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The Healthy Kitchen

In my past 35 years of catering experience and nearly a decade of consulting, I have never seen such an onslaught of challenges like the catering industry faces today. From widespread labor shortages, product shortages, and the closing and reopening of businesses, COVID-19 has proved itself to be a formidable opponent of our industry. Despite this, I’ve traveled to dozens of businesses and have seen some companies thriving during this difficult period. There was one thing in common with all the successful companies; they were all able to answer this seemingly simple question: how healthy is your kitchen?  

In this case, health does not refer to the overall cleanliness of the kitchen, or how safely food is stored; instead it refers to the mental health of the kitchen staff. How mentally well are your employees, and do they feel well supported by their employer? A survey from The Burnt Chef Project back in 2020 states that:

  • 46% of the respondents were not very confident talking to their managers or co-workers about mental health
  • 61% experienced three or more instances of poor mental health as a result of their role in hospitality
  • 36% said they would talk to their manager or colleague about mental health if asked
  • Only 17% were confident to raise the subject of mental health in their workplace

From what I’ve seen, successful kitchens are those that prioritize the wellness of their employees. They go beyond standard industry pay and benefits packages, which are undoubtedly important, to ensuring that employees have access to mental health and wellness programs and a strong company support system. This can create an environment where employees feel well-prepared to handle the stressful nature of their jobs, because they know they have options to seek support should they struggle. 

Mental health and wellness programs not only benefit current employees and aid retention, but can also affect employee recruitment. The next generation of kitchen members are looking for companies that show a vested interest in the wellbeing of their employees and are aware of the mental toll working in a kitchen takes. This will aid our industry in attracting long term members and continuing to improve the environment in which the employees work. Another important step our industry must take to make the kitchen a healthier space is to address the stigma surrounding mental health and wellness. For decades, both inside and outside the catering industry, there has been a harmful stigma surrounding mental health and illnesses that can deter individuals from seeking help. Providing an environment where employees feel heard and understood can help destigmatize mental health and create an environment where their wellness is taken seriously.

Now that we understand what a healthy kitchen can look like, there are some concrete steps that can be taken to create a healthy kitchen. A good starting point is integrating a mental health and wellness program into your company. Today, there are numerous organizations that are targeted at supporting wellness in the catering industry. A few such organizations are:

These are great organizations to help begin the conversation about mental health in the kitchen. With the support of these organizations and your company, this can lead to the creation of a healthy kitchen. 

Peter McCaffrey

Chef Peter McCaffrey is a Senior Consultant at Certified Catering Consultants and Culinary Director of Leading Caterers of America. Chef Peter was for many years a prominent and successful chef/owner of Wine Valley Catering located in the Napa Valley and San Francisco. Clients included Opus One, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Mondavi, Google, Yelp, and the City of San Francisco. His company provided F&B services to the prestigious Villagio and Vintage Inn in Yountville, CA. Peter lives in Napa Valley, CA along with his wife and two daughters. He’s passionate about mountain biking, yoga and coaching soccer as well as anything related to food and cooking!