The Dark Side of Hospitality Part 1

As an alcohol focused blog this is a tough post to write. Hospitality as an industry has a serious dark side of alcoholism and drug abuse.

Whilst many in Australia join the “hospo crowd” to make some cash while they study for a “real job”, there’s an entire industry, one of the largest employers in the country, of people who take it seriously. Chefs, maitre de, bartenders, managers… we all take the act of serving other people seriously and the quality of our service is a great source of pride. I’d say it’s the same in most countries.

The downside comes when we try to deal with the emotional pressures of working in an industry that still has major hangovers from the Victorian era and earlier. We serve therefore we are servants. Servants = slaves, or at the very least a class that is less than anyone capable of paying for such service.

This isn’t a post about how customers are arseholes and we deal with little to no respect for the worst wages available. This is a post about how we fail to support those who need real help. How we enable them to get worse not better.

 

Substance Abuse in Hospitality

It can’t be a huge shock for you the reader to learn that the industry with the highest rate of recreational cannabis use is the hospitality industry, specifically chefs and kitchen staff. Amphetamine and cocaine abuse in front of house staff is also significantly higher than other industries.

In fact the only industry with more amphetamine abuse than hospitality is truck drivers. Possibly DJ’s.

Alcoholism is surprisingly poorly documented when compared to the rigorous studies available on Police, medical staff and lawyers. I would be willing to bet every drop of investment whisky I own that it’s definitely worse in our industry. After all we deal with more stress than neurosurgeons.

We work hard, we play hard.

It’s that sort of thinking that’s supposed to make working in our high stress environment ok. As though our ability to drink more than our customers and “let loose” is something we should be seriously proud of.

I’m not going all nanny-state on you. We should be able to let loose and party. The issue is so often we work for that party, like every second on the clock is dedicated to when we’re off the clock and can start doing shots and snorting lines.

We play hard to escape the stress and it’s hurting us. We ignore the pain inside and the constant issues of imposter syndrome, being verbally abused by customers, being treated as sub-human by others and just cover it up with as many drinks as the tip jar can offer.

 

Where does it start?

See the stress of the job begins with the pressure you put on yourself to be at work and working well. Soon there’s the pressure of customers asking for things. Both of these are normal stress levels.

However a customer soon takes a role of ownership with the venue you work in and feels justified in taking out their stress and expectations on you.

Your manager or boss takes the customer’s issues and compounds them with their own stresses and empties their stress bucket onto you.

The staff in the kitchen begin to get complaints and get angry at everyone, killing their own quality control and emptying the stress bucket back onto the customers in the form of food worth complaining about and onto the floor staff carrying it.

The customers empty the bucket back onto the floor staff, compounding their stress so they can’t perform.

The owners empty all possible perceived stress from customers onto everyone.

If you’ve accepted any responsibility in the venue or even just take your job seriously then everyone else washes their hands into the stress bucket that is dumped on you.

The cycle goes on until something clicks and you leave for a break to go have a smoke or scream in the cool-room/walk-in.

 

It all starts with you accepting the narrative that serving the customers means you have to treat them better than they treat you. Which is true in the current hospitality culture. It’s something to address but not in this post. Just have a think about it.

 

Familiar?

You clock off from work and have a staff drink. You’re mates with a bartender at a bar around the corner so you encourage everyone at work to head around there for another drink. Soon you’ve travelled from bar to bar as they close, you’re drunk, you’ve had other things as well and the sun is starting to come up. In Melbourne this is usually the part where you wind up in Revs promising the bouncer you aren’t going to vomit.

After work drinks just became a serious bender and you have to be at work in 10 hours looking sharp and dealing with customers again.This is one of the most common occurrences in the hospitality industry.

 

A really confronting experience was the day a good friend explained that he handles the hangover with 4 coffees before starting his shift and a regular bump of cocaine every 20 minutes throughout. He’s an absolute rockstar on the floor of any restaurant but holy shit is it worth doing that to be good at waiting tables?

The same friend treats alcohol and marijuana as a great thing to do in your spare time, after a shift, during a shift, before a shift. Basically all the time. Should I just laugh it off and say “Hey it takes a lot to get the sort of customer satisfaction he does” ?

 

Why?

We kill ourselves metaphorically every night to make our customers feel good. Not just good but better than us.

Think about your tips. Is it really about you giving great service or is it about your customer being able to feel affluent enough to reward you for a good job? Don’t they get a personal reward out of being able to give you a tip? They get to feel like they are rewarding you, like they are capable of making your life better because they have more money and you’ve done your job.

When you tip (and we in the industry tip a bigger percentage of our pay than any other patrons) is it about thanking the person or is there a small part of you that feels good for doing it? Is there a little bit of recognition that the job sucks so well done for doing it beyond the bare minimum requirements?

Are you recognising the pain that person is probably in? The stress? The hard work? The fact they won’t get paid well enough to ever own a home? You probably are. Because you’re in hospitality and you’re an awesome human.

But if they go and use those tips to self-medicate with booze and drugs does it help? Couldn’t you make a better impact on their lives by just saying thank you, recognising their work and meaning it? How about voting for a higher minimum wage and paying that little bit more for your dinner to support them above the crippling stress level and not just above the poverty line?

 

That’s probably too deep or I’m making connections that aren’t really there. It’s much better to just buy them a shot and join in with the party and get the chef a beer and ask if he’ll roll a joint and bitch about your customers and say yes to that other beer and all go on to that new bar that’s just opened up and start the round again and blow more of your pay than you can afford to on another round…

 

We’re crippling ourselves trying to deal with working in an industry that expects more, pays less and validates the idea that if you’re in it after you’ve finished university then you’re probably a loser and deserve the stress and torment. Pull yourself up kid, get your degree kid, stop working a shit job kid, you’re better than a bartender/cook/dishy/waitress…

We all hope it’s not forever. So where’s the harm in joining the party now?

Please. PLEASE. I swear it is cool to ask the chef if he’s worried about his drinking. I swear it’s cool to be the sober guy after work. I swear it’s OK to tell another bartender they’ve had enough to drink wayyyyy sooner, they have work tomorrow and you give a shit about them.

You aren’t killing the party, the party’s killing you.

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Bar owner, coffee roaster, mixologist of the molecular and enthusiast of all things grape, grain, sugar, honey and yeast related.