How to Balance Work and Life in the Food Industry

Tips for Finding Work-Life Balance in the Restaurant and Catering Business

How Restaurant Owners and Caterers Can Balance Work and Life

In today’s dog-eat-dog world it’s becoming harder and harder to find the right balance between work and life. The demands of a career in the food industry – as a restaurant owner or caterer – can easily bury you under a workload that precludes the possibility of leading a normal life. In the March 2014 edition of Harvard Business Review, the cover article asked one of this decade’s most urgent questions: Is a work/life balance achievable or is it a complete myth? This question is more relevant than ever in the restaurant and catering business, where being on the scene almost around the clock can lead to burnout or, in the very least, a very skewed version of the life/work balance. Nonetheless, is there a way to cope with the relentless demands of the food industry? We think so, so read on.

You Are Running Your Food Business – Not the Other Way Around

Accept as a given that your work day, as the owner of a restaurant or a catering business, will be long. But long does not mean 24 hours; 12 hours a day should be enough to run a successful business, which gives you half the day to tend to the rest of your life (and catch some sleep). If you own a restaurant that is open, say, from 8:00 am to midnight, your 12-hour limit means that you will have to depend on others to run the show part of the time. With the right staff that you rely on and believe in, you can do this and still have time to take the kids to school in the morning or get to the gym.

Trust Others to Create a Life-Work Balance

The first thing to remember when searching for the evasive and mysterious balance between life and work in the food business is that nobody is indispensable – and you shouldn’t set up your business as if you are either. Although it’s true that things can wrong in the course of the day, you can’t live your life as if there are endless fires to put out and you are the only one holding the hose. Hire staff that you can count on and set limits for the number of hours you and they will be at work. Yes, it’s important to be flexible, but if you don’t get tough with these limits, the exceptions become a slippery slope and you will wind up being married to your business, which is exactly what we don’t want. Delegate authority; if you’ve hired the right people and motivated them correctly, they will want more responsibility and you will be able to turn to them when you head out the door.

Automation is a Key to Taking Back Your life

To make life easier – or more accurately, to actually have a life – it helps to turn to technology. Everything that can be automated should be – within the limits of your finances. This is especially true if you find that the extra hours that you are dedicating to your business are connected to paperwork, bills, timesheets, etc. If you have a little spare money, hire someone else to handle the paperwork; but even if you have to do it yourself, invest in the necessary software that will save you time and effort.

Your Second in Command Can Give You the Balance You Seek

If you are a restaurant owner or a caterer, the buck stops with you; but that doesn’t mean you have to bear the full burden. Hire a top-notch manager who will be your right-hand person and who can take over in all respects (except possibly the cooking). This key personnel position will allow you the life you so desperately want, as a manager will fill in when you are gone so that you can be gone. To find a quality person to manage your business and to share the responsibility with you, interview long and hard, and be prepared to pay; it will be worth it to you on so many levels.

Schedule Personal Time As You Would a Business Meeting

If you use a calendar or diary to jot down business appointments, do the same with personal activities and commitments. Time for ballet performances and family outings won’t appear out of thin air unless you carve it out of your work schedule and write it down. You schedule time in your business, so why not schedule personal time… as in actually putting it on your calendar and honoring that commitment as you would any other appointment. The Wall Street Journal tackles the work-life conundrum in their article “Ways for Small-Business Owners to Maintain Work-Life Balance.” In the article, Richard Duncan, president of Rich Duncan Construction in Salem, Oregon, says, “An entrepreneur should commit to an event once it is on his or her calendar—whether work or personal—and follow through on it as any other scheduled meeting. To maintain a balance, a business owner’s schedule must include quiet time to reflect upon commitments. Use this time to make adjustments should there be any areas that you need to work on. You will suffer burnout and never feel truly successful if you don’t have a balance of self, family and work.”

Electronics: The Foe of Work-Life Balance

We can’t live with them and we can’t live without them. Yes, we use our smartphones for family and friends, but if there is a chance that your restaurant or catering business will encroach on private time, shut off your mobile device(s) from the time you come home to when you leave in the morning. Obviously, flexibility is important – as it is for all the above lessons – and there will be times when crises and emergencies necessitate keeping the electronics fired up. But if you get into the habit of unplugging and disconnecting when you get home, it will keep that balance a little more within reach.

Bottom Line: Life and Work Can Function in Parallel

Never feel like you’re not a “real” caterer or genuine restaurateur if you want a life and if you’re not willing to sacrifice everything for your business. Your sanity and emotional stability are not variables that can be traded along the way for more money and success. Inevitably, if you have a family and you’re running a busy restaurant or a successful catering business you’re going to feel like a juggler, with many balls in the air and a few on the ground. That’s ok – you’re not perfect and the “balance” probably will never be complete equilibrium. But if you set your priorities, learn to delegate, and schedule time away from work, you can create a happier and more balanced you, and everything else will follow.

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