Depression, anxiety and suicide rates are increasing rapidly in all demographic groups in society.
The coronavirus pandemic is exacerbating the mental health crisis.
Although there have been no formal studies done specifically focused on people who work in the hospitality industry, I think it’s safe to say that many bar operators secretly deal with crippling levels of anxiety and depression, and worse.
Mix this together with an incredibly difficult business where alcohol is in ample supply and you have a recipe for potential disaster if you don’t have a strategy to deal with negative thoughts and feelings.
Here’s how to maintain mental health and manage the anxiety and depression that comes from bar ownership.
1. Don’t Tie Your Self Worth to Your Business
In a business as up and down as the bar and restaurant industry, it’s a bad idea to tie your sense of self-worth to your financial success. It’s almost certain that over the course of your time owning and operating a bar or restaurant, you’ll have times when you’ll suffer significant losses. These can come from natural economic woes, unexpected expenses that leave you without a monthly paycheck, and people betraying you and leaving behind a major financial problem for you.
If you tie your emotional state to the never-ending drama that accompanies business ownership, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you’re going to be unhappy most of the time. This industry is not a smooth ride—that’s why you can’t identify with the success or failure of your business.
Rather, if you know in your mind and soul that you have value regardless of the status of your business, you’re much better able to navigate tough times without experiencing crippling depression. Sometimes, all it takes is a reassuring word from a parent, sibling or spouse to remind you that you’re loved and cared about, no matter what mistakes have been made in the past. If you’ve been down and out for a long time, it might be a good idea to dig through the attic and look at some of the old notes and things you’ve accumulated over time. Things like old wedding cards, birthday cards, souvenirs and encouraging notes from people who love you are good reminders of what people actually think about you, and sometimes these messages have the ability to snap you out of a funk.
If none of that stuff works, you can always then turn to your good old pal Kevin Tam, who is here to tell you this month that even if all your friends and family hate your guts, and your business is falling apart, I still love you and think you have a ton of great things to offer this world. Don’t give up!
2. Refresh Your Mind Constantly
I’m a big reader, and I find spending time reading the Bible and marketing books either late at night or early in the morning stabilizes my mental state no matter what’s going on with the business. Time alone in the Bible continually grounds me spiritually and has a way of putting temporary troubles in perspective. It also builds on point number one, where it’s a bad idea to identify with your business’ success or failure. Daily time in the Bible continually reminds me of the value I have to the highest power in the universe, and how important I am in the grand scheme of things (which is by the way, extremely important).
Additionally, marketing books refresh the mind by putting solutions, rather than problems, into focus. In fact, it’s almost impossible to feel hopeless about a situation like a lack of customers if you’re bombarding your mind daily with ideas on how to attract new guests, keep loyal regulars, and multiply referrals. The key, however, is purposely injecting your mind with new ideas that can help you move forward. This doesn’t happen automatically or without any effort.
3. Take Care of Your Body
I know several bar operators who work nights, have small children, travel regularly for work, don’t exercise, don’t sleep very well, and eat like garbage. This routine will encourage sickness in your physical body, which will lead to problems managing your mental state.
A rapid change in the physical state of your body will get you out of a funk faster than anything you can think your way into. This is the reason why it’s important to continually have a routine of exercise, eating lots of vegetables and fresh fruits, and keeping a regular sleep schedule. Many times, feelings of depression and anxiety can be suppressed by doing small things to take care of the body, and it doesn’t even take much!
Sometimes, instead of stewing over business problems, just a simple, brisk walk away from the office is all it takes to get your mind turning in a more positive direction. For myself, I’m big on lifting weights. Being in the gym takes one’s mind off all the problems, and as an added benefit, sometimes even flashes of brilliance and “aha” moments happen in the midst of a rigorous exercise session. Many other people I have spoken with have reported similar epiphanies when hiking, biking, swimming or just going out for a run. Whatever your “thing” is that reminds you that life isn’t all about work, you must continue to do it—and perhaps do even more of it—when you’re in trouble.
4. Be Honest About What the Real Problem is Here
How would your mental state change if you got a phone call this afternoon from someone looking to buy out the entire bar for a day and spend $10,000? What if you had three phone calls like that this month? Would that alleviate any of your present concerns?
The sad truth, in a business sense, behind most depression and anxiety is a lack of leads resulting from ineffective marketing. And to be fair, I would be terrified if I owned a business and had no clear formula for marketing and lead generation. One of my biggest complaints about the bar and restaurant industry is that in the ‘90s and early 2000s, if you had a good location and half-decent service, just the sheer amount of economic prosperity created more demand than supply. Operators could have absolutely no skill in the areas of advertising, lead generation, and stimulating referrals, and still make tons of money. Now that the economy is not so great, it’s really exposing a lot of bar owners that have no clue how to actually market.
Luckily, learning how to market and advertise is available to anyone with an intense curiosity. There’s a plethora of options available to find this knowledge. For instance, you can go to the library, bookstore, or search on YouTube. Additionally, there are books and materials you can find focused on how to construct better ads, market to an internal list of customers, and come up with better promotions for the future.
Lastly, there are conferences, workshops, seminars, and other kinds of educational events that will give you the ideas you need to get people in your business and spending money. The ideas are out there—you just have to search for them!
5. Find a Small Group and Meet Regularly
I have said it many times that you need a support group of positive and inspiring people who are qualified to counsel you during the bad times you will inevitably encounter. Griping about things that upset you with employees and other people that know nothing about the burdens of business ownership does nothing to change your mental state.
Instead, talking with other business owners who are older and wiser results in a change of direction, actionable steps, and reassurances that things will work out. One of the factors that depressed people have in common is social isolation. Human beings are pack animals—we are not meant to be alone. Which is why we all need to stay plugged in with a network of people who we can call upon to talk about anything at any time. And the kicker is, the more we talk about problems, particularly when they’re small and just budding, the less power they have in our lives.
Where do you meet these people? At conferences, networking groups, from your vendors, peers, clients, and friends of friends. Business owners are everywhere, and when you find other business owners who you click with, take them out for a drink, develop a relationship, and talk often. They can help you and vice versa.
But the key is to find these people before you get in trouble, so you have someone to call when trouble comes. When you’re actually going through problems, you’re not thinking about meeting new people and developing new relationships—you’re just trying to stay afloat. That’s why you need to know lots of people who have the wisdom you need ahead of time. This way your safety net is already in place, and when you fall you have people to help you get back up.
6. Do ONE Thing to Get Out of Your Funk
Depressed people often make the mistake of looking at achievement as a monumental feat that involves too many tasks. Because the situation appears so overwhelming, they don’t even try. As a result of failing to start, they condemn themselves because although they know what to do, they can’t motivate themselves to do it.
You don’t need to do it all at once. You can start by doing one thing a day, like sending one email, making one phone call, and sending one text to promote yourself. While these small steps don’t seem like much, if you do one thing a day over the course of a 20-day work month, that’s 20 positive steps you’ll take to change the direction of your business. If those 20 steps are new and include follow-up calls to potential clients and you only convert ten percent of them to actual visits, that will result in two bookings that could bring in anywhere from two to ten people each.
Sometimes, just seeing small results can be the key that motivates you to gradually increase your activity and take 30 steps to book three visits the next month, then taking 40 steps and booking four the next month, then taking 50 steps and booking five the next month. Before you know it, that momentum you have gained from taking a single step in the right direction has now completely changed the trajectory of your business and your mental state.
7. Focus Like You’ve Never Focused Before
Business-related anxiety and depression are non-existent when you get a lot of stuff done and you feel a sense of accomplishment. This is true regardless of the mess you’re in. People just feel better about life when they’re taking steps in the right direction—it’s the difference between blind hope and justifiable optimism.
To me, hope is only justified if you’re taking massive action toward reaching your goals. If there’s nothing actually being done, having a good attitude does nothing to change your present situation. That’s why if you’re depressed, you need to identify what the solution is by talking to someone who is older and wiser, then breaking down large goals into small tasks, and then giving your maximum effort in getting everything on your task list done.
The key is to do it fast! Don’t work slow! Work with a great sense of urgency! The faster you work, the more stuff gets done and, ultimately, when you look back at your work day you feel great about yourself because you now have legitimate reasons to be optimistic for the future.
Kevin is a Sculpture Hospitality franchisee with over a decade of experience working directly with bar, restaurant and nightclub owners on all points of the spectrum. From family-owned single bar operations to large companies with locations on an international scale, Kevin works with them all and understands the unique challenges each kind of company faces.
He is the author of a book titled Night Club Marketing Systems – How to Get Customers for Your Bar. He is also a regular writer for Bar & Restaurant, and publisher of a Newsletter called the No B.S. Inventory Control Letter, which is a series of how-to articles, industry-related rants and “Random Thoughts About Weight Lifting.”