Restaurant Industry Resources: Financial Assistance, Wellness Programs, and More

Grace Dickinson | December 6, 2022, 10:30 PM CST

Restaurant Industry Resources: Financial Assistance, Wellness Programs, and More

The restaurant industry employs nearly 12 million people, and as anyone who’s worked in it knows, it's prone to bringing on a fair amount of financial and emotional stress. 

Even as the pandemic has pushed wage raises, the average salary for a restaurant worker in 2022 is $24,769 per year, according to data from ZipRecruiter. (The U.S. Bureau of Labor puts the average hourly wage at $18.80 and average weekly hours at 25.1, according to the latest data taken from September 2022. Multiply those two together across 52 weeks and you get a similar estimate at $24,538.)

For many in the industry, living paycheck to paycheck is the reality. One unexpected crisis can make covering everyday costs like food, rent/mortgage, or car payments no longer possible. The fast-paced, high-stress environment of restaurants also positions the industry to have some of the highest rates of mental illness in any field.

Fortunately, however, there are an array of organizations out there with the sole mission of helping restaurant industry workers survive and thrive. 

While the following list is by no means comprehensive, below are some of the available resources for the industry. This list also includes a few organizations that are positioned to specifically help owners and operators navigate cumbersome topics like healthcare benefits and beyond.

This list will continue to be updated. Run an organization that serves as a resource for restaurant industry workers? Get in touch:

Financial Relief and Mental Health Services: Southern Smoke Foundation

The Southern Smoke Foundation serves as a safety net for people in the food and beverage industry and is one of the few organizations of its kind that distributes money directly to grant recipients’ bank accounts.

From farmers to fisherman, fry cooks to servers, anyone employed in the F&B sector can apply who’s experienced an “unforeseen expense caused by crisis”. You must also prove you’ve been employed for a minimum of six months and average 30 hours per week across one or multiple industry jobs. The average award is $2,500, which generally goes towards covering rent and utility bills, medical expenses, and groceries, but also financial situations like the cost of car repossessions or damages related to natural disasters.

In recent years, Southern Smoke has begun to expand its services to also include mental health support. The organization currently offers free access to telehealth counseling services through partnerships with universities in a handful of states. The goal is to expand access in an additional eight states annually. 

Find the application for both financial assistance and telehealth counseling here.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Support: Ben's Friends 

Ben’s Friends is committed to helping hospitality workers get sober and stay sober. Founded by restaurateurs and longtime friends Steve Palmer and Mickey Bakst, the group brings together dozens of people nationwide for meetings designed to help those in the industry connect and support one another.

“We're not presenting ourselves as a replacement for anything – for therapy or A.A. We’re a supplement,” says Palmer. “It’s just a safe place for open discussions.”

The group currently hosts in-person meetings in 15 cities, as well as 21 virtual meetings per week. All are free to attend. To learn more about times and locations, click here

Financial Relief and Wellness Resources: Giving Kitchen

Giving Kitchen offers support to food service workers – categorized as anyone working in restaurants, catering, concessions, food trucks, cafeterias, bars, and taprooms – in two core ways. The first is through financial assistance, provided based on need and a set of qualifying criteria that include undergoing an unexpected illness or injury, the death of an immediate family member, or a housing disaster, like flooding, fire, or mold damage. Those who qualify receive financial assistance in the form of rent, mortgage, and/or utilities, paid directly to the service provider. The average payout is around $1,800. 

Giving Kitchen calls its other core program the “stability network”, a hub of mental health, wellness, and social service resources. Individuals can access these resources – ranging from counseling to financial health advice to housing and family services – through an online library or connect directly with a case manager to request a personalized referral.

“Giving Kitchen acts as a liaison – it’s a warm referral connection to community resources,” says cofounder Jen Hidinger-Kendrick. “It doesn’t matter if you’re from Idaho, New York, California, or Texas – if you’re a food service worker, Giving Kitchen can connect you.”

Mental Health Support Group: Heard

Heard runs weekly mental health and wellness support groups geared towards restaurant industry workers. Each Heard support session includes at least one moderator – always a fellow industry professional – who kicks off the session by talking about a specific topic and relating it to their own lives. Others in the group are then invited to speak or simply just listen.

“This is really the first step for people to dip their feet into talking about things they’re going through and issues they’re having,” says founder Joel Rivas. “At the core is a focus on normalizing conversations around wellness and taking care of oneself in regards to mental health.”

Meetings take place both virtually over Zoom and also face-to-face in a handful of cities. Heard also has a partnership with telehealth group Galileo that allows members to access 24/7 doctor consults for $29 per month. Learn more here.

Financial Relief for Families: CORE

Founded in 2004, CORE provides grants to restaurant employees with children when an employee, their spouse, or child faces a medical crisis, injury, death, or natural disaster. The goal is to ease the financial stress when an unexpected crisis strikes.

Applicants must provide proof of employment in the food or beverage industry, have a child that they're legally responsible for, and apply within six months of the qualifying event. A list of qualifying events can be found here.

If approved, grant money can cover a range of needs, including rent/mortgage, utilities, medical supplies and prescriptions, therapies, travel costs, funeral-related costs, groceries, clothing, and other essentials a family might need to navigate their specific circumstance. CORE pays for mortgage and car payments directly, and all other funding goes on a trackable Visa gift card for approved expenses. To apply, click here.

Healthcare Benefits: Oyster Sunday

Oyster Sunday provides operational, human resources, and branding support to restaurants, and as of 2022, it now helps restaurants navigate healthcare and wellness benefits, too, through its OS Benefits Program.

The program is based on 20-plus partnerships that Oyster Sunday has with vendors like Sesame (telehealth), Kleer (dental care), ClassPass (fitness classes), UrbanSitter (babysitting/caregiving), and Tilit (retail chefware). The goal is to give operators an accessible way to provide benefits. These include access to preventive care, mental health, and family planning services, as well as industry goods and services, like continuing education and culinary tools – all at discounted rates. Members get access to all participating vendors, which offer pre-negotiated rates that reduce the prices of services by 15% to 50%.

Restaurant operators can sign up for an average price of around $3 per employee per month. For more information, click here.

Peer-to-Peer Advice and Mental Health Resources: Independent Restaurant Coalition (IRC) 

Founded in March 2020, the IRC began with a single mission – to save independent restaurants and bars affected by the pandemic. Made up entirely of chefs and independent operators, the grassroots organization has since expanded its mission, now serving as a general operational resource for independent restaurant owners. 

The IRC welcomes operators to reach out with questions and will often connect operators with fellow industry professionals who can offer first hand advice. The IRC is also working on building up its own digital resource library. And it has a partnership with online therapy platform BetterHelp, which connects individuals with licensed therapists. IRC members get a free month’s access to the service. 

While advocacy remains the IRC’s primary mission, the organization hopes to continue to build on its educational offerings. Follow its Instagram to stay up to date on ongoing offerings, and learn more about becoming an IRC member here.

Mental Health Education and Consultation: Healthy Hospo

After facing a severe mental health breakdown of his own, Tim Etherington-Judge founded Healthy Hospo, a nonprofit that provides health-focused education and consultation to restaurant employers and their staff.

At the core of the organization’s programming are virtual courses led by Healthy Hospo team members and outside specialists. Topics addressed include sleep, nutrition, exercise, mental health, financial health, and human connection. The goal is to take a preventative approach across a wide spectrum of health challenges industry workers face. To access classes, visit Healthy Hospo’s digital library. Prices range from free to $17.

Healthy Hospo also leads in-person workshops and offers consulting services, advising restaurants and other hospitality businesses on how to create better working environments. Find more information here.

About The Author

Grace Dickinson - Author

Grace Dickinson

Staff Reporter


Grace Dickinson is a staff reporter at Back of House. Prior to joining Back of House, Grace worked as a features and service reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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