Give Me A Break: How The Restaurant Industry’s Nicotine Addiction Has Gone Too Far

Growing up, I was always baking. If it was a friend’s birthday or my parent’s anniversary, there was sure to be a cake to go along with it and bake sales were kinda my thing. As I got older, I realized that this love of baking would soon become a career and, in no time, I was an executive pastry chef running a team of ten, in a beach-side restaurant in Texas, at age 20. That’s when I truly began to notice the disparity for the first time. To anyone whom has ever worked in the restaurant industry, you probably are aware of the fact that the life source of these passionate chefs and staff are coffee and cigarettes. However, the love for nicotine wouldn’t be an issue if it weren’t for one crucial factor involving cigarettes, and the breaks supplied by them.

In 2015, over 43 million adult Americans were smokers and, in 2008, the top six tobacco companies made over $346 billion dollars in profit. Out of those smokers, thirty percent of the restaurant industry was said to be addicted, according to the CDC, and many experts have speculated that this is solely due to the socio-economic structure of the restaurant industry and it’s inclusion of non wealthy, young, and lower-class individuals. However, perhaps it is simply attributed to the immense stress that is involved in the industry and, furthermore, the loophole that myself and many others have quickly become aware of.

The Loophole: More Nicotine Addiction, More Breaks

Let’s face it, smokers get more breaks during a shift and, although other smokers understand this need to have a few midday cigarettes, the ones that are not addicted to this little stick of nicotine are upset, and it’s no surprise. When the rush hits and you’re scrambling to make that final batch of aioli or put that dough in a bowl to rise, the last thing you want to turn around to is someone leaving out the back door calmly with a cigarette in hand.

Not only is smoking cigarettes a way for people to take extra breaks, however. By having that excuse, many chefs will head outside just for a break during the busiest of hours meanwhile the ones who do not have this excuse become even more stressed and have to make up for the lack of one person on a line. Despite the clear and fair smoke break guidelines that are often set by restaurants, many chefs feel that even more breaks are needed during the day to smoke and, in turn, all too often restaurants are actually paying their employees to do more smoking than cooking.

Unity and Nicotine: The Unspoken Bond Between Chefs and Cigarettes

The restaurant industry’s need for continuous stress relief through vices is deeper ingrained than you may think. In fact, many individuals in the restaurant industry admit to social smoking simply to interact with their fellow employees after a rush or during a break. These breaks have become a way to bond with your fellow chef and the use of causal vices has slowly but surely become the norm in the restaurant world.

However, this adult form of peer pressure is not only unhealthy but also promoting addiction in young adults that enter the restaurant workforce. By doing this, the young and easily impressionable begin to drink, smoke, and even take drugs simply to be a part of the kitchen they consider their second home. In fact, due to the sheer impressionability of the young mind, some speculate that the purchase age of cigarettes should be raised to 21 to prevent young individuals from starting addictions before they are able to discern what they want to do and what they think they should do to fit in. The best way to prevent this is by stating the evident cons of smoking and by knowing the millions of missed opportunities and edges they will deal with after they begin a life of casual nicotine intake.

The Ugly Truth: Side Effects and Missed Opportunities

Although the extra breaks are unfair and also lead even the strongest into the pit of addiction for a chance to ‘catch their breath’ outside more often, the side effects of these smoke breaks manifest themselves in many ways other than simply cancer. In the restaurant industry, there are plenty of chefs that actually hate cigarettes and won’t hire someone who is addicted. Why, you might ask?

There are, in fact, many reasons as to why this bond between chefs and their smokes can actually be a terrible thing but the most important ones come in the form of the breaks they take, the effects of cigarettes on their palette, and their handling of food after a break.

  • The Breaks: Too Many Too Soon

When you are first applying for a quality restaurant job, they may ask you if you smoke and the main reason for this is the training process. If a professional chef is taking the time out to mentor you, he may not always want to wait around while you go out and have a drag. Furthermore, many chefs relate this need to smoke to a lack of passion for their art and will often turn away individuals that put their addictions before their craft.

  • Damage To The Palette: What You Can’t Taste, You Can’t Make

Although this factor of smoking as a chef is not commonly considered, the effects of smoking on your palette are pretty immense. Through a process known as vascularization, the chemicals in cigarettes interact with your tongue to dull and flatten your taste buds making them, over time, virtually ineffective for the tasting of complex foods commonly created by professional chefs.

In fact, chef Gordon Ramsay, a passionate critic of smoking in the restaurant industry, has often spoke out about the effects of cigarettes on the palette and was once quoted saying, “ The biggest issue with chefs today is smoking…The first thing I teach a chef is how to taste. If you don’t understand how it tastes, you shouldn’t be cooking it.”

  • Smoked Salmon Gone Wrong: Handling Food When Reek of Cigarettes

One of the major issues regarding smoke breaks in the restaurant industry is the food handling side of the equation. When these individuals choose to smoke, they may wash their hands but the smell of cigarettes never does leave. On top of this, most professional chefs tend not to use gloves as touch is a huge factor in their food creation and presentation.

With this being said, the handling of food by smoking individuals is often ridiculed and even the smell of smoke on a chef’s coat can be reason for them to be removed from the kitchen for the day. Similarly, when these chefs are asked to be on the line or in prep, they may experience scrutiny for their smoke-ridden hands and be asked to move to a different station or put on gloves instead. These kinds of setbacks are what can ultimately lead to missed opportunities for young chefs to both show what they are made of as well as learn from experts in the industry.

The Tobacco Industry’s Ploy: Forcing The Hospitality Industry into Submission One Fake Statistic At A Time

In any business, the air quality is highly important. From preventing indoor smoking all the way to checking for mold or asbestos, the quality of the air in a restaurant or food business is essential to both the customers’ as well as the health inspectors’ experience. In the last century, the acceptance of smoking indoors has all but died because of this, however, the tobacco industry has found several ways to combat this using pressure and manipulation tactics on the hospitality industry as a whole.

Despite the many benefits of controlling your indoor air quality within your commercial restaurant, the tobacco industry has begun to create accommodation legislation stating that restaurants and bars should accommodate smokers. In turn, according to a study on tobacco control done by students from the University of California, they have provided false statistics ran by themselves under fake associations created by themselves to represent the restaurant industry and hospitality services and urge these companies to accommodate or lose business if they do not.

By doing this, the restaurant industry has begun to create more outdoor seating, patios, and smoker’s lounges to accommodate the millions of Americans that smoke. In turn, it has become easier and easier for these companies to justify smoke breaks for employees to increase their retention and to accommodate smoking employees regardless of the effects these cigarettes have on their palettes, physical appearances, and work ethic overall.

Alcohol, Drugs, and Beyond: The Gateways Cigarettes and Being A Chef Open Up

You’re probably remembering the belligerent mom outside your high school right now yelling in your face about the ‘gateway drugs’ you kids are ‘shooting up’, but the truth is that cigarettes are most certainly an addiction and all addictions can become worse. Not only are factors such as lung cancer and COPD serious issues to take into account; when you smoke, you are actually more likely to crave alcohol.

In fact, studies suggest that ‘nicotine dampens feel-good chemicals in the brain, making us crave alcohol’ and the reverse effect occurs with drinking making us crave a cigarette. With this being said, it is no wonder why so many smoking chefs are also known to be alcoholics and this addiction to alcohol can lead to serious damage to their brains, their motivation, and even lead to depression.

Similarly, according to a study in 1994 by the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, results showed that people that smoked cigarettes were more likely to use illegal drugs. That is why many speculate that cigarettes are a gateway to illegal drugs and could be a serious factor in the use of illegal vices to suppress stress and depression in the restaurant industry. In turn, these chefs could wind up facing all kinds of drug charges including marijuana charges, salvia charges, or worse and, instead of growing in their careers, wind up sitting in a jail cell with no career and no future. In fact, many chefs have openly admitted to heavy narcotic use to suppress stress when at work including Anthony Bourdain, Phil Howard, and Michael Solomonov.

Despite this, millions of chefs still continue to smoke and drink even when on the job. However, by learning how to quit this addiction, these chefs can not only be more productive but can also make it much more difficult for the tobacco industry to ‘accommodate’ smokers and the restaurant industry to justify unnecessary breaks. With this said, chefs would not only be healthier individuals but the hard working non-smokers of the industry would finally be given the breaks they deserve without the need for an excuse to do so.

In the end, is it fair for restaurants to allow their smoking employees more daily breaks than their nonsmoking ones? Of course not. That was never the issue, in all honesty. The big question we must ask ourselves moving forward is how can we take this disparity and transition it into a mutually beneficial system for smokers and nonsmokers alike? The best way to do so is simply by creating daily ‘smoke breaks’ that don’t involve cigarettes, supplying chefs and employees with addiction recovery support outlets like local group’s addresses and contact information, and transitioning these nightly after-rush smoke traditions into a healthier company culture- building alternative such as simply talking or eating leftovers together. Once these alternatives are set into motion, the restaurant and hospitality industry can finally begin to ‘flip’ the perfectly grilled ‘bird’ to the Tobacco industry as they rightfully deserve whilst pocketing their extra five bucks of ‘cigarette allowance’ daily in the process.