When Restaurants Lose Their Sense of Belonging, They Fail

By Jensen Cummings

I often reflect on my personal journey from punk kid to dishwasher to line cook to chef to owner and to restaurant burnout. I reminisce on moments of joy and finding a purpose I never had imagined. Memories of finally finding my people and no longer feeling like I didn’t fit in. I also remember dark times of substance abuse and of burning bridges. What I realize now is that I found a sense of belonging in restaurants that allowed me to feel more like myself than I ever had before. That is the quintessential thing that a restaurant provides for those who find it. We’re this misfit family, this band of rebels, Bourdain’s “pirates.” We didn’t want the 9-5 job. We didn’t want the cubicle. We didn’t want the suit and tie. We didn’t want a job.

Yet now, we find ourselves, having gone from outcasts, to being the “cool kids.” And I, for one, didn’t know how to handle it. I began to focus so much on the policy and procedure and systems and metrics for “success”. Trying to be more and more efficient. Yet, I now recognize that was not the success I imagined for myself and my team. It was an arbitrary measuring stick established by those we never wanted to become. As a leader, when I succeeded, it was because I worked fit my people, that I was meant to create space for them to grow and thrive. When I failed, it was because I took them for granted, thought they were “lucky to be here,” and I no longer served them like I was meant to. This is the greatest issue plaguing the industry today. When we lose our sense of belonging, we turn this restaurant thing into just a job. And we never wanted a job. And neither do any of the “kids these days” that we blame for not being as committed or being lazy or being entitled or being blah blah blah.

This is why we started Best Served Tableside, a way to talk directly with restaurant workers about their own struggles, expectations, and hopes for this industry. It is only if we come to the table to have some real talk, can we address our shortcomings, communicate, evolve, and build something new. The theme of this series of Tableside is Hiring Process Horror Stories. We try to unravel the mess that is the No-Call No-Show, Job Posts Don’t Say Anything, Do Resumes Matter, Cringe-Worthy Interviews, Are Stages Exploitation, Bait & Switch Job Offers, Two Weeks Notice and Day One, Into The Fire. In our first episode, we tackle trying to understand some of the reasons that the no-call no-show occur. We hear some jarring revelations from Sierra Janniese of Chicago about discrimination, about using technicalities to get rid of people managers don’t like, and about mistreating loyal employees. We need to listen now if we have any chance of cultivating that sense of belonging and redefining our success moving forward.

To learn more, watch the video podcast or listen to the audio podcast.

Best Served grinds to support workplaces worth working, and that is why we are proud to collaborate with 7shifts, who has underwritten Best Served Tableside. 7shifts promotes being connected to the reality of the full employee life cycle both on the clock and off.

Jensen Cummings is a fifth-generation Chef & Certified Cicerone based in Denver, CO. His brands’ Best Served Creative and Best Served Podcast exist solely to unlock and amplify the worth and work of those who feed their community. From chefs to restaurant pros to farmers and every one in between, this work manifests with storytelling media, coaching, and strategy meant to acknowledge and empower people to do what they were meant to do. He is committed to hustle and communicate everyday to serve this mission. When he’s not out building a new model for restaurants that’s equitable, profitable, and sustainable, he’s spending precious time as a husband, a father, movie buff, beer nerd, and fan of the LA Dodgers.

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