Where and for whom we work has an immense impact on the way we think and act. Or is it the other way around? Do actions and thoughts influence our job choices? We take a closer look at these questions and why the line of coke in the morning, the chef's wine in between and speed in the evening often become loyal companions in the hospitality industry.
Stimulants against tiredness
We all know it: It's Friday evening, 6:00 pm. The well-deserved weekend has begun and all you can think about is a date later in the evening with your best friends in the latest trendy restaurant. And then later on let the night end with a few cocktails in THE bar par excellence. You need that after a long and stressful week at work. Don't you?
But what about all the people who work every day when we're out enjoying ourselves. We often forget that not all of them have a regular work week, the so-called nine-to-five week. Chefs and cooks often work 6 to 7 days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day(Culinary Lab, 2020). Studies show that 44% of restaurant, bar and hotel employees work over 48 hours a week, while 14% even work over 60 hours. How is it possible to work so many hours for weeks or years? Often alcohol and stimulants help ...
According to a study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the restaurant industry, compared to other industries , is the one with the highest use and abuse of illegal drugs. In addition, food service is the third highest industry in terms of heavy alcohol use. Only mine and construction workers drink more. Looking more closely at the study evidence regarding heavy drinking, it "makes sense" in the areas of mine and construction work, as the demographics of this work group are often young and male. This demographic has a higher use of alcoholic and chemical substances regardless of career. But let's put the facts on the table in more detail:
17% of food service workers have been diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder.
11.8% of food service workers reported binge drinking in the work environment in the past month.
19.1% of food service workers reported using illicit drugs outside and during work hours in the past month. Crass, isn't it?
Cocaine for breakfast, speed for lunch
Another survey in German-speaking countries showed that more than two-thirds of all employees in the catering industry use drugs at work. Almost half even regularly. 70% of the respondents were convinced that in the gastronomic scene the risk of getting into an addiction is far higher than in other industries. Why? Why the food scene in particular?
We often have a utopian picture when it comes to the gastro scene. Social media platforms like Instagram show us pictorially how aesthetic and harmonious the "behind the scenes" moments look. But do they correspond to the truth? We doubt it. Because a line of coke or tired eyes after a 14 hour shift are not very Instagrammable. Let's take a look together at why the hospitality industry seems to "seduce" employees into consuming stimulants and intoxicants of all kinds on a daily basis.
The only way out: stimulants
Working conditions: As a guest, we always expect the same good quality. After all, we go to the restaurant or bar because we like it and because we like the atmosphere. And hand on heart, aren't we all creatures of habit who want our truffle pasta just the same as always because it's super creamy and simply tastes best with extra truffle? If on the second visit the food didn't live up to our expectations or the staff was unfriendly for a moment, then we just look for a new, cool trendy place where we can leave our money and get the ultimate weekend experience. What's the big deal?
Behind the scenes, it means a competitive environment marked by stress, working when other people have the day off, while in the back of your mind you feel the pressure and fear of losing your job. But that's not the whole truth. Because of the physically demanding working conditions, the work environment consists of relatively young people. The rotating shifts (and especially night shifts) often leave too little time to maintain healthy relationships with others outside of work. What emerges: Norms of a work culture shaped by moments like the famous after-work beer or the daily after-work celebration. The social pressure of colleagues is often a trigger and makes you drink a glass of wine or "indulge" in a line of cocaine with the others. If you are surrounded by alcohol all day and it is so easy to get hold of it - then a glass quickly becomes the daily aperitif.(Kaliszewski, 2020; Gronda, 2017) Imagine if you had to work every single day under these conditions, could and would you turn down the little chemical pick-me-ups?
Drugs in the workplace
Already several people have recognized the problem and the downside of the restaurant industry and are trying to address it. British celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay describes drugs as "the dirty little secret" of the hospitality industry. To back up his statement, he tested the toilets of his 31 restaurants for traces of cocaine. The result: he found none in only one restaurant. Only in one!
The Michelin chef knows the consequences of massive drug consumption from his own experience. In 2003, one of his chefs, David Dempsay, died after taking cocaine(Vasagar, 2003). It's not an isolated case: celebrity chef and chef Paul Giganti, made famous by the television series Hell's Kitchen, died of an overdose in 2017. Interestingly, drug and alcohol abuse is not limited to a certain type of restaurant. Substance abuse has been observed among employees:inside fast-food, conventional, and fine-dining restaurants. A recently published study investigated the use of (illegal) substances among Michelin-starred kitchen staff in the UK and Ireland. The result: alcohol and stimulants, such as speed or cocaine, are regularly used as "self-medication" and as a "coping strategy". And this is true regardless of the position and status of the individuals. While alcohol is largely used to relax after a hectic and stressful day, drugs and other substances are used to ensure steady quality, efficiency, and performance (Giousmpasogloua, C., Brown, L., & Cooper, J., 2018).
Cocaine - The new flour?
The issue of drugs and alcohol abuse in the restaurant and hotel industry is nothing new. Any person who has worked in the hospitality scene could probably see with their own eyes, and often experience, the darker side of the industry. Out of sight, out of mind: when you then change jobs and the problem no longer confronts you on a daily basis, you often repress and forget that it exists. But it's not just insiders: we should all concern ourselves more with the topic and deal with it. Because as we all know, everywhere where peak performance has to be achieved on a daily basis, there are stimulants. We can simply accept that coke is the trendy flourish of the 21st century. Or we can become more sensitive and open about the issue and draw attention to the problem. We have seen that the study evidence reveals how many employee:s resort to stimulants in order to do their jobs. By addressing the issue, we can all work together to create a future work environment that does not have a toxic climate that encourages its employees to abuse drugs and alcohol.