Restaurant workers face high-pressure, low pay, odd hours and sometimes unrelenting working conditions. As a result, those employees tend to be more susceptible to stress, unhealthy drinking habits and mental health issues.
To help service workers, Rowan Blaisdell, a former chef, and Blaine Bailey, a cook at Ska Brewing, are starting In the Weeds, a group for restaurant workers to talk about struggles and shared passions. The group hopes to create a positive community among restaurant workers to brainstorm healthy ways to cope with stress, said Blaisdell, a licensed clinical social worker.
The group’s name is a phrase used in the restaurant industry that describes being so busy that a worker can’t pause long enough to ask for help, Bailey said. Often, restaurant workers hesitate to ask for help with stress and mental health issues in the same way they hesitate to ask for help with tasks, Bailey said.
Often, restaurant employees seek solace by partying together, which can come with a culture of unhealthy drinking and drug use, Blaisdell said.
“I think the restaurant industry has always been fraught with substance-abuse issues,” he said.
U.S. accommodations and food industry workers were found to have the highest rates of illicit drug use from 2008 to 2012, according to The National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The survey found 19 percent of accommodations and food industry workers used drugs in the previous month.
Both Blaisdell and Bailey have personally experienced the stress associated with the restaurant culture.
Blaisdell said cooking in a restaurant on a Friday or a Saturday night was one of the “most terrifying” experiences he ever had because there was high demand to fill food orders and unsympathetic management.
“You’ve got 30 tickets up and everything has to be perfect,” said Blaisdell, who worked as a chef for 13 years.
The kitchen staff rarely hears compliments from customers and typically doesn’t receive a share of the tips, he said.
Groups similar to In the Weeds have started in more populated cities, such as Denver, Portland and Atlanta, especially after Anthony Bourdain, a celebrity chef, died by suicide in June, Bailey said.
Bourdain wrote “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly” that described “25 years of sex, drugs, bad behavior and haute cuisine.” He also discussed the realities of restaurant culture in his TV shows, such as “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.”
In the Weeds is not intended to be a formal therapy group or an abstinence group for those who want to quit drinking or using other substances, Blaisdell said.
However, it can be powerful for those with similar challenges to come together to talk about healthy habits, he said.
Blaisdell and Bailey do not expect the group will focus solely on job stresses. Attendees will also discuss common passions, such as cooking and new culinary endeavors.
Group attendees don’t need to make a commitment to attend or pay fees to participate.