4 ways restaurants can put a dent in substance abuse

4 ways restaurants can put a dent in substance abuse

Workforce Solutions can be as simple as nixing shift drinks or as hands-on as learning how to treat an overdose. Illustration by Midjourney

Drug and alcohol abuse is a deeply rooted American problem, but the restaurant industry is uncomfortably close to the heart of it.

A 2015 survey by the federal government found that 16.9% of hospitality workers abused drugs or alcohol, the highest rate of any industry.

The reasons for that are complicated and varied, encompassing stigma associated with addiction, the wider availability of dangerous drugs such as opioids, and an entrenched restaurant culture where heavy partying is often viewed as part of the job.

Gradually, though, the industry is waking up to the fact that it has a drinking and drug problem. Here are four ways operators are starting to turn the tide. Start the conversation

Steve Palmer, a restaurateur and co-founder of industry support group Ben’s Friends, said the first step in solving restaurants’ substance abuse problem is talking about it.

“I would start with having a staff meeting about mental health,” he said. “And coming at it from a place of empathy and compassion instead of a place of judgment.”

That’s one of the ideas behind Ben’s Friends , a community of restaurant workers who struggle with substance abuse or addiction. Since its founding in 2016, the group has grown to 19 chapters across the U.S. Each chapter holds weekly meetings, which have helped fuel awareness of substance abuse in the industry.

“We are making progress,” Palmer said. “And it’s so gratifying to see, because we just weren’t talking about addiction six years ago, and now we are.” “Have the conversation with the person. You may be planting a seed that when the second or third person talks to him, they go, ‘I need to take a look at this.’” —Steve Palmer That’s not to say addiction is easy to talk about—especially in restaurants, where drinking and drugs are ingrained in the work culture.

“It’s awkward for people,” he said: “‘How can I talk about drinking with this guy when I was out drinking with him?’”

Nonetheless, Palmer said, “Have the conversation with the person.

“You may be planting a seed that when the second or third person talks to him, they go, ‘I need to take a look at this.’”

When having those discussions, it’s important to remember that addiction is a disease, Palmer said, and not something anyone should be ashamed of. “Nobody feels shame when they get cancer,” he said. Change the culture

Restaurants’ fast-paced and tight-knit work environment doesn’t necessarily cause substance abuse, but it creates an atmosphere where it’s more likely to happen.

Philip Speer, a Texas chef who is in recovery for addiction, said restaurants can help de-emphasize that type of behavior by changing long-standing practices.

Take shift drinks, for example—free alcohol offered as a perk for staff at the end of the day. Speer estimated that those drinks can cost an establishment $10,000 to $25,000 a year.

“You take that money and use that for something else,” he said. “The reward doesn’t have to be ‘Here, get drunk.’” “It’s just changing the culture, and there’s so many ways you can change the culture.” —Philip Speer Speer’s Austin restaurant, Comedor, is a working example of what small cultural shifts can look like. Instead of buying shift drinks for staff, Comedor used the money to buy season tickets to Austin FC soccer games.

It also has a running club, hosts free yoga classes and is the hub for the Austin chapter of Ben’s Friends, of which Speer is president.

“It’s just changing the culture,” he said, “and there’s so many ways you can change the culture.” Get hands-on training Cultural changes could go a long way in easing the industry’s substance abuse problem. But there are even more concrete things restaurants can do to help. Learning how to counteract a drug overdose is one of them.An innovative program in the state of Delaware is looking to help them do just that. The state’s Restaurant Accolade Program teaches restaurant workers the signs of an overdose and how to keep the victim alive. It grew out of research that found 10% of the Delaware residents killed by opioids in 2017 worked in foodservice.The program has three levels, which range from teaching staff how to recognize an overdose and how to use Narcan, an opioid antidote, all the way to working with restaurant management to create a program for systematically dealing with substance abuse. As of June, about 30 restaurants had signed up for Delaware’s overdose response program. High […]

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