It’s too tempting not to use the metaphor of a bad divorce when talking about the great resignation. So here goes. In a typical contentious divorce, there are two bitter and defensive partners who both feel like the real victim. In this made-up scenario (which may or may not have any likeness to the personal situation in which you find yourself), the restaurant and hospitality owners and operators are the dumbfounded spouses who did too little and realized too late: they are getting left. They retell the story as though everything was going along just fine. However, if pressed for the truth, they’d admit there were giant warning signs of unsustainable discontent; they chose to ignore these signs and simply hoped their complicit partner would continue to put up with them, too. On the other side are the restaurant workers themselves (FOH waitstaff and BOH chefs, etc) who finally had enough, who came to believe they could do better for themselves, and who announced they were leaving for someone (or something) better.
There are unintended victims of marital implosion as well. The kids. In this scenario it’s the consumers, the dining public, who are stuck in the middle and forced against their will to digest everyone’s opinions (the press, media all have something to say about the affair) and reluctantly express their loyalty to one side, like a kid having to tell the court whether they want to live with dad or mom. As is the case in most divorces, the kids just want their parents to get along.
In the aftermath of a breakup between Mr. Restaurant and Mrs. Chef the feuding, resentful, reeling couple is cautioned to put aside their differences and ‘think about what’s right for the kids’.
Here’s a list of survival tips for Mrs. Restaurant (the spouse who got left), Mr. Workers (the spouse doing the leaving), and the diners (the kids stuck in the middle) to help navigate the messy middle.
Message to the kids:
Not always, but sometimes, for some parents, divorce is for the best. It won’t feel like it for a while, but life will be easier. Just don’t let yourself get caught in the middle. If dad starts talking about your wicked mom, or mom starts complaining about your lazy dad, cut them off. You have choices and a suitcase now. You can dine in, dine out, hire a personal chef for busy weeknights, get a fulltime chef for your family, or just make yourself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and watch cartoons. The point is, you have choices and at the holidays you’ll get twice as many gifts!
Message to the ones being left:
Let them go. Don’t ask them to stay and don’t ask for sympathy from the others who remain. For a long time, you’ve known things were burned out and did little or nothing about it. Now’s your chance to fix what’s broken and rebuild a home [restaurant]. Step up and create an operation people will flock for the chance to work in (many restaurants have this reputation, so why not you?). The kids don’t want to hear your problems, and you have a big enough heart and mind to know that if someone doesn’t want to be with you it’s best to wish them well and move on.
If you are the one leaving:
Don’t ask for sympathy and don’t make fanfare. You’re likely as guilty in this relationship as the one you’re leaving. It may be true you suffered and were unappreciated, but it’s also true you chose that relationship and stayed for as long as you did. Get better at choosing and never permit yourself to be undervalued again (yes, it is possible to find a better relationship than what you’ve experienced to this point). Plus, your heart and mind are wise enough to know if someone doesn’t love and treat you well, it’s time to wish them well and move on. Figure out with great certainty and clarity what you want to do next with your life or you’ll wind up repeating your mistakes with the next [employment] romance.
For workers ready to reach a new level of personal greatness, The Great Resignation is just the messy middle; it signifies the start of a real opportunity and growth which ultimately benefits everyone.
The ones being left can embrace the wreckage and clean up their mess. They know it’s better to work with a smaller team than work with the wrong team. They are responsible for creating an operation with true leadership, accountability, training and systems; the task at hand is to remake oneself and one’s operations so attractive no lover [of the restaurant] would have left to begin with (and anyone new will want to be a part of). Dig in and start the deep clean. Restaurants that do will recover, thrive and ultimately be thankful for the experience because they recognize it’s what was needed all along.
On the other hand, the ones doing the leaving have to do a lot of soul searching. For workers fleeing the ranks, theirs is a blank canvas that’s both thrilling and intimidating. It’s easy to proclaim, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’ and walk out the door. It’s harder to leave with grace and gratitude. And harder still to outline a clear and purposeful plan for what comes next. The truth is the vast majority of restaurant workers haven’t a clue what they want to make next with their lives, time and talent. The risk of stepping into the next chapter ill-equipped is to repeat the past. Sadly, many will lose their way and simply return to restaurant work, defeated. Indeed, this makes for a very reunion and is a marriage both partners should avoid (not even the kids are happy in this circumstance).
Right now restaurant workers know what they don’t want to do but few have a clear idea of what they do want to create with their time and talent. There are five potential pathways to pursue when leaving, so it’s no wonder food and beverage workers are asking themselves ‘If not this, then what?’. After the divorce dust clears a good therapist will start the recovery process by asking these [restaurant worker] people, ‘Now that you don’t have anyone to blame for your unhappiness, what will you make of your new life?’
Restaurant workers who are eager to achieve the next great chapter of their career will discover adventure awaits them on any of the five paths that lead from The Great Resignation; they point the way to the very best that can evolve from the rubble of a divorce that probably should have happened a long time ago.
Columnist Holly Powers-Verbeck, founded and continues to operate Lake Tahoe’s premiere culinary staffing company HeyChef! since 1997. In 2018 she formed MakeYourBusinessCook! to help chefs and restaurant workers launch private chef and culinary staffing businesses and create their own freedom and wealth while giving in-home dining options to consumers. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org.