Antoine’s Restaurant, a quintessential landmark of the New Orleans dining scene for tourists and locals alike, has started a new initiative to combat drug and alcohol abuse among its employees and improve work life balance. Now that the initial rollout is over, and in honor of Mental Health Awareness Week, Louisiana Comp Blog reached out to Matthew Daroca, Systems Development Manager at Antoine’s, to get details on the program and how Antoine’s hopes to export its benefits to the local food and beverage industry more generally.
Comp Blog: What was the impetus for the assistance program?
Daroca: Antoine’s looked at launching AREA-P after a string of five deaths over the past year in the Antoine’s community. One of them happened Christmas Eve last year right before shift. One of our cooks died behind the line and EMS was in the backyard doing chest compressions during dinner service. It was terrifying for everyone.
Then, right after Christmas, there was a true catalyst in the form of our general manager’s death, Matthew Ousset. That affected everyone a lot. At that point, Rick Blount, the owner, and Charlie Daroca, the COO, came together and said, “We need to do something.”
Comp Blog: The food and beverage industry in general tends to suffer from high rates of substance abuse. Is that the main reason why this program is now essential to Antoine’s?
Daroca: Yes, the restaurant industry is known for substance abuse, so that’s where we needed to start. We’re striving to make Antoine’s a healthy work environment, physically, psychologically and emotionally.
Comp Blog: What was the solution your team eventually landed on?
Daroca: Our insurance broker, Wayne Francingues, consulted with us on this project and that led us to a company called ComPsych. It’s an international corporation and we felt that they were best suited to our needs. Their program provides our employees with five free counseling sessions, they offer financial and legal assistance for free, a 24/7 online portal with resources for self-help and many other services.
Comp Blog: Is every Antoine’s employee entitled to the program?
Daroca: Yes, if you work here, you get it. It also extends to the employee’s household. Everything is HIPPA confidential and the options are broad-reaching. There’s even a 1-800 number staffed out of Chicago 24 hours a day. I called it at 3 AM one night after the rollout to test it and the first thing they asked was, “are you safe?”
Comp Blog: How did the initial presentation to employees go?
Daroca: The program was implemented September 1st, and a couple of weeks after that I presented it to our employees. We had 80 percent of our staff show up for that meeting and we had a good number of sign-ups at the event as well. From those that have already reached out to me confidentially about their experiences with it so far, it’s been all positive. Even if our sign up is just a trickle from here forward, helping anyone in our family get to a better place is a success. When our GM passed away last year, we had employees past, present and future – people for whom Antoine’s is the family business and were looking forward to working with him – show up at his funeral at a loss for words.
Comp Blog: Were there concerns among employees about the nature of the program and its confidentiality despite assurances that it’s HIPPA-compliant?
Daroca: There were, but there are a few ways we are working to solve the concerns. First, we will continue to work with the known EAP users to get the word out to other employees that we want to work with them and help them get to a better place. We do not want to see them fired which will continue their cycle of abuse. Second, if we know someone is struggling we are going to work with the individual and ComPsych to get them the help they need, to be successful at home and work. Lastly, our priority is the well-being of all employees and staff. We will continue to work with ComPsych to provide a healthier workplace and culture, which will hopefully start a trend for the rest of the hospitality industry.
Comp Blog: So Antoine’s is hoping this program creates a movement in the local restaurant industry to better address mental health and work/life balance?
Daroca: We are hoping to change the industry and hopefully address a systemic problem for the hospitality industry. I, along with Antoine’s, would love to partner with other restaurants and hotels in the area, state, country or even international to implement Employee Assistance Programs. This is a systemic problem that can only be fixed if the industry gets together and says “No more!”
Image Credit: Louisiana Travel