Creating Work/Life Balance in the Foodservice Industry


Toronto restaurateur Guy Rawlings has a lot on his plate these days, and not just the whole trout filet with elderflower vinegar on the menu at Montgomery’s — the West Queen W. restaurant he owns and operates with his wife Kim Montgomery.

The couple has spent the past two years juggling the demands of managing a new restaurant in a fiercely competitive neighbourhood, while raising two young children, aged three and five.

“We’re business partners, we’re husband and wife and we’re parents, so finding time for each of those things is hard,” says Rawlings. “When we first opened the restaurant, there wasn’t any balance, but, at this point, we’ve been able to create structure and have systems in place that allow us to have a better quality of life.”

While Rawlings works every service at Montgomery’s, his wife tries to limit her evening shifts to Fridays and Saturdays. On those days, Montgomery’s mother, who Rawlings describes as “100 per cent the key factor” in helping the family maintain a semblance of work-life balance, steps in to provide childcare.

Montgomery’s was open for lunch and dinner seven days a week when it first opened in 2016, but the husband-and-wife team eventually made the decision to close on Sundays and Mondays, giving them some much-
needed time away from the high-stress restaurant environment.

The couple’s efforts to maintain an equitable work-life balance are instantly recognizable to the estimated 1.2-million people who work in Canada’s foodservice industry.

The 2017 edition of Expedia’s annual Vacation Deprivation report identified it as Canada’s most vacation-deprived industry. The study found nearly two-thirds of foodservice workers feel vacation deprived, ranking just ahead of agricultural workers (62 per cent) and retail employees (61 per cent).

The combination of long hours and a hedonistic lifestyle can also be a significant detriment for foodservice workers. According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, jobs with long hours or irregular shifts and high stress — both mainstays of the foodservice industry — are breeding grounds for alcohol and substance abuse.

Industry veteran Jason Bangerter has become a passionate advocate for work-life balance in recent years. While 16-hour days haven’t entirely disappeared in his role as executive chef at Langdon Hall in Cambridge, Ont., he has re-ordered his life to better suit his schedule.

Because his job prevents him from spending quality time with his two sons in the evenings, for example, he’ll get up early in the morning and make them breakfast before school. He’ll even step out of the kitchen for a couple of hours during service to watch their hockey games and perhaps take a day or two off during less-busy periods.

He’s also working to ensure younger employees better manage their time, introducing four-day workweeks. “Just because it’s the lifestyle I had coming up in the industry, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the lifestyle I want for people who work for me,” he says.

“[They] still have that mentality of ‘I need to arrive at 8 a.m. and work until 1 a.m., because that’s what a great chef does.’ What makes us great is our people — and we’re going to make sure they’re taken care of.”

While stressing that the question of work-life balance is better answered by those who actually toil in kitchens, Bruce Fox, executive vice-president of Business Development with Browns Restaurant Group in Vancouver, inspired by the 2007 Timothy Ferriss book The 4-Hour Workweek, operates by the dictum workers can accomplish everything that needs to be accomplished in a manageable amount of time by whittling tasks down to what’s absolutely necessary. “It’s a matter of prioritization and extended reach — delegation, trust in others, et cetera.” he says.

Written by Chris Poewll

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