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Restaurant hires full-time therapist to relieve pandemic stress

service workers
Posted at 1:39 PM, Feb 16, 2022

One of the many things the pandemic has highlighted is the importance of mental health. So many of us have felt its effects one way or another, and now, some restaurants are taking it upon themselves to offer help to their employees.

“When it came to this, where there’s a complete societal breakdown, it was scary,” said Lee Wilson, a wine director for Bonanno Concepts in Denver. “We didn’t know if we were going to come back tomorrow.”

When the pandemic began, Banonno Concepts closed its 10 restaurants in Denver as it laid off close to 400 employees. It used that time to rethink how it wanted to operate as it leaned on people like Wilson for input.

“We just have been trying to do the right thing,” said Jacqueline Bonnano, creative director for Bonanno Concepts. “We asked our management staff what would make you stay? What would make this a happy job for you? Overwhelmingly, it had nothing to do with money; it was more about working fewer hours and having a quality of life.”

In October, the group hired a therapist full-time to work with its staff, a move the group believes is a first in the service industry. Nationwide, there is an effort to prioritize mental health in the hospitality industry. There are groups like Chefs with Issues, Ben’s Friends, and Healthy Hospo, which offer a place for those who feel the stress of the day-to-day to seek support from others in the industry. But few, if any, have taken it to the lengths Bonanno Concepts has. Their therapist is there day and night, and in times when few things can do what professional help can do.

“We had a death in our dining room about a month ago and there was a group of doctors dining in one of the restaurants and one of those doctors came to do life-saving measures on the diner at the other restaurant, so as you can imagine, everyone was impacted,” said Bonanno. “[Our therapist] was here that night. She was here the next day. She talked to our staff. She coached us through conversations that we could have with diners, and now we have someone to coach us through these nuances and to help us be better. And then, we take those to our personal lives at home to be better.”

The therapist does not see other patients, only ones hired by Bonanno Concepts.

“It’s invaluable,” said Wilson. “She’s always available, which is something you can’t get in the private psychiatry world. She’s got the time and it’s incredible.”

Sometimes we may struggle to find our way out of dark places but knowing there is a support system available can be enough to help us get started.

“Them seeing all of us day in and day out, and for them to take action without any sort of provocation, but out of genuine care and concern; it was relieving,” said Wilson.