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March 19, 2020

  

To my fellow hospitality employees,  


This past week I watched as our industry was essentially shut down because of one of the most far-impacting health crises our world has ever known. This affected, and is still affecting, millions of us from across the United States. Like many of you, I have been on a roller-coaster of emotion. In the short span of a few days, I have felt scared, angry, anxious, and helpless. It is hard not to feel the weight of uncertainty our industry is currently faced with, and how the quality of life of so many of us has suffered. 


I want to make it clear I am not a health official, nor have I ever claimed to be one. I am a chef in recovery. I have underlying mental illness; I suffer from depression and anxiety. I attend weekly therapy sessions and AA meetings, and I have been sober since December 2018. This current pandemic has taken a huge toll on my mental health and will take a toll on a lot of yours as well. We need to learn how to cope, and this is the reason I founded Restaurant After Hours. 


In the last few years, a big spotlight was shed on the mental health of hospitality professionals. We move a mile a minute, sacrificing our bodies for the well-being and happiness of our guests. Lack of sleep and unhealthy coping mechanisms like drinking and drugs take a toll on us. Lack of family time and broken relationships take a toll on us. As uncertain as these times may be, this current pandemic has also given us a huge opportunity. We have a chance, as an entire industry, to rest our bodies, and take time for ourselves.


A lot of us are feeling emotional. When the dust settles, however long that will take, we are going to be entering back into an industry where the landscapes have changed, and many of us will feel a lack of control. The businesses left standing will be different. The teams will be different. Your own positions may be different. The communities we serve will be different. The decisions we are going to be faced with are going to be different. We will once again be moving a mile a minute to keep up with the changing systems. 


As chefs we are overly self-critical. We push ourselves to be productive, and it’s in our hearts to help one another. In the past few days many community leaders and activists have risen to push for government aid, and many, many others have started social initiatives to help our own. For others, the ever-changing information and increase of free time may leave you feeling overwhelmed and unsure of what to do. It is okay to feel like that. 


If recovery has taught me anything, it is that the hardest thing we are faced with is how to deal with the pressure we put on ourselves. Learning how to cope in a productive, healthy way, takes time, and this is a perfect time to start. You now have more time to rebuild relationships, exercise more, sleep more, drink less, try to eat sitting down, and support each other in this dire time of need. Begin with baby steps and take it a day at a time. 


COVID-19 is not only affecting our industry. It is not a time to be angry and point fingers at those that are also trying their best. It is a time that we come together and focus our energy into making calm, calculated, and rational decisions that will benefit our industry in the weeks to come. We need to lay a new strong foundation to build upon. That starts with you.


If anyone needs resources on how to cope, please visit the mental health resource page on the Restaurant After Hours website.


Please stay safe, calm, and healthy during this time.


Zia Sheikh

Founder/CEO

Restaurant After Hours

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