Food lovers around the world were shocked and heartbroken when beloved culinary icon Anthony Bourdain committed suicide in 2018 – but although his death was a tragedy, it did help to spark a new movement to care for the mental health of restaurant workers.
As Bourdain fans celebrate what would have been his 63rd birthday on June 25th, restaurants across Sacramento are preparing to launch a pilot program of the “I Got Your Back” project over the course of the next two months.
Patrick Mulvaney, who is the head chef of a Sacramento restaurant, says that he was inspired to launch the project after Bourdain’s death occurred shortly after several of his friends and colleagues in the culinary field passed away.
This is not an unusual occurrence in the food industry – hospitality and restaurant workers experience higher rates of substance abuse, alcoholism, and depression than almost any other career field.
He and several other chefs working within the city then met with mental health experts in order to outline various workplace strategies that they could implement in their restaurants in order to care for the mental health of their staffers.
One of the strategies used in the program is having a designated staffer on hand who is trained to pay attention to the moods and behavior of the other workers.
“What we’re working on is that every restaurant will have someone with a purple hand on their lapel who knows about mental health,” Mulvaney told ABC10. “So they’ll be able to say to you, ‘Are you okay? Are you having a problem?’ But you also will know that they’ll be a safe person, so you can say, ‘Hey, I’m anxious or depressed.’”
Mulvaney and his team also designed a system in which employees drop a mood card into an anonymous box when they clock in for a shift. This gives employees a safe place to express their state of mind and the floor manager a new method for knowing how the crew is doing and feeling. Taking a temperature of employees’ moods this way alerts the manager to red flags they might not otherwise have known and it presents the chance to check-in and offer support.
Since Mulvaney and his wife launched the program in their restaurant back in October 2018, they have seen a noticeable improvement in their team’s mood and interactions.
“We came together as a family to talk about it before we opened,” Mulvaney told The Sacramento Bee. “I saw all of our staff using the tools we provided for them to talk about it. Our team was coming together to have that conversation and support each other.”
With 22 more restaurants piloting the program over the summer, Mulvaney hopes to see it picked up by more kitchens and workplaces across the nation.
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