How did your work shift go? Make a lot of tips? Create some beautiful or tasty food? Did you manage a sticky situation with a less than ideal guest?
How did you feel post work?
Sounds like a less common question, right?
I served tables for about 15 years, and post workday recovery was never a happy discussion I had with my co-workers or managers. Usually I was focused on getting home and re-fueling my systems before I had to train on the ice as a competitive figure skater. When I stopped competing, I had to recover because I need a quick mind at 5am when I coached Varsity Athletes.
But for many restaurant employees, the post work recovery schedule is essentially non-existent.
And I hope by the end of this article you will understand why we may need to think about this when we manage ourselves on the work floor and our employees.
Restaurants are designed to create a high stress environment. When volume is usually the way to create a profit, workers and managers can be pushed to exhaustion just to keep up.
But what happens when many employee finish their work day?
they will go to the nearest industry bar and grab a drink
they go home and watch tv for hours trying to calm down before going to bed
they come back to work the next day even more exhausted and less productive.
The tasks of working at a restaurant could be seen as comparable to an endurance sport. Employee push themselves like athletes and like any good athlete, recovery should be included in the equation.
By definition recovery means: a return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength.
Getting of the clock and into recovery
Many service industry employee have a history of being unable to calm down efficiently enough to begin recovering. Obviously, this problem can be multi-faceted and I am not going to prescribe a quick fix to you. I do think we can build a tool kit to help manage our work-to-home-to-bed process. We can manage our processes then we can get to that recovery process even faster.
Before we get into the tool kit, I want to remind you that feelings of chronic stress can be a sign of an underlying problem. If you find that you are constantly not sleeping, eating sporadically, or chronically feeling exhausted, please connect with a doctor. There could be something else happening that is keeping you from recovering after your workday and this toolkit will not help with that. This toolkit is designed for someone who wants to get the most out of their downtime so that they can be ready for the next shift in the restaurant.
Managing expectations in your brain. The peak end rule at work.
The human brain is an amazing organ but it has a few quirks to it that can make our days a little bit tougher to manage. When working properly, these mechanisms help us manage all the outside stimulation so that we can function, but these same processes can sometimes keep us from getting the rest we need.
The Peak-End rule is a psychological heuristic that effects our memory. Memory would be difficult to manage if our brain could log and extract every moment we encounter in our day. Instead of having to remember all the events that happened, your brain remembers just a couple of peak moments. To tie it all off with a bow, our brain will also remember the end of the event we are recalling.
Funnily enough the peak end rule is utilized by many restaurants with managing their customers. If the establishment makes sure that the end of each guest experience is positive then the customer is more likely to remember the whole experience as a positive one. This can be as simple as have someone hold the door for guests when they are leaving or writing a personalized birthday card for guests that are celebrating that day.
For recovery from our workday, we want to utilize this rule.
Step 1) Building a feeling of positivity to end your workday.
What would a fantastic workday in the restaurant look like to you? How would the perfect end of your workday look like?
This is the first step to creating a recovery process. Take a moment and jot down 3 ways you can feel accomplished from a restaurant shift.
The peak end rule is used with athletes all the time to create consistent performance. After each training day the athletes will cool down with the same stretches/exercises/processes. They will do these same processes even after a competition to keep everything the same. Their brain and bodies get used to the repetition and will begin to recover faster. I would use this in peak season with the figure skaters I worked with. If they had a clean practice I would have the finish with the same exercises and get off the ice. Better to remember a positive process than a negative one.
Have you written down 3 things that would create a positive end to your workday? Good. Can any of these be made a ritual to the end of your workday? Here are a few examples:
Sharpening your knives at the end of each shift.
Resetting all the tables perfectly
Clearing all the tables
Organizing your receipts and cash-out
Get the idea?
Create a ritual around these activities. Do them at the end of every workday. This will be the first step to letting your brain know that you are finished work and ready to begin recovery.
If you do this consistently for 1 week you will begin to notice a difference. You will feel yourself begin to relax quicker because you know you have set yourself up for success. Another added benefit is that these processes usually set us up for success for the start of our shift the next day.
Managing the process after work is only one part of the process. Let’s look at our home life next.
Step 2) Creating a Recovery Sanctuary at home.
Our home needs to be a space of recovery, and I don’t mean creating a spa experience. Mostly this is in reference to creating a space for sleep.
1) Block out the sun
I am going to bet that a restaurant employee is finishing work in the middle of the night. Usually getting up a little later in the morning before going to an opening lunch shift or prep in the kitchen. But because sleep is happening so much later, we need to convince our brain that it is night for longer.
Sleep is based out of a circadian rhythm and melatonin is the hormone that helps us fall asleep. Its production is highest when the sun is down and is repressed when we are exposed to the Blue spectrum of light. This image below shows this quite well:
If you don’t wake up until 10 or 11 a.m. you open yourself to having your melatonin levels drop before you are finished sleeping when the sun shines in the windows. This is easy to fix.
Get black out curtains to simulate the darkness that goes with night. You can find inexpensive ones on Amazon. Sometimes you need 2 layers depending on how bright the sun is in your bedroom.
This will keep those melatonin levels high during sleep and keep you from waking up early.
2) Limit screen time before bed.
Screens are great for emitting the same blue light that suppresses melatonin like the sun. Our phones, tablets, T.V.s, and laptops all emit this light.
The most direct way to reduce this is to reduce this light. Cut out screen time before bed. Switch to reading a book, making your lunch for the next day, meditation, journaling, or colouring could all be great ways to reduce screen time.
If you can’t cut out screens entirely, look into a filter like Twilight or Flux. They cut the blue light out with a filter. This can reduce the negative effects screen can have on our sleep.
3) Take a shower.
When we sleep our body will move through many different temperatures. But one of the ways to artificially simulate this is with a hot shower.
Take a hot shower about 1 hour before going to bed. As your body cools down it will begin to have the same temperature flux that happens when we fall asleep. This is a great to do in conjunction with reading before bed.
Our brain like to have processes to start their recovery process. Use the peak end rule to create a positive end to your workday. From their build your recovery sanctuary by creating the ideal conditions for sleep.