How restaurants can support mental health during the holidays

A restaurant team assembles for a pre-shift meeting

For some people, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. But for hospitality workers, the season is more of a grind than a party. Restaurant work can mean long hours and high stress at all times of year. During the holidays, the pressure increases. That can be true for anyone. In fact, Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) says 52% of Canadians report feelings of anxiety, depression and isolation during the holiday season.

Mental health seems to affect a larger proportion of people who work in restaurants than the rest of the population. Tipped workers have a higher risk for depression, sleep issues and stress compared to people who work other jobs. And those who work in food service have the highest prevalence of illicit drug use compared to other industries. 

Fortunately, there are things a restaurant owner or manager can do to help support people through this potential challenging time. Here are some steps you can take to support your team’s mental health during the holidays this year. 


Be as flexible as you can with time off

With the ongoing labour shortage, it can be hard to accommodate time off requests, especially around the holidays. think more broadly about how to make it possible for people to get a break. 

Ask yourself, ‘How can I design my hours?’ Some places have decided to close two days a week and have the core team work the five days so people don’t burn out. Restaurants are often surprised they can do this without losing revenue.


Give the team some control over the holidays they work

Letting people choose which holiday they want to work gives them a sense of control over the situation. Depending on your needs, you may ask people to choose whether they want to work Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, or New Year’s Eve. If your team is very limited, you may need to ask them to work two. Still, it helps if people can have some say in the matter. 

If someone wants to work every holiday, ask them why. It could be that they don’t celebrate certain holidays or that they are really motivated to make extra money. But it could also be that they’re lonely and isolated, and that’s something that as a manager, you should probably know.


Don’t forget staff meal

Now is not the time to skimp on pre-shift meals. The team is working longer and harder, and you want them to be fuelled up. This is also an opportunity to build morale. You can make it fun and special by arranging a family meal swap with a neighbouring restaurant. People can get bored eating the same food and it’s also a good way to build community. 

An obvious but overlooked part of keeping the team energised is water. People get so busy this time of year, they have to be reminded to hydrate, a case of flavoured seltzer might be a good way to encourage people to drink up. 


Put a floater on the schedule wherever possible

Even if it’s not standard at other times of the year, it’s a good idea to add a floater to shifts wherever possible through the holiday season. Not only can shifts get busier than you anticipated quickly, with all the viruses circulating right now, you will be getting call-outs.


Check in and notice changes

You know your team, so keep an eye out for unusual behaviour. Are early birds showing up late? Are friendly people irritable? Are people skipping meals? Any of these can be a sign of a mental health issue that’s just under the surface. 

When you do spot out of character behaviour, it’s time for a frank conversation and direct questions. Don’t hesitate to ask, ‘Are you OK?


Plan a holiday celebration–for January 

Restaurants make the season special for countless other businesses who hold their holiday parties there. Restaurant teams need to celebrate, too. Plan a team celebration in the new year, but get it on the schedule now. 

A catered lunch, a yoga class, a dance lesson or a game night, whatever you choose, schedule it now so the team can look forward to enjoying it later.

When restaurant owners or managers do notice someone on the team in need of extra support, here are some recommended resources to share with them: 

1 (833) 456 4566 – Talk Suicide Canada

This is a counselling hotline to connect to a crisis responder for help in English or French. Let people know they can call it for free to get confidential help if they’re in crisis, having thoughts of suicide, or are worried about someone else.

Not 9to5

A nonprofit global organization that provides foodservice professionals with that helps understand and overcome issues related to mental health in the hospitality industry. 

Mind the Bar Foundation (Vancouver, British Columbia)

Provides information and support resources for those in the hospitality industry who are struggling with depression, anxiety, thoughts of suicide, substance abuse, addiction, or workplace harassment.

The Full Plate (Toronto, Ontario)

A nonprofit organization dedicated to providing essential services to promote overall well-being within the industry.

Remise En Place (Montreal, Quebec)

A not-for-profit initiative to provide help with addiction issues in the hospitality industry. 


FairKitchens’ mission is to improve the conditions of restaurant work for everyone so people can do the job they love and take care of themselves at the same time.


Mental health is an important issue for the restaurant community 365 days a year, but the holidays can be an impactful time to start giving it the attention it deserves.