Laura Louise Green remembers working as a bartender at the height of Chicago’s craft-cocktail boom, in 2010. “I was wild-eyed for it,” she says. “I loved it.” But she saw problems, too. “I was drinking so much just to spend time with people,” she continues. “When I walked into a bar [after a shift] there would be, like, a High Life and a shot of Fernet just waiting for me, and it was an expression of love. At that point, I didn’t have the tools to separate the career from the behavior.”
Burned out from the industry, Green re-enrolled in school to study community counseling with the goal of becoming a therapist. Meanwhile, her bar career was thriving, as she took on management and bar director positions to put herself through school. “This unique parallel process was happening of getting deeper into the community while learning about human behavior and social dynamics,” she says.
When Green graduated, few in the business were talking about mental health. Then Anthony Bourdain’s death in 2018 spurred an industrywide conversation. The same year, the Tales of the Cocktail Foundation gave Green a grant to study stress, burnout, and substance use, and in 2019 her research evolved into Healthy Pour, a consultancy focused on employee well-being in the hospitality industry.
The pandemic made Green’s work even more essential. “We couldn’t brush things under the table anymore,” she says. “They were staring us in the face.” In June 2021 she left her job as a spirits specialist at importer and distributor Winebow to focus on Healthy Pour full-time.
Green, who is now earning her Master of Science degree in organizational psychology, spends her time researching mental health in the hospitality space and translating her findings for her audience. That might mean leading a symposium discussion about using the word “family” at work or creating an Instagram reel about the normalization of server dreams. “She takes big, scary concepts and breaks them down for her audience so well,” says Jessica Pomerantz, the 2022 Speed Rack national winner and a practicing therapist who has presented several seminars with Green.
While mindful drinking is certainly part of Green’s programming, she wants to go deeper and address the roots of substance use, which she says often stem from trauma and dehumanization. She particularly remembers a realization that she was “no different than the sconce on the wall” to a customer who was taking a picture of her at the bar without her permission.
Chelsea Gregoire, one of the managing partners of Church, an upcoming project in Baltimore, echoes this idea. “Being in service to other people, you are taught inherently to just remove care and respect for yourself out of the equation,” they say.
Gregoire enlisted Healthy Pour to review Church’s staff handbook and make notes that spanned beyond menus and inventory. With Green’s support, Gregoire and their partners at Church ultimately decided to do away with the after-work shift drink, a typical practice at many bars. “We came to the conclusion that the shift-drink structure, as it stands in the restaurant industry, is really not supportive of an environment that facilitates support and healthy boundaries,” says Gregoire.
Green also helped Church outline a tip-pooling system for the front-of-house and kitchen staff based on hours worked. This structure values all kinds of work, including the prep that helps the entire staff thrive throughout the week, says Gregoire.
Green has worked with larger clients, too. Along with Hyatt national bar director Miranda Breedlove, she helped launch a Zero Proof, Zero Judgment series that has brought spirit-free cocktails to properties across the country. Many outlets have also begun using pre-shift and post-shift assessments such as log sheet questions to gauge how employees are feeling on a given day, says Breedlove.
This all represents a large shift from the “leave your shit at the door” mentality that has been a bar-industry standard for so long—one Green thinks we’d all be better off without. “If we cut out our emotional lives as we’re working as hospitality professionals, we are actively dehumanizing ourselves,” says Green. “We are becoming like vending machines.”
While she’s glad to have started a conversation, Green is hopeful that it can continue without her. Starting early next year, she’ll launch a teacher training program, which will allow clients to take a three-month course, present their own research, and receive Healthy Pour certification. “I want to empower people to build programs within their own organizations,” she says. “The more we can bring humanity back into the hospitality space, the better off we’re going to be.”