Why many restaurants and kitchens are not conducive to a healthy mental state. By Emma Underwood

The  Staff Canteen

Restaurant manager and blogger Emma Underwood explores why many restaurants and kitchens are not conducive to a healthy mental state.

The shocking suicide of Anthony Bourdain has once again brought the issue of mental health within restaurants and kitchens to the forefront. Clearly it doesn’t matter how successful someone is, we all need to start taking care of one another.

anthony bourdain

Anthony Bourdain credit:


It’s a discussion that has started to become more prevalent, largely thanks to the efforts of Andrew Clarke with his Pilot Light campaign; but is one that has no easy solutions. The unavoidable fact is that many restaurants and kitchens are not conducive to a healthy mental state, and we all need to start putting welfare at the forefront.  

One of the biggest driving forces of this industry is the passion that we all constantly pour into our jobs, that inescapable desire to work harder and better than the day before. An insatiable appetite for self-improvement, the unending push towards a goal but one that has ever changing boundaries.

Fighting to always achieve more and more: a bigger spend per head, more likes on Instagram, a glowing national review, the elusive Michelin star… it all leaves very little room for true satisfaction. I’ve had numerous conversations with senior chef and restaurateur friends in the last few months that have included them making such comments as, “I will never be satisfied”, and, “it’s lonely at the top”. The drive for constant advancement is one that evidently comes at the cost of fulfilment.

Moreover, poor working conditions plague restaurants and kitchens due to long hours, few breaks, bad eating habits, and the inordinate amount of stress we all pile upon one another. Due to running a restaurant opening, I found myself working an unavoidable 100 hour working week. The effect it had on my mental health was huge: I was forgetful, working reactively rather than proactively and surviving from one shot of espresso to another. It was all my own doing, due to a desire not to leave the restaurant in its days of infancy.emma quote

The fact that so many restaurants regularly work their staff on this as a standard model is so counter-productive, and frighteningly harmful.

My working week has now settled to a healthy 45 hours, and my capability has improved no end. There are numerous reports of restaurants now changing their business model for the health of their team, but there are still so many running on low wages and long working hours, with the age-old excuse of ‘it’s the nature of the industry’, a seemingly immovable affliction. It’s really simple: if a business doesn’t work without people working unreasonable hours below minimum wage, it isn’t a feasible business.

On the 18th June at Serge (et le Phoque), the TMRW Project of which I am a partner alongside Anna Masing and Dan Doherty will be holding a panel talk based around welfare within the restaurant industry. We will discuss how to take better care of one another, how to look after our colleagues, and how to be better employers. The more we all begin talking about these issues, the more we can help effect change.

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.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 12th June 2018

Why many restaurants and kitchens are not conducive to a healthy mental state. By Emma Underwood