So, Your Restaurant is Closing. What Now?
Restaurant Heartbreak Can Break the Bank
Working in a restaurant can be a complex relationship. It may be a healthy and nurturing experience for two parties to grow, or it may be a routine trip to the lower levels of Hell all for the sake of a paycheck. Thankfully, most experiences are squarely in the middle, and it's usually an easy feat to leave work at the office. The death of a restaurant can still hit hard, even if it was just a place you were punching clock at while focused on side hustles. Whether the owner pulls the rug out from the whole staff in the middle of the night and locks the doors, or your job is given a stay of execution for a few weeks, it's a tough time. Stress multiplies exponentially and the future goes from routine to staring into an abyss. It's a staring contest you can win.
Take Credit (and Give it) Where it's Due
The first thing to remember is that there's almost no way this was your fault. Unless you were pulling a Tyler Durden operation on your place of business, planting yelp reviews or egging on Foie Gras protestors, as bad as the experience may feel, it's not your fault. Identify the good parts of your time at that restaurant, the friends you've made, take a deep breath and walk away. Even if you have a big heart and feel for your sisters and brothers in arms, unless you're the actual owner or the General Manager, there was likely very little you could have done to stop a closure.
The job of the owner and management was to keep the lights on. Your job now is to give yourself a night out, because you've earned it. Monday morning quarterbacking the situation will never help. You can and should still be a good teammate, and it's never a bad idea to help your restaurant friends get situated with whatever the next step is. That kind of karma will definitely come back to you.
Keep Calm and Carry On
If you're one of the unlucky souls to have had the type of soulless and craven owner who locked the doors in the middle of the night, figure out if you're eligible for unemployment, ASAP. Unemployment isn't money to ball out on, but it is the kind of steady income that will keep a roof over your head so you can take a solid, clear-eyed look at your options. The process of qualifying for Unemployment isn't the most fun, but if you wanted boring you would already be working in bureaucracy and dealing with some recently jobless, sad-eyed weirdos with tattoos and liberal arts degrees.
Even if the owner was in your corner and gave the restaurant a wonderful long send-off, take advantage of the time you have to reach out to friends, colleagues and ask around at other restaurants. If you're able, resist the urge to jump immediately back in, because a lot of those initial offers are going to look very different in a month or two. Beef up your resume with an online course, run a 5k, hone your knife skills, paint, take care of some household chores. Give yourself a fitness (whole pizza in your stomach) day or two. Use the time you've got to invest in yourself. Be active and you'll be in a mindset to be able to take advantage of opportunity when it knocks, and it will.
Paradox of Choice
As of 2017, There are over one million restaurants in the United States alone, and despite estimates and forecasts for a slump, most cities' communities are still humming along and churning out a silly amount of new dining options every year. Being unemployed is a drag, but this can be an amazing time to boost your income, your career or both.
Opening a restaurant is stressful, but getting in on the ground floor of a place you've actively chosen can be huge, beyond the resume gold of opening experience. Take the opportunity to try different styles of service, management, or job titles. Build on what you enjoyed or wanted more of in your past jobs. Making a fresh start or a big move in your career is a lot easier when it's on pause. The same can be said for leaving the restaurant world; it's hard to be on point for an early interview when you worked a double the day before and your laundry room was flooded when you got home, or your cat got out again.
Even if your dream restaurant job isn't open on time, and it never will be, you can use the downtime to cross-train yourself on a kitchen line, on the floor or behind a bar.
Whether you use the time to party or to study for your Sommelier exam, remember that it's your time. It may not have been wrapped very nicely, but time can be a priceless commodity. Wherever there's disruption, there's opportunity.
J. is a retired bartender and expatriate living in Cuenca, Ecuador. He works as a freelance writer and is a contributing editor of the lifestyle and travel blog Two by Tour.