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The most wonderful time of the year? Not quite. The most stressful time of the year is a more accurate description for the last two months on the calendar. While some find joy in the end-of-year celebrations, they can be a source of frustration for many.  

The number one reason, according to Jonna Fries, Psy.D., director of counseling and psychological services at California State University, Los Angeles, is that we set unrealistic expectations of what the season should look like. Managing expectations is no easy feat, especially when dealing with a variety of holiday season stressors. According to the American Psychological Association, the holiday season is also a time when many report experiencing feelings of sadness or loneliness, likely as a result of unmet expectations.

For restaurants owners and managers, this stress is magnified. Restaurants are already a stressful environment, and when employees and customers walk through the doors with a cloud of stress floating above their heads, it makes it much more difficult to effectively run your business. If stress isn’t managed, you may run into staffing issues when a line cook makes herself sick from worrying, or guest experience issues if a server is distracted or overwhelmed. Stress may seem like an invisible problem, but it can make a real impact on a restaurant’s profitability.

While eliminating stress completely isn’t a likely scenario this holiday season, you can minimize its effects by identifying stressors in your restaurant. The first step is to know what causes stress and understand the symptoms so you can start creating a healthy environment for yourself, your employees, and your customers—not just around the holidays, but all year long.

What Causes Stress During the Holiday Season?

There are a number of things that can cause stress for even the happiest of people during the holidays. We identified the top three:

  • Money. It’s the season of giving, but the pressure to give can be too much for some people. For those who are normally tight on money throughout the year, the holidays can cause extra stress. Holiday traditions like gift-giving, parties, and traveling can strain finances and add an extra layer of stress to an otherwise cheerful time of year.
  • Family. For people who don’t have a picture-perfect family, the holidays can be tough. Whether you don’t get along with your uncle, or you have a split family that requires your attention in several different ways, some family dynamics can cause stress around the holiday season.
  • Traveling. Taking a train, plane, bus, or car on any given day can be stressful. When holiday traffic and irritable travelers are thrown into the mix, it can make a simple trip exponentially worse.

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What are Common Symptoms of Stress?

It’s always important to stay mindful of your well being, but it’s even more imperative to do so when stress levels are high. During these times, stress can turn into sickness, and that’s something to avoid, particularly when you have a business to run. Every person reacts to stress and copes with it differently. Understanding the symptoms of stress can help you identify employees that are feeling the pressure of the holiday season. According to WebMD, these are the common symptoms to stress.

Physical Symptoms of Stress

  • Low energy
  • Headaches
  • Upset stomach or nausea
  • Aches, pains, and tense muscles
  • Chest pain and rapid heartbeat
  • Insomnia
  • Frequent colds and infections
  • Nervousness and shaking, ringing in the ear, cold or sweaty hands and feet
  • Dry mouth and difficulty swallowing
  • Clenched jaw and grinding teeth

Emotional Symptoms of Stress

  • Becoming easily agitated, frustrated, and moody
  • Feeling overwhelmed, like you are losing control or need to take control
  • Having difficulty relaxing and quieting your mind
  • Feeling bad about yourself (low self-esteem), lonely, worthless, and depressed
  • Avoiding others

a server in a restaurant helping many guests on a long table

Identify Potential Stressors in Your Restaurant

By identifying areas that cause stress in your restaurant, you will be able to start working on them before they become a major problem. Stress during the holiday season can lead to a number of issues in a restaurant, but by being proactive and understanding what could go wrong, you’ll be able to set up a quick fix in no time.

Staffing Issues

The combination of increased foot traffic in your restaurant, employees’ family commitments, and holiday parties will make for a busy holiday season. Seasonal staffing is a chronic problem across the restaurant industry, so it’s vital to stay ahead of the game and start hiring some extra help as soon as possible. By communicating with your team far in advance and asking for day-off requests long before the holidays hit, you can solve staffing issues before they start.

Inventory Management Problems

More traffic equals more product being used unexpectedly. While it’s courteous for guests to make a reservation for a large party, you never know when a group of friends or a small family reunion will decide on your restaurant to celebrate the holiday season. Expect the unexpected: include reservation details in your holiday marketing materials, and prepare for any holiday take-out orders for customers that prefer to dine in.

Irritable Customers

You and your team aren’t the only people feeling the heat around the holidays—your customers are stressed, too. While your customers might be visiting your restaurant for an escape of the stress of their homes, there might be some residual stress brought into your restaurant as a result. Remembering to feel empathy and stay level-headed during interactions with difficult customers is key to maintaining a calm environment in your restaurant throughout the holiday season.

How to Combat Stress During the Holiday Season

Share these tips with your team so you can not only get through the holiday season, but even enjoy it.

Stay Present

Worrying about the future can easily create stress in someone’s mind. Although we understand you can’t neglect your business needs, don’t allow yourself to get caught up in worries of the past. Additionally, don’t allow regrets of the past to haunt your mind either. The past cannot be changed, and the future isn’t reality yet, so focus your attention on the present moment. Doing so will help you appreciate what’s really going on while keeping unnecessary stress from arising.

Check In With Your Coworkers

If you notice a member of your team exhibiting symptoms of stress, pull them aside and check in with them to make sure they’re doing OK. If you’re feeling stressed, it’s likely that someone else around you feels the same way. One of the best ways to minimize stress is to be open and honest with those around you, and that starts with eliminating the stigma around mental health.

Don’t Forget About Your Own Needs

What are your favorite activities to do? What is it that you’re truly passionate about outside of work? In times of stress, find some time to participate with your passions and hobbies. Whether it’s reading a book, playing an instrument, or cooking a meal, taking time for yourself and spending it on the activities you love will help reduce the stress.

One last note: Stress doesn’t just pop up around the holidays. People experience stress all year round and react in their own way. It’s important to be mindful of mental health not just around the holidays, but every day of the year.

Why is turnover is so high, what is the actual cost, and how do you fix it? Find the answers in our Staff Management ebook.

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Written by   |  
Holly Everett is a five-year restaurant industry veteran turned small business marketing specialist. After working at Seven Stars Bakery in Providence, Rhode Island throughout college, she entered the world of marketing where she led B2B marketing initiatives at companies focusing on growing small businesses.
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