Learning to Work Sober

Hand pushing away a glass of whiskey in an attempt to remain sober.

Completing rehab and staying sober is hard, ongoing work. So, how do you approach your sobriety when alcohol – knowing it, serving it, profiting from it – is part of your livelihood? This is the reality of living sober in the restaurant industry. Working in a restaurant can seem incompatible with sobriety. The shift drink is beloved, a nearly sacred ritual and providing a complete food and beverage experience is the linchpin of the work. But it’s not impossible to exist in both worlds, and for those who cannot fathom leaving the hospitality industry tribe there are ways to continue to do the work you love and be successful in sobriety. Here are some things to consider:

  1. Lean on the Community

Addiction was once one of the hospitality industry’s not-so-best-kept secrets. But this is changing, and restaurateurs are shifting business practices to encourage open dialogue with those facing substance abuse. Lean into this. Recognize that you can’t maintain your sobriety in a vacuum and now more than ever. There is opportunity to seek out the support resources within the restaurant community, so do not isolate yourself from those who so intimately understand your reality. Engaging in hospitality-focused sobriety groups means finding support in your peers—those who understand the unique challenges of working sober in the restaurant industry and can help you when it seems impossible. A few resources to consider: Ben’s FriendsChefs with Issues and Restaurant Recovery.

  1. Be Honest

I get it, it can be uncomfortable. No one wants to sign up to be the “sober guy” in the room. But it is honesty with yourself and your restaurant family that will give you the space and support you need to live sober in the industry. Be upfront about needing time to go to group. Don’t be afraid to communicate that you can’t imbibe at menu tastings. Sure, there is the chance that you will lose touch with some as they avoid confronting their own problems, but you can push through. And, chances are you will find you’re not alone.

  1. Champion Self-Care

We know that restaurant work can be intense, brutal even. It’s difficult on your body and requires long hours. Become a part of the growing movement to change the lens through which we measure “hard work” in the industry. We spend every night taking care of our guests in a hospitable way, but we’re just starting to take care of ourselves. Put a premium on self-care for yourself and be a champion of self-care in your workplace. Whether it’s exercise, meditation, time with family, always be aware of the time you need to take care of yourself and check in regularly asking, “What are the things I’ve done to take care of my physical and mental health today, this week, this month.”

Staying sober in the restaurant industry is much more complex than subscribing to the three things above. But remember, even in the most despairing moments there are people within your restaurant community who are sober and who want to help you be the same. As a member of this industry you give so much, and it’s time to recognize that you can take from the industry, too.

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