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Recovery & Hospitality: An Interview with Ben’s Friends Co-Founder

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Ben’s Friends is a support group addressing the unique challenges of the food and beverage industry.

Working in the hospitality industry means playing a role in other people having a good time, but that often translates as a stressful demanding job and long hours. It’s not surprising, then, that the food and hospitality industry has the highest rates of substance use disorder. After all, drinking is part of hospitality culture. However, that culture is changing with the growth of the alcohol-free market as well as well-known service workers who talk openly about their recovery in an attempt to support their peers.

We spoke to Ben’s Friends co-founder, Mickey Bakst, about the unique challenges people in the industry face, how they are changing that, and his hopes for the future of the service industry.

Interview with Mickey Bakst, Co-Founder of Ben’s Friends

Workit Health: What do you think are the unique challenges within the hospitality/service industry regarding substances? 

Mickey Bakst: First and foremost, the hours. Many of us work until 12:00, 1:00, or even 3:00 am. When we get off of work, there is nothing to do to unwind and nowhere to go to do so. Also the long hours, the physical stress, the lack of appropriate staffing, and the pressure to please our guests.

Workit: Since setting up Ben’s friends, how do you think that culture has changed?

Mickey: For the first time our industry is talking openly about substance abuse, and that is a major and extremely important change. Also, the industry is looking at abuse not from a disciplinary attitude, but from one of how we can help the employee. We are also seeing the end of shift drinks in places all over the country, and that is a massive change.

Workit: What are your hopes for the industry? 

Mickey: Alcoholism and drug addiction are not going anywhere, but our hope is that as a whole the industry will continue to respond in a more open and helpful way. 

Workit: What tips would you give to someone in the industry who is struggling with substances?

Mickey: Connect with other recovering people ASAP! Doing sobriety on your own is particularly difficult. Having a network of sober people who understand how you think and feel is essential.

Workit: What might a person attending Ben’s Friends meeting expect? Is it like a 12-step support group or different? 

Mickey: Imagine a kitchen or bar area at work, filled with fellow employees. Everyone is there for one common purpose, speaking the same language, seeking the same goal.  Ben’s Friends is not a 12-step program, but a community of like-minded people all dealing with a common problem. The meetings last are loosely structured like AA, but anything goes. And we swear a lot. 

Workit: What are your five top resources for those working in the restaurant business to help support them in changing their relationship with substances? 

Mickey: Honestly the top resource is the people who make up Ben’s Friends. A newcomer is instantly provided with access to sober F&B people willing to help them in their efforts to stay sober. That, as my 38 years of sobriety tells me, is the key ingredient. Having said that, we can provide access to detox facilities, recovery centers, and other organizations that may help.

Workit: Is there anything else you want to add?

Mickey: Thank you for caring! 

For more information please visit Ben’s Friends website:

The food and hospitality industry has high rates of substance use disorder. Ben’s Friends addresses the unique challenges of recovery and hospitality.

Olivia Pennelle (Liv) has a masters in clinical social work from Portland State University. She is a mental health therapist, writer, and human activist. Her writing has appeared in STAT News, Insider, Filter Magazine, Ravishly, The Temper, and Shondaland. She is the founder of Liv’s Recovery Kitchen, Life After 12-Step Recovery, and Tera Collaborations. She lives near Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Instagram @Livwritesrecovery and @teracollaborations

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