“Congratulations, you are now never off [work]”

By Scott Mechura Explore Big Sky Food Columnist

As anyone in the hospitality industry knows, the workweek is far longer than 40 hours. Chefs have known this for decades.

This is not to say that fellow hospitality peers don’t share the same schedule, because most of the time they do. It’s common to hit the 40-hour mark with a couple days left to go in the week.

In today’s society, professionals have increasingly demanding work lives and schedules as well. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day for work, families and personal lives. But aside from the physical time spent at our jobs, what about the time spent on our jobs?

When I travel with friends on vacation, by about the fourth or fifth day the shine wears off and they start talking about all the work piling up when they return to the office. It feels good to realize in those moments that there essentially is no work stacking up for me when I return to the kitchen.

As chefs we realize, historically, that work stays at work. Our industry has a clear beginning and end to the day. Sure there’s some pre-vacation prep work to be done, but after all we can’t take the ovens home with us, right?

Thanks (thanks?!) to smartphones, laptops, and our society demanding immediate satisfaction, we’re connected 24-7, and it’s increasingly easy to take our work home with us. Why should I sit in an office working on my staff’s schedule or writing a special menu while years of humming hood fans in the distance slowly deteriorate my hearing? I can bring my laptop home and work on a menu or my schedule for the week. But should I?

In the days before smartphones were commonplace, a previous employer once upgraded me from a mobile phone to a Blackberry. I had it about an hour or so and was still trying to figure out its nuances when I received my first email from my boss. It simply read, “Congratulations, you are now never off.”

Unless you’re an NFL quarterback like Payton Manning, who seems to constantly study his craft, most of us try to achieve balance in our lives. My workplace is a steady beehive of activity. Even a slow day isn’t slow, and there’s constantly something to do.

But it’s the unplugging that allows me to then plug back in more effectively. It took me a long time and some “encouragement” from my wife to figure this out. And I’m a better person for it.

I believe it’s important to set some company (or personal, if you are self-employed) ground rules for being “off” from work. We can take our work home with us, but is it worth the time spent working in our own home environment? There’s a reason one is called work and the other is called home.

Until I decide one day to bring one of Buck’s ovens home with me, I intend to keep it that way.

Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and currently the Executive Chef at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky.