Learning to cope with the tremendous stress of these times
“Scott…two weeks’ notice. This job currently is leaving me mentally exhausted after every shift and causing enough stress for me where I am jeopardizing personal relationships.” The devastation and uncertainty around COVID-19 is causing stress, anxiety and depression in many Americans. Reports state that hospitality workers are two to three times more likely to experience these. At my own business, Punxsy Pizza, we’ve experienced a 40-percent loss of staff and a 30-percent sales increase. The stress caused by the surging work load plus the constantly changing health guidelines contributed to many resignations.
The pizza industry is seeing either a huge loss of revenue in more upscale dine-in concepts or increases in pizzerias already doing a larger percentage of take-out and delivery. Either scenario comes with its own angsts. Hospitality workers are left to deal with extraordinary stress. Pizzeria owners can’t turn in a two-week notice, and with no light at the end of the tunnel, they must learn coping strategies.
Dennis McQuinn owns DYO Pizza in Duncan, Oklahoma. DYO is a fast-casual shop with seating for 60 people. McQuinn comments on the pandemic’s effect: “At first we were holding our own, and all was good even though they shut down dining rooms, because we had a drive thru. Now that the dining rooms are back open, we have seen a decline in customers since they have an assortment of different places to dine again. We are also in the oilfield area that was hit hard at the beginning of this mess; we have seen a lot of people move away.”
McQuinn looked to industry leaders for inspiration. He implemented pizza kits, contactless delivery and take and bake to maintain sales. McQuinn saw the need to step out of his comfort zone by doing live videos on social media to convey DYO’s message. Even with expert help, McQuinn had concerns. “Some days are better than others, ” he says. “It gets me upset when I hear people say they love the place, and I just wish they would share that to help drive sales up. I do feel hopeless on some days when we hardly cover the Labor and COGS. We are the only fast casual within 30 miles.”
Anxiety runs amuck in the full service segment of our industry. Greg Wadlow runs the family owned Italian restaurant Monte Cellos in Wexford, Pennsylvania. Pizza put them on the map back in 1980 and Monte Cellos evolved into a full-service restaurant. Wadlow told us, “The pandemic initially caused great concern because no one knew what things were going to look like and turn into. We (as instructed) had to close our dining room and were only permitted to have delivery and takeout as our only source of revenue. The initial panic brought on by Covid made quite a few people uncomfortable with home delivery. Many of our customers seemed to prefer the curbside pickup. With the closing of our dining room, we lost quite a few employees because we just didn’t have a need for them at that time. Servers, bussers, hosts, bartenders and dishwashers were all areas of significant scaling back.”
The National Restaurant Association (NRA) recognizes an invisible impact the coronavirus has on those, a daily struggle to maintain good mental health. Alas, our industry sees its share of substance abuse. Speaking with a doctor I was told that while anti-anxiety medications can help to take the edge off, it is not the complete answer. Eight hours later the effects of medication wear off but your stresses remain.
Wadlow makes daily adjustments in his approach. He adds: “There have been some major changes, but none were made by us, but rather made for us by the health department, CDC, governor’s office, etc. We just went with the flow and made the best of things. We didn’t really have many options.” He further says that, “As for the stress, we have been talking about it lately here at the restaurant. Although most of us are working less hours per day, the stress level has not diminished in direct correlation with the hours. The whole thing is just odd — we work less, but feel like we worked more, and all the while the sales are down and we close earlier than we used to. When the pandemic hit, we shortened our hours for the first time.”
Sales are not the only concern. McQuinn adds, “The biggest issue we have here is finding quality workforce. With the government giving the extra unemployment stimulus it was hard to find anyone who wants to work. This has required the family to step up and help out more than usual, which causes the wife and I to get a little short with each other. We do have our times, but she is my rock and my biggest cheerleader.” Many call this workforce shortage the ’second wave’ for our industry.
McQuinn opts for some self care to cope with anxiety.“I am dealing with this one day at a time with the help of my family and friends. There are days I just don’t know if I can keep it going, but as long as it covers the bills, I will do all I can to succeed. I take extra time with my grandson to help me get the store off my mind. We are closed on Sundays so that we have some down time and that is when I get refueled.”
Wadlow adds: “I have been here for 31 years, and I have learned the only thing you can count on is that you cannot really count on anything. As far as how I am dealing with the stress…what can I do about it? I chose this business for a living and I know that it could always be worse.” Certainly, the restaurant industry has always been known for long hours and slim margins.
A webinar sponsored by the NRA offered suggestions for navigating the crisis.
• Enhance your spiritual life or self-care. Do a small bit of yoga, needlepoint or a crossword puzzle. For some, just playing a game of catch forces you to focus on something else, an incredible stress reliever.
• Do service work. Check in on an elderly neighbor, drop off a meal somewhere or volunteer. It will take you away from your own problems.
• Start a journal. Write down what you’re grateful for. Focus on gratitude and kindness, and have compassion for yourself when you feel hopeless or upset. This is an unprecedented moment in history.
• Use technology to attend sobriety meetings. People in recovery, especially early recovery, rely on their interactions with other recovering people, whether it’s through 12-step meetings, cups of coffee, or regular contact. There is a whole network of Zoom meetings for recovery. Or, pick up the phone and do it the old-fashioned way. Avail yourselves of all tools to stay on top of your sobriety.
Many restaurants now see the advantage of offering mental health benefits to their employees. Here are a few apps and websites recommended by the NRA that can benefit you and your employees at little or no cost.
1. ActiveMinds – a resource hub offering tips on stress management
2. PatientsLikeMe – Helps people find treatments, connect with others and take action to improve your outcome.
In the words of Winston Churchill: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
SCOTT ANTHONY owns Punxsy Pizza in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.