Kindness in the Kitchen Matters

Running a commercial kitchen can be a daunting task most days, although for different reasons. Around holidays like Valentine’s Day or Mothers Day, there’s the busy challenge of managing the build up and execution of a successful event. But one must also contend with slow times that also put stress on the business and employees.. I’ve always believed and experienced that it is easier to run a busy restaurant than a slow one. I think this is true for most businesses, not just restaurants. But both conditions are a challenge.

One thing that I’ve always tried to keep in mind as I approach whatever task is in front of me at work is that we all have things going on that have nothing to do with what’s going on right then in the restaurant. We may have strained family relations or be dealing with sadness or depression. We may be under pressure from family or friends to participate in things that are hard for us to make time for with our restaurant schedules. I know that, for instance, even making time for my own personal health and wellness has never been at the top of my to-do list, until recent years. I try to keep all of this in mind in my daily interactions with our staff, reminding myself to come from a place of kindness. Very rarely does anything occur in a restaurant that’s a big deal. I use the term “it’s just lunch,” a lot. Our customers eat lunch every day and we cook lunch for people every day. We strive to produce food that tastes and looks great because we truly want the guests to enjoy themselves, but sometimes things go wrong or people make mistakes.

It’s okay … it’s just lunch, and we get another shot at it the next day and the day after that. I try to remember that, as in life, when things go wrong in the kitchen, the most important thing to do is to be kind to ourselves and one other. When I let a situation stress me out, and react with annoyance or snap at someone, it never helps to solve the problem and inevitably leaves the recipient of my attitude feeling worse about themselves and their day. When I stop, take a breath, and remember that we all deserve to be treated with kindness, I can solve problems and defuse difficult situations much more effectively. When we are kind to one another, we feel better about our jobs and find it easier to stay on track. Kindness allows us to keep things in perspective, removing unnecessary pressure and allowing us to focus more clearly on the tasks at hand.

I know that when I react to something in a negative manner, it’s always a red flag that something else is going on with me and that my anger or stress has little to do with the situation at hand. I try to remember that when someone else responds to with frustration or anger, I’m also rarely the source of their frustration. Why not choose to respond with kindness?

Each day my mantra is: today I’ll remember that it’s not about me and kindness in the kitchen matters.

Five little ways to practice kindness in the kitchen on a daily basis.

1. Greet people with their name. Ask how they are doing and really listen to the answer.

2. Use “please” and “thank you.” We have so much constantly happening in the kitchen, this one is easily overlooked.

3. Being kind is even more important when tensions are high and the restaurant is getting slammed.

4. Ask about coworkers’ lives outside work. Caring and feeling cared for lifts us all up.

5. When asking for help, remember to have an attitude of gratitude.

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Chef Paolo Neville

Executive Chef and author with 30 + years in the service industry. I have two amazing sons and a passion for food and the restaurant industry.