes back to normal. Without going into details, blood will give chemical signals that will rise our attention span, lessen the pain and, in some cases, generate a feeling of euphoria.
When the brain detects stress through our amygdala, it first sends a message to a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. The main focus of this message is our survival and our body will get ready to react. It will instigate a “fight or flight” response and our adrenal glands will release hormones into the body, producing a huge wave of energy.
Our blood vessels, which are not considered as important in this moment, will allow more blood into our heart, which will elevate our pulse. We will breathe faster and our brain and senses will be ready to react just in mere seconds. Once the risk is no longer a risk, our body will go back to normal.
Actually, the whole process is even more complicated, but the goal of this article is to touch only some of the main points in order to understand how this process is linked to work-related stress in particular in the hospitality industry.
Stress is usually seen as something negative, but that is not always the case. Positive types of stress are called “eustress” because they help us work better and more efficiently. Some examples of eustress are:
– Exam anxiety, which can improve our results;
– anxiety during service in a restaurant, which makes us pay more attention to what we are doing in order to make fewer mistakes and not hurt ourselves or the others.
There are even more stimuli and they can affect us negatively, even more if they continue in time, because they can create a sort of imbalance in our cortisol release, the so called “stress hormone”.
Emotional and physical stimuli, such as heat and cold, muscle efforts and others. In fact, if a person’s efforts fail or if their stress overcomes their ability to respond and adapt creating a “breaking point”, they will experience what is known as “distress”. This happens when stress and pressure affect us negatively, hindering our performance. In these cases, the person could be more vulnerable and can present mental or physical issues, sometimes both.
The effect stress has on us depends on our psychological (self-esteem, optimism, control), social (social skills, available support) and physical (health and energy) resources. The way we decide to face our daily stress will make the difference: will stress be the one to decide for us or will we take matters into our own hands?
Of course, this imaginary division between “good” and “bad” stress has way more nuances and every person has their own response. That said, stress plays an active role in our every-day life and workplace, it shouldn’t be underestimated as it could have severe consequences. At the same time, though, we shouldn’t forget that stress plays a fundamental role in our lives.
In the hospitality industry, stress is a given and can be either positive or negative. It’s the same thing that happens in the kitchen: if everything is perfectly organized and the chef manages to create a successful team working towards the same goal, ours will be a positive stress that will help us work better.
However, if the kitchen is chaotic and disorganized, it will lead to severe miscommunication, aggression and anger and we already know that these factors will affect people negatively.
We all know that this is a critical moment, especially in the hospitality industry, however, we do believe that it is important to talk about this now. Now we have the chance to focus our attention on the inside, on our emotions, which are the basis of all the amazing work done in restaurants.
Antonio Labriola, Chef & Chef Consultant, Psychologist and Instructor. Culinary instructor in several cooking schools. Mind en Place Co-founder. Mind en Place: experts in psychology and hospitality industry, food & beverage counseling and problem management.
Sonia Rotondo, Psychologist & Psychology Instructor specialized in work-related stress. Mind en Place Co-founder. She manages the psychological part of our counseling sessions, the “neutralization of negative feelings” in restaurants and the improvement of employees and employers’ daily working life.