Prioritizing Mental Health in the Restaurant Industry

Strategies for supporting mental wellness in foodservice workers

The energy and adrenaline rush of kitchens and dining rooms are a compelling part of the restaurants industry, but the profession also means hard work and long hours, which can take their toll.

According to a 2021 study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, 60% of servers at upscale restaurants have at least one mental health problem, such as depression or anxiety, and a 2023 survey by Cozymeal found that 70% of chefs who responded said they had experienced anxiety from working in restaurants. Substance abuse and sleeping disorders also remain high.

But the stress of COVID and the related illnesses, loss of loved ones, job insecurity and general social ills acted as a wakeup call for restaurants. Many operators no longer expect employees to just grin and bear hardships. Instead, they’re listening to their needs and offering help. But not all workplaces are accommodating, and there’s always room for improvement. Here are some factors to consider.


Many organizations offer courses to address and help recognize the warning signs of an unhealthy mental state. Take the time to educate yourself. Also make note of the national mental health hotline, 988, for people who have suicidal thoughts or deep depression.


Calling off from work has always been frowned upon in hospitality, especially when labor is tight, and employees don’t want to lose shifts or disappoint coworkers. But sometimes people need a break – burnout is real. Hunter Evans, chef and owner of Elvie’s in Jackson, Mississippi, offers workers a mental health day. He’s also in favor of reimbursing for therapy or gym memberships.


“You sit down and give them the floor,” says Sammie Flippen, an award-winning general manager at Noodles & Company. “It’s super impactful and makes a huge difference, and you have a finger on the pulse of where they want to go, and you can help them with that journey.” Making employees feel seen and heard can go a long way in boosting morale and discovering problems before they get out of control.


The days of pot-throwing chefs and bullying managers aren’t over at every restaurant, but many successful ones have created environments of civility and respect as examples. In the front and back of the house, pay attention to signs of abusive behavior, whether physical or emotional, and establish and enforce a no-tolerance policy for it. Listen and act when employees express concern or anger at someone else’s behavior.


Giving workers specific responsibilities suited to their interests can make a huge difference in morale, and therefore their well-being. Check out “Unreasonable Hospitality” by Will Guidara, former co-owner of Eleven Madison Park in New York City, who writes about the transformative approach to inclusiveness among other methods of stellar service.


Remember that managers, chefs and owners might also need someone to talk to, a goodnight’s rest, time off, therapy and regular medical checkups. They cannot give staff or customers the best if they’re not in good shape. It also sets an example for staff on the importance of well-being.


Over the past decade, many organizations have emerged to help restaurant workers cope with the unique challenges of the restaurant industry.  Here’s a start.

Ben’s Friends,
This community of restaurateurs and front- and back-of-the-house staff who have found sobriety, or are seeking it, offers support to those on similar journeys. The organization hosts meetings in some 20 cities as well as daily online Zoom meetings, special meetups for workers’ friends and families and meetings by gender.  

Southern Smoke Foundation,
Houston chef and restaurateur Chris Shepherd founded this organization in 2015 to raise funds for a coworker with multiple sclerosis. Since then, services have expanded to covering healthcare costs for food and beverage workers and offering mental health services to restaurant workers and their children through a university affiliate program.

This Atlanta-based organization was founded to help cover medical expenses for a chef diagnosed with cancer 12 years ago. It has since expanded to provide financial assistance and interpreter services in more than 180 languages and dialects to foodservice workers.

Culinary Hospitality Outreach Wellness was founded in 2018 by Denver pie maker John Hinman and food writer Alexandra Palmerton after she interviewed him about the mental health stress of working in restaurants. It hosts weekly meetings and provides training in mental health, scripts for difficult conversations, a wellness workbook to help people who are struggling and other services.

Healthy Pour,
Psychotherapist Laura Louise Green founded this organization in 2019 after working in “precarious industries” for two decades. Those industries include the arts, foodservice, healthcare and retail among others. The organization offers mental health training, coaching and other services.

Focus on Health develops no- and low-alcohol beverage programs, but it also offers courses in harm reduction, overdose prevention and response and conflict management.

I Got Your Back,
This organization was founded in Sacramento, California, in response to a rash of suicides among hospitality workers in 2018 and 2019. It teaches warning signs of mental distress as well as personal self-awareness while providing access to resources in the Sacramento area, with a goal of expanding nationally.

Restaurant After Hours,
This organization was founded in Brooklyn, New York, in 2018 to create a community break down barriers to mental health and point those in need to available resources.

Serving those Serving,
This Minnesota-based organization was founded in 2017 to promote social, mental and physical wellness in the service industry through education, training and connecting to available resources.