Edinburgh restaurant Aizle’s chef patron talks positive mental health

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With long hours and high pressure environments the hallmark of the Scottish hospitality industry one top chef has put positive mental health at the top of his menu.

Nearly 60 percent of people working in Scotland’s hospitality industry have experienced stress, depression and anxiety at work and Aizle’s chef patron Stuart Ralston said making small changes can relieve the “relentless” pressure on staff.

As well as a four-day week, the restaurant only opens in the evenings.

Stuart has also set aside a budget for staff meals, spent on quality meat and fish to ensure the staff meal sustains everyone through a long shift.

Stuart said: “The hospitality industry can be relentless, and full days of busy service do take their toll.

“It’s been said before, but physical and mental health really do work in tandem. As an employer, my priority is to encourage my team not to buy into the industry standard of long hours, unhealthy food and drinking regularly.

“At Aizle, I took the decision to just open the restaurant for dinner, to help reduce hours spent in the kitchen. It gives everyone, myself included, more time to wind down and helps to encourage a better work-life balance for the whole team.”

A new survey commissioned by ScotHot - Scotland’s largest trade event for the tourism, hospitality and catering sectors - shows 57 percent of respondents had experienced mental health issues in the workplace including stress, depression and anxiety, Stuart will take part in a live panel debate on Thursday to “Talking About It: Mental Health in Hospitality” to examine what more can be done to improve and promote positive mental health in the industry.

He added: “Health starts at the top in this industry, it affects everything we do. It’s easy to fall into negative cycles of behaviour, and I do think there needs to be more discussion about how we can encourage everyone working in hospitality to make their physical and mental health a priority. I’m pleased to see ScotHot opening up the conversation and I hope it continues to be talked about.

Chaired by broadcaster and journalist Stephen Jardine, the event will bring together a panel of leading industry figures to discuss the study, including Gary Macdonald, mental health community partner at the Department for Work and Pensions;

Gordon McIntyre, associate dean for Hospitality and Tourism at City of Glasgow College and Giovanna Eusebi, owner of Eusebi Deli in Glasgow.

Stuart added: “It’s also important to focus on what we eat while we’re working.

“Food has a huge effect not just on physical health, but on mental health too. In the restaurant, we have a budget for staff meals which is spent on quality meat and fish. That’s quite unusual in this industry, though it shouldn’t be the case. If you’re in the kitchen on a long shift, your staff meal is often the only meal you’ll eat all day. My focus is on local, sustainable, quality food, and making sure that our customers enjoy some of the very best Scottish produce. We all want our customers to eat well, but why should our staff be any different? Look after your team, and they’ll look after customers.

“There’s also the drinking culture of working in hospitality, which we actively discourage at Aizle. We have a staff drink at the end of service on a Saturday, as we’re winding down, cleaning and closing up for the next three days. We’re by no means perfect, there’s still more I want to do and plenty of room to progress, but improvement year on year is the goal.”

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