Destressing a kitchen is almost an oxymoron, says Jeffrey Dinmore, executive chef at Clovis Community Medical Center in Clovis, Calif. “Stress is so ingrained in the culture of a kitchen,” he says. “But when people are more comfortable with their jobs, they create a happier work environment and prevent people from bouncing around from job to job."
A zen work environment can impact more than just turnover rates. For the foodservices department at Lewistown Public Schools in Lewistown, Mont., less stress means a more creative team. “They are more willing to try new things and have more energy to come up with new cost-saving measures or recipes,” says Amie Friesen, foodservice director for the district.
Consider these tips for reducing heat in the back of house.
1. Plan for time off
Kitchen substitutes can be hard to come by, Friesen says. And without qualified staff substitutes, members of Friesen’s culinary team felt a lot of pressure to show up for work every day, regardless of illness or the need for vacation. To curb burnout, her department has invested in additional team members and cross-training to fill in for staff who need a day off. “Now, when my staff members feel like they need time off, they can feel comfortable doing that,” she says.
2. Ensure staff are on board
Restaurants and foodservice operations are facing a lot of pressure to do more with less, and some workers aren’t prepared for the stress of the kitchen, Dinmore says. “Sometimes my job is to help you learn that this is something you might not want to do,” he says.
3. Buy less
Although kitchen work can be emotionally taxing, it can also take a physical toll. Friesen says lifting and rearranging bulk inventory takes up her staff’s valuable time and energy. To reduce the physical strain of the job and preserve employees’ energy for other tasks, Friesen keeps inventory as low as possible.
4. Think ahead
Much of the energy in the kitchen comes down to the manager, who must have a mix of competence and confidence, Dinmore says. His confidence comes from being prepared with a playbook for each day so team members aren't left guessing what their shift will look like. “The more I plan, the more I can reduce unnecessary pressures,” Dinmore says.
5. Embracing some stress
Stress can bog down a kitchen, but staff can channel some of that pressure into positive energy, Dinmore says. “At the end of the day, no one wants to let themselves down.”
In the kitchen, Dinmore encourages his team with compliments, and during staff meetings or one-on-ones, he asks team members where they see opportunities for improvement. “We get engagement like, ‘We shouldn’t thaw the product all the way, because it’s easier to cut frozen,’” he says. “Instead of adding more pressure, I see who has it within themselves.”