Why it can be tough to be the boss by Emma Underwood

The  Staff Canteen

Restaurant manager Emma Underwood on why it is hard to be the boss, especially a boss of a short-staffed restaurant.

It’s hard being the boss, and it’s even tougher being the boss of a short-staffed restaurant. The extra shifts that need covering always throw up the same dilemma: do I give them to the team and risk exhausting them? Or do I do it myself and wear myself out instead? Unfortunately for my friends and family who regularly forget what I look like, I usually tend to choose the latter option.

mobile phone
Even on days off, we can find ourselves
checking emails


The importance of looking after the restaurant team weighs so heavily on me, meaning that I often find myself working that fifth double shift in the row just, so they can stay rested. Whenever people ask me what days off I have the answer is always the same, ‘whatever days no one else needs off’. I’m always sure to work around the team’s needs, rather than think about my own.

Last month, due to various staff holidays, I managed just three days off for the entire duration. And those precious days off are always filled with emails, texts and phone calls. The last hour of my current morning off has included 12 emails, one phone call and three text messages about work. While my phone can always be switched off, emails put off until tomorrow, and text messages ignored, most of the time it’s just easier to sort things out immediately

Recent conversations with my peers have definitely made me feel as though I’m not alone in this. I’ve spoken to four different restaurateurs in the last week that have all elicited similar responses to the ‘how are you?’ question: ‘I’m really tired,’, ‘I’m exhausted’, and ‘I’m overwhelmed’. No matter how supportive your team may be, and I’m blessed with an amazing one at Stem, the burden still rests heavily on those in charge. Everyone I spoke to still felt the pressure of spending their time off productively, whether it be through seeing friends and family or by going to the gym, it seems it’s still hard to switch off and take time for yourself. The concept of ‘relaxing’ can often feel like an unattainability, but it is so essential.

abdomen alone casual 1415554
When you are ill, you are ill

Last week the inevitable happened: I got ill. Luckily it coincided with my allotted two days off, and I was able to manoeuvre an extra day off to recover, but I spent a very rare three days bed-ridden. I actually got to read my book and watch TV, but most of all I slept. For the longest hours since moving to London six months ago. Despite being unwell, it was glorious. I came back to work refreshed and motivated, and have finally managed to answer the ‘how are you?’ question with, ‘very well, thank you!’.

It’s a lesson that I seem to have to remind myself of over and over again, but self-care in this industry is so important. Taking the time to do absolutely nothing is vital to your well-being, and while I’m the worst person in the world at being able to sit still, forcing myself to regularly turns out to do the world of good.

Tomorrow the assistant manager of Stem goes on holiday for ten days, so I’m faced with pulling a few consecutive doubles, but I know how rewarding it will all be when she returns, fresh and energised and full of new ideas for the restaurant. In the meantime, I am going to spend the rest of my day off doing as little as possible… and maybe even ignoring my phone…

Blog by Emma Underwood, Restaurant Manager, Stem

Emma Underwood blog image
Emma Underwood

Emma Underwood is the restaurant manager of Stem, in Mayfair, having previously worked at Where the Light Gets In, based in Stockport and Burnt Truffle in Heswall, part of Gary Usher’s ever-expanding restaurant empire.

Emma started working with Gary in 2012 when she joined the Sticky Walnut team as a waitress before moving to the sister restaurant, Burnt Truffle as the general manager.

Emma is also part of the TMRW Project along with food writer Anna Sulan Masing  which was set up in 2015.

The project acts as a platform for people starting out early in their career to help them grow, learn and connect with each other. It hosts the Chefs of Tomorrow Dinners, the front of house initiative The Switch, and a series of talks and panel discussions.

In these challenging times…

The Staff Canteen team are taking a different approach to keeping our website independent and delivering content free from commercial influence. Our Editorial team have a critical role to play in informing and supporting our audience in a balanced way. We would never put up a paywall and restrict access – The Staff Canteen is open to all and we want to keep bringing you the content you want; more from younger chefs, more on mental health, more tips and industry knowledge, more recipes and more videos. We need your support right now, more than ever, to keep The Staff Canteen active. Without your financial contributions this would not be possible.

Over the last 12 years, The Staff Canteen has built what has become the go-to platform for chefs and hospitality professionals. As members and visitors, your daily support has made The Staff Canteen what it is today. Our features and videos from the world’s biggest name chefs are something we are proud of. We have over 500,000 followers across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other social channels, each connecting with chefs across the world. Our editorial and social media team are creating and delivering engaging content every day, to support you and the whole sector - we want to do more for you.

A single coffee is more than £2, a beer is £4.50 and a large glass of wine can be £6 or more.

Support The Staff Canteen from as little as £1 today. Thank you.

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 9th October 2018

Why it can be tough to be the boss by Emma Underwood