'For those working in restaurants, this is decidedly the worst time of the year' by Emma Underwood

The Staff Canteen

Restaurant manager Emma Underwood on why January is the worst time of the year for those working in restaurants.

For many people, January is a miserable month. For those working in restaurants, it is decidedly the worst time of the year. After the exhausting rush of Christmas, a period that now seems to last for at least two months, the inevitable slump of the new year can be a difficult and challenging time.

emma quote 2We quickly have to adjust to a slower change of pace, as the last of the taxing Christmas parties depart from our dining rooms for another 10 months or so and our restaurants restore to a quieter rhythm. It is a sudden, jarring shift, welcomed by some ready for a break, but abhorred by many that struggle to adjust to the changes brought about by the new year. 

Our guests are now consumed with health kicks and fad diets, as dining rooms once raucous with festive celebrations, are suddenly subdued. Covers are noticeably reduced, the energy of packed shifts is replaced by a melancholic lull. Gone are the seven-hour lunches that drag, fuelled by negronis and cognac, well into dinner. Instead requests abound for healthy soft drinks and vegan alternatives, wonderful for our guests’ health, terrible for our spend-per-head. It is hardly surprising that the early months of the new year see a significant spike in restaurant closures. 

The impact it has on our mental well-being can be significant. For many of us working in hospitality we thrive off being busy, by nature we are people that need constant stimulation, and the switch in energy can be overbearing. Conversations this week with a good chef friend has highlighted this, he spoke about feeling suddenly displaced, struggling to motivate, as though his mind is not in line with this body.

The adrenaline of December is still within us, but January renders it with nowhere to go. Cravings for a longer mise en place, a faster-paced service, are left unsatisfied, making it harder to motivate our teams and ourselves. 

The end of the festive period is also a harsh reminder of the sacrifices many of us make to work in hospitality. The majority of our teams have family that live far away or abroad, but were forced to spend Christmas apart from them, and serving guests spending precious time with one another can be confronting and lonely.

emma quote 2 2Despite that fact that my family are well used to not seeing me over Christmas, the amount I am missed is always significant. Every year is always met with the inevitably broken promise of spending time with one another next Christmas, making it tough to positively answer guests’ questions about how the festive period was spent.

 It is vital therefore to remember perspective this month. While we may find ourselves with a lot of surplus time, this can be put to valuable use to plan for the rest of the year.

To develop ideas for dishes, to attend extra tastings that spring up at this time, or just to arrange a really good holiday. For our teams, it’s essential to remain motivated and inspiring, for them to remember that a dining room with ten guests is worth just as much as a dining room with 100 guests. While it may seem like it, January doesn’t last forever, take the time to relax. Christmas will be back before you know it.

Blog by Emma Underwood, Restaurant Manager, Stem

Emma Underwood blog image
Emma Underwood

Emma Underwood is the restaurant manager of Stem, in Mayfair, having previously worked at Where the Light Gets In, based in Stockport and Burnt Truffle in Heswall, part of Gary Usher’s ever-expanding restaurant empire.

Emma started working with Gary in 2012 when she joined the Sticky Walnut team as a waitress before moving to the sister restaurant, Burnt Truffle as the general manager.

Emma is also part of the TMRW Project along with food writer Anna Sulan Masing  which was set up in 2015.

The project acts as a platform for people starting out early in their career to help them grow, learn and connect with each other. It hosts the Chefs of Tomorrow Dinners, the front of house initiative The Switch, and a series of talks and panel discussions.

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 10th January 2019

'For those working in restaurants, this is decidedly the worst time of the year' by Emma Underwood