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Should I Stay or Should I Go?

A 20-year hospitality veteran opens up about why she stays with some jobs and leaves others.

The bar and restaurant industry continues to undergo seismic shifts on the heels of a brutal two years of pandemic restrictions. One of those shifts is the exodus of hospitality employees in favor of other fields and jobs. There are approximately a billion and one factors driving this desertion (and no real consensus about the primary causes) but in the midst of the most challenging labor market for employers in decades, it seems as if cooks, servers, bartenders, bussers, hosts, and managers should have the upper hand. Here’s what Jen Mattioni, who’s worked in restaurants and bars for 20 years, has to say about why she stays or leaves a hospitality job.

I’ve gotten good at leaving, maybe to a fault. (I used to be good at staying, maybe also to a fault.) I struggle with boredom. I’m always looking for another challenge. My thing over the last few years has been blowing up my life and then seeing what happens. I constantly question whether I’ve made the right decision, but I keep going with this either very smart or very stupid gut of mine. 

The reasons I get into a job are often the reasons I leave. I look for a good culture and environment, as well as a team I can feel connected to and a menu I am passionate about serving. I aim to challenge myself, to grow and learn, and to keep hustling to be a better person and industry professional. I value both continued education within a position and the flexibility to be able to explore our industry’s educational opportunities outside of the position. I want to move up within a company rather than without. I need growth within a group to be a realistic, attainable goal.

There is no perfect job. There are good jobs, there are bad jobs, there are in-between jobs, and there are jobs that are good or bad for specific people at specific times in their lives. There’s never been one single thing that pushes me to leave. It’s always been a combination of the items above, coupled with a vague feeling that it’s time to move on. Maybe that’s when I should be leaning into my job and working through that feeling, but once I get that itch, I can’t remove it from my heart and my brain. There’s also a very real element of constantly comparing my success to others’, and that too drives me to keep searching for what is next. I want to find the place and the people that push me to be the best version of me I can possibly be. 

I constantly question whether I’ve made the right decision, but I keep going with this either very smart or very stupid gut of mine. 

There’s a stigma surrounding short job tenure (one with which I do not fully disagree). I have been in this industry for 20 years and in management for 15 of those 20. I have looked at resumes and seen the “red flags.” Now I have, on paper, become that red flag. (I know that from an email about me sent to me.) I don’t truly believe that of myself; I can talk honestly, transparently, and intelligently about every move and every decision in my career. But someone who doesn’t know me sees a person who can’t stay put and is not a worthwhile investment. 

Leaving always comes with accompanying feelings of failure and dread: about finding a new job, having to explain myself, defending my entire career to someone who doesn’t know me at all, and determining if a place is right for me after a few hours of interviewing and a day or two of stages. The stress of not having a job and searching for one is on par with the stress that can come from within a job.  

And still, you never really know until you’re in it if it’s right. Sometimes you can make it right. You can build the team, implement the standard operating procedures, and do everything in your power to make it work the way you deem best. However, there are always factors beyond your control. Sometimes those are the catalysts of that question,  “What’s next?” Whether or not the answer stems from a ”personal problem,” it’s all personal. 

It’s all personal, and it’s all uniquely individual. I have had personal, familial reasons that, when coupled with my professional life, made a position no longer tenable. I began hiring and training staff for the first restaurant I opened as a GM two weeks after my father died. After a year of business I was a husk of a human. I had no personal life and drank heavily to fill every moment I wasn’t occupied with work. 

But I also left because I was just beginning my career in Denver, and there were so many exciting things to be a part of and people from which to learn. I needed to challenge myself. Some people can do that while staying in one place, but I was insatiable. I needed to work in casual, high-volume, fine-dining, and music venues; to be a part of rebranding initiatives, big corporate openings, small independent spots, and everything in between. There is a lot of value in that, for me. 

Jen Mattioni has been in the hospitality industry since she was a teenager, and she’s worked at a variety of restaurants in Denver since leaving her native Philadelphia, including Q House and Ash’Kara. She’s currently the director of operations for the Sky Bar family (Sky Bar, Factory Fashion, and the Patio Bar) at Stanley Marketplace—a position she expects to hold for a long tome to come.

Talk to us! Email your experiences (and thoughts, opinions, and questions—anything, really) to askus@diningout.com


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