Staying Calm In A Fast-Paced Work Environment

One of my former Johnson and Wales University students works behind one of the busiest bars on the east coast.  He likes to say that tending that bar is like being on an episode of Fear Factor…every day!  What he means is that every day brings unexpected and stressful situations.   Staying calm in this kind of a fast-paced work environment is challenging and critical to your success.  In fact, recent research indicates that the single characteristic that most highly effective food and beverage managers share is the ability to stay calm under duress. 

Bartender at Speed Rack Competition
Image Courtesy of Speed Rack 

You are rewarded for moving quickly and meeting near-impossible demands.  Stressful situations are always present and considered, ‘part of the business.’ People let you down.  Equipment lets you down.  At times it can seem like everything is against you.  To cope, you might pretend to be fine, but the effort required to maintain this façade can eventually wear you out.   

The outcomes of stress are seldom good.  There are personality types that are motivated by stress.  We are sure one of your employees has told you, “I work better under stress.”  However, this strategy is only beneficial for a short period of time and always has a negative impact on those you work with or manage. Personally, the long-term effects of stress make you less productive and lead to fatigue and burnout.  Some better than you have fallen into the pit of self-medication.  The bar is always open. 

Keeping your cool is critical to your personal and professional well-being.  Below we present some of the best-known methods for managing stress. They are split into three primary areas because managing stress isn’t just about handling it well during your shift.


Managing stress in the workplace begins with efforts to manage stress in all aspects of your life.  It starts before you enter work.  Are you ready for the shift?  Have you prepared for all of the situations that might occur? 

1.       Begin by organizing and planning your shift.  Think of the most problematic situation and create SOP’s (stressful operating procedures), standard protocols for how to handle the most common stressful situations.  Review them and share with others.  

2.       Schedule yourself for breaks.  You are not a machine and cannot expect to go non-stop.  If you just can’t find the time for a break, you aren’t managing your shift and operation correctly.

3.       Recognize those times when your stress level is high.  How does your body act?  Does your face redden?  Do you talk more or do you talk less?  Do you become cold towards others?  Take note of the signs and make an effort to calm down when they occur. 

4.       Set reasonable expectations of yourself and others.  Over-commitment mostly results in failure. 


Ok, now you are on and in your element.   Expect some stress.  Bad things will happen.  Pull from your inner-strength, professionalism and the planning that you have done to prepare for these inevitabilities.  You and your staff are capable if you can stay in the right frame of mind.

1.       Syndicate the responsibility. Delegate.  Ask for help.  Assign help.  As a manager, never schedule yourself to a station.  You get paid to direct the efforts of others.  This is especially so when the going gets tough.

2.       Be nice.  Cut yourself and others some slack.  You may have a bit of perfectionist in you.  You expect the same but should realize that we are all human and despite the best plan or efforts, mistakes will be made. 

3.       Be happy with your outcomes.  Set reasonable goals and be happy when you reach them.  Realize that you won’t always meet your goals and when you do, be careful about pushing for more.

4.       Avoid negative thoughts.  Negative thinking may come from stress; worse, it leads to more stress.  You and your employees are more effectively motivated through positive reinforcement.      

Post Shift / Personal Shift

At the completion of each shift, evaluate with a purpose.  What went right?  What went wrong?  Was it a complete disaster?  What can you do better in the future? Make a plan to remove the unnecessary stressors going forward.  Then…leave! This balance will give you the kind of energy that makes your shifts seem easy. 

1.       Your time off should complement your work.  You shouldn’t be doing anything that impedes you being your best.

2.       Separate yourself physically and mentally from the job.  Let it go for a while.

3.       Don’t hang around when you aren’t on the clock and for goodness sake try to make some friends outside of work.

4.       Realize that you are more than your work title.  You are a whole person. 

5.       Stressful thoughts are normal.  Plan a time when you can address the issues at cause.  We know a guy who saves all of his worries for consideration at a time each Sunday morning.  When he gets stressed at work, he keeps his cool.  He’ll worry Sunday.