Restaurant Jobs: How to Deal with Stress and Burnout

11th September 2023

Biting off more than you can chew – it’s a familiar feeling for anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant. From the clatter of pots and pans in the kitchen to the constant hustle and bustle in the dining area, the life of a restaurant worker is anything but a cakewalk.

The demanding nature of the job, while invigorating for many, often serves as a hotbed for stress and burnout.

So, how does one keep the soup of stress from boiling over in this high-pressure environment? Let’s dive fork-first into the issue.

The Reality of Working in a Restaurant

Imagine this: The clock strikes 6 p.m. The chef’s hands are a whirlwind, chopping, tossing, and searing, turning a collection of raw ingredients into culinary masterpieces.

At the same time, the waitstaff is zig-zagging through tables, balancing trays laden with dishes, taking orders with a smile, and often dealing with the occasional customer who thinks “the customer is always right” gives them a license to be impolite.

And then there’s the manager, the orchestra conductor, ensuring every section is harmonizing well, addressing complaints, and making sure the ship sails smoothly.

It sounds like a scene straight out of a movie, but it’s just another day in the life of restaurant professionals. The kitchen’s heat and the weight of both the trays and the responsibility can be physically and mentally grueling.

Identifying the Signs of Stress and Burnout

Let’s face it; we’ve all had those days when we feel like a deflated soufflé, flat and exhausted. But how do we know if it’s just a bad day or if we’re on the fast track to burnout city? Here are some signs to chew on:

  • Physical: Constant fatigue, even after a good night’s sleep, frequent headaches, or muscle pain. It’s like being deep-fried in exhaustion with a constant urge for calling out sick.
  • Emotional: Feeling detached from your job or developing a cynical or negative outlook towards it. Imagine feeling like that dish nobody orders, day in and day out.
  • Mental: Reduced performance, difficulty concentrating, or a sense of disillusionment. It’s like constantly dropping the ball… or, in this case, the plate.

These symptoms aren’t just “bad days.” They’re alarm bells. If you find yourself nodding along, thinking, “This sounds like my daily special,” it might be time to take a step back and evaluate.

Understanding the Causes

You might wonder, “Why am I feeling like a wilted lettuce in a world of fresh salads?” The answer often lies in the unique challenges that the restaurant industry cooks up:

  • Long hours: Those sumptuous dinners and elaborate brunches often mean extended working hours for the staff. This can strain personal lives and chip away at one’s physical health.
  • Difficult customers: Every restaurant worker has stories of customers who are saltier than a bowl of fries. Dealing with such patrons without losing one’s cool can be mentally taxing.
  • High expectations: One minor slip-up can lead to significant repercussions in the age of instant reviews and viral social media posts. The pressure to be consistently perfect can be immense.
  • Constant multitasking: A waiter isn’t just a waiter. They’re a salesperson, a diplomat navigating diner disputes, a memory wizard remembering orders, and sometimes even a counselor offering dish suggestions to the indecisive diner.

Practical Techniques to Handle Stress in the Moment

When the kitchen gets chaotic, or the dining area feels like a pressure cooker, having some quick-release valves for stress is beneficial. Here are a few tricks:

  • Breathe easy: When things get heated, take a moment. A deep, slow breath can do wonders. Think of it as letting your mind simmer down on a low flame.
  • Stretch it out: Got a minute? Stretch your arms, roll your neck, or just shake out any stiffness. Imagine kneading out the stress like dough.
  • Stay grounded: Feel overwhelmed? Give the 5-4-3-2-1 technique a shot. It’s simple – look for five things you can see, four you can touch, three you can hear, two you can smell, and one you can taste. It’s a recipe to bring you back to the present moment.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to dealing with stress, but with a pinch of patience and a dash of mindfulness, it becomes more manageable.

Long-Term Strategies for Managing Stress and Avoiding Burnout

Just as you need some quick momentary solutions, you’ll want to have some long-term strategies to keep your mind at the right temperature.

  • Boundaries: It’s like portion control for your mental health. Ensure you’re taking adequate breaks between shifts. If you feel the weight of too many double shifts or consistently long hours, it might be time to chat with your manager. Remember, it’s okay to say “no” sometimes – you’re not an all-you-can-eat buffet.
  • Hobbies: Dive into something unrelated to food and service. It might be painting, hiking, dancing, or even just binge-watching a series. It’s about giving your mind a different menu to savor now and then.
  • Therapy and counseling: There’s no shame in seeking help. Think of therapists as chefs for the soul; they have the expertise to help whip your mental health back into shape.
  • Work-life balance: Try to regularly carve out “me” time. It can be a short holiday, a day spent with family, or a day when you sleep in. Imagine it as periodically re-seasoning your life’s skillet.


Serving up smiles and satiating appetites day in and day out is a labor of love. Yet, like a pot left unattended, the pressures of the restaurant industry can lead to the boiling over of stress and burnout. But with the right ingredients – awareness, techniques to manage stress, and a supportive environment – you can cook up a fulfilling and sustainable career.

So, to every chef, server, manager, and all the unsung heroes behind the scenes, remember: Just as you season and taste dishes to perfection, periodically check in on your well-being. After all, a happy chef makes for a happy kitchen, serving up the most delightful feasts.

Bon appétit to a balanced life in the restaurant world!