How great socks and enough forks can help our mental health and our business

Seasonal advice from Rebecca McGaulay-Dyke, Head of Restaurant Operations at St. JOHN

Continuing our series on seasonal advice to get you all through the festive period, Rebecca takes over our Spotlight to tell us how a little mindfulness and a lot of preparation can transform your experience, and the experience of your teams.

Sometimes it feels like a massive month-long adrenaline rush is the only thing that gets us through Christmas in one piece. A higher force comes into play, fuelled by the rush of service and the camaraderie of trying not to ‘go down’. Whilst the satisfaction of knowing you are really acing a demanding service remains a powerful motivator through rain or shine, there are numerous simple, more sustainable and healthier ways that we as a business and as individuals can better prepare for the festive period.

It starts from the moment you wake up. That extra 20 minutes in bed might feel like it’s the right thing to do, but the benefit is often undone by the rush and panic of trying to get out of the door in 10 minutes flat. My morning routine plays a crucial part in setting the tone for the day, and this never rings more true than during the festive period. I am a huge advocate of ‘dopamine dressing’, or finding joy in what you choose to wear. Choosing a great outfit lifts my spirits every. damn. time. This may not resonate with everyone, especially if you have a designated uniform, but there might still be things that will work for you – a tie or socks you love, a lipstick in your colour or a great haircut in early December. Even little things make a difference.

So now I’m ready, I’ve forced down a big glass of water and I’m walking to the train station. I put my phone AWAY and take this time to mindfully observe my surroundings. The sun is out, there’s a fun dog walking by… I’m actively choosing to find joy in the little things by honing in on them. On the train, my phone remains stowed away (after a quick peek, let’s be honest!) and I read a book instead. It may seem insignificant, and it is so tempting to spend the whole time scrolling through endless Instagram posts, but a small amount of mindfulness during the work commute paves the way for a brighter day. Channelling this mindful energy into your pre-service briefings – staying centred and calm, noticing and being grateful for the small things – will help set your team off on the right foot!

I need to include a disclaimer here – this mindful approach obviously won’t always work. No matter how hard we try, sometimes we just feel a bit crap, and that’s fine. I always let my team know if I’m not feeling 100%, and I urge them to do the same. Your briefings are a great time to remind staff of your mental health policy (don’t have one? Introduce one now!), and to improve visibility of an employee assistance program with a reminder of how it works and where they can access it. We can’t deny how difficult it is that the moment staff members’ mental health can be most tested is also the moment it is hardest for managers to find time and energy to address it positively. But facilitating open conversations surrounding mental health within your team is more important than ever during this period, and if you are vocal about it then this will allow staff to feel supported, reassure them that they will be heard, and hopefully help them through issues before things escalate. For anyone looking for help cementing a mental health policy, or for guidance about how to address concerns, I can’t recommend the wonderful team at Kelly’s Cause enough!

Shifts and staffing patterns are hugely pressured, but you must try to avoid scheduling staff on back-to-back shifts so that your team can REST and relish the festive season when not on the clock. It’s not always going to be possible, but trying to make it work 90% of the time is so much better than giving up and telling everyone that they just need to buckle down and deal with it for the next 6 weeks. That just leads to burn-out and will hugely exacerbate your staffing issues down the line. Not every business will have the luxury of closing over the Christmas and New Year period, but you should be able to stagger time off amongst the team so that everyone can have a few days off in a row. One of the most important things is getting these rotas out EARLY meaning your team can make any necessary arrangements, such as transport, in good time and hopefully at a respectable price.


This may seem like a mundane tip but you’d be surprised (or not so surprised!) about how often this can be the final nail in the coffin of a difficult season: ensuring your team have the right PHYSICAL tools to succeed is absolutely key in maintaining morale. There is nothing more frustrating than having a full section, a challenging Christmas party table to take care of, a list of ten urgent priorities running through your head and… you can’t find a fork. It’s the ultimate ‘send down’ and a sure-fire way to break the spirit you’ve endeavoured to help build!

Stock up on those crucial non-consumables, building up stocks slowly through the year to spread the cost, and keep communication high regarding out of stocks – empower your team to let you know if things are running low! Simple things in place mean your team can really focus on the true task at hand – which is smashing a section and having heaps of FUN while they do it.

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