It’s Too Much. We’re Exhausted. Maybe This Will Help.

I’m so tired. It’s not a physical type of weariness, but rather a deep, existential exhaustion. And there’s not a nap (or a coffee) in the world that can take this away.

To be clear, I no longer work on the floor, instead, I work alongside the industry. Part of my role as Editorial & Content Director at Bar & Restaurant is talking to people. I speak with operators, bartenders, baristas, chefs and servers around the country on a daily basis. It’s a privilege to hear your stories and hold space for your joys, concerns, troubles and fears. And that’s why I’m writing this today. I know I’m not alone, and I want you to know that too.

In the last week, before Hurricane Ida decimated states from Louisiana to New York, three separate people broke down and cried to me over the phone. They had different reasons, but there was a common core: it’s too much. It’s all just too much right now. People are overworked, understaffed and operating within a system that broke a long time ago.

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At the beginning of the pandemic, amidst the chaos, there was hope. Granted, no one knew what was going on, or how long it would last, but still, there was hope. As restaurants across the country shut down, long overdue conversations started happening. In our homes, away from late deliveries, no shows, scheduling squabbles, bathroom leaks, broken keg taps and the rest of the tedium that defines the day to day of service industry life, we finally had the space to realize that the industry, as it stood, wasn’t working anymore. Arguably, it never really worked, but I digress…

Finally, we had the distance to realize things could be different, they could be better. Thought leaders and the ‘big names’ were talking about improved working conditions and living wages, healthcare benefits and career progression and then, almost as quickly as it had started, it all stopped.

The world opened up again, bringing the same issues as before, plus a host of new ones. On top of the late deliveries, the scheduling conflicts, the overflowing toilets and the broken things, we had to deal with increased sanitation measures, protests, social distancing, mask mandates (and/or the lack thereof), vaccination cards, labor shortages, angry customers, supply chain shortages, fires, political unrest and now floods. No wonder the progress seemed to stall. It’s too much. You can’t fix a system when you’re struggling to survive.  

It’s been 18 months. That’s almost 550 days of living in a flaming hot, metaphorical trash fire.

Operators, especially independent operators, are bearing the brunt of it all. You’re responsible for your venue and the livelihoods of your entire team. So, if you wake up every day filled with dread, if you’re angry, if you’re scared, if you’re losing your passion for an industry that’s defined your life, if you’re tired to your very core, you are not alone.

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There’s no one solution to these issues, they’re systemic. But the service industry is nothing if not resilient. Bar and restaurant workers have always been the first to lend a hand to the community when needed, and now it’s time to accept some help in return. Here are a few of our favorite organizations that are helping service industry workers. If we missed anyone, send me an email ([email protected]) and I’ll add them to the list.

Financial Support Resources

Emotional & Physical Health Resources

Alcoholism & Substance Abuse Resources

All views and opinions expressed in this article belong to the author. For questions or comments, you can reach her directly at [email protected]

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