A Shift In How I Serve

Restaurants are highly volatile, emotionally charged work environments where stress can break even the healthiest, most balanced individuals. For too many of us, alcohol and drug consumption is the default tonic to our ills. We all have stories of working high, hungover, or unhinged. And don’t assume that this behavior is reserved for just the low performers; some of the most talented and key staff members are the ones “white knuckling it” through the shift.

Recent studies have shown that the hospitality industry has the highest rates of substance abuse among all professions in the US, and that waiting tables under certain conditions might be “more stressful than being a neurosurgeon.” Our industry has an alarming rate of employees struggling with mental health issues. Two recent high profile suicides of Michelin-star chefs further underscores the problem, and several organizations have made it their mission to destigmatize the issue.

Higher operating costs and slimmer margins will likely make the issue of employee health and retention all the more vital. Fortunately, there are many in the industry who are finding other, more healthful ways to manage workplace stress. I’ve finally become one of them. Here’s my story… It was around my 40th birthday that something started to shift for me. ​ I had just walked away from my own startup and a very toxic business partnership, leaving me in significant debt, and very discouraged. I dove straight into another venture, pouring even more money and time into that product until it failed, too. I started to withdrawal from my family. I gained nearly 30 pounds and drank and smoked pot heavily. Keep in mind, I was also waiting tables five nights a week in a high profile, fine dining restaurant in Silicon Valley, in addition to an added 30-40 hours a week spent on my other ventures. The steady, constant pressure of restaurant work added more fuel to what already felt like an unmanageable situation.

At the height of it all, one of my guests, the wife of a prominent Silicon Valley CEO, engaged me in a conversation about meditation. She encouraged me to start practicing. It turns out that her husband had been transformed by meditation and was now “baking it” into his company’s workplace culture.

I didn’t take her advice immediately, but at some point, I began incorporating it into my walks. I started meditating daily for 20 minutes, never missing a session. I had also started doing 400 pushups a day, and was making adjustments to my diet. My mind and body began to transform. I’d been fascinated with personal development, fitness, spirituality, and the like for many years, but I had never taken a focused, disciplined approach to anything that I was reading or studying. It had had all been theoretical.

For once, I began to see a direct connection between the personal development work I was doing before waiting tables each night having a direct effect on how I experienced being a waiter. It was exciting for me, especially when other guests and even my co-workers began to notice changes in my appearance and mood.

To date, I’ve lost nearly 30 pounds during this 2 year period, and have gained a level of calm and focus that has left me hungry for more. My increased ability to manage what were once seemingly insurmountable work-related situations is also very inspiring. I also realize that this new found strength requires constant, daily practice and maintenance; I haven’t reached nirvana or some other permanent enlightened state. The way I see it, I’m making different choices in order to maintain this new level of relative balance and serenity, and without some form of daily discipline, I’d likely fall right back into old, unhealthful patterns.

With this in mind, I’ve committed myself to a daily practice of fitness and meditation before every shift with the intention of going into work with an optimized mindset and physical state for service. I’m using breath-work, essential oils for improved mood and concentration, and mindfulness techniques during pre-service to get focused, and have altered my post-shift routine, cutting back on alcohol and marijuana as my default forms of relaxation.

The changes have been so profound, I now feel compelled to bring what I am learning to others in the restaurant industry. I’m studying the tools and techniques professional athletes, entrepreneurs, and top performers are using to gain an edge in their respective fields, distilling what I learn into actionable steps for other people in the foodservice industry. Using my background in content creation, product development, and social media, I plan to create a platform where others can share and learn these techniques.

I’m developing Swerver® and foremost for myself. After nearly 20 years in the industry, my mind and body needs daily support and conditioning to stay at peak levels of performance. I am far from being an expert in any of the disciplines that Swerver® will be exploring. Rather, I am a student who’s “showing his work” so that others can follow along and hopefully add some insights of their own.