Labor Laws - Unpaid Trail/Stage

Joined Oct 19, 2017
Hi all!
I recently got into a heated discussion with fellow chefs regarding labor laws and unpaid trails or stages. In my experience, and meeting with the attorney general, it is illegal to have someone provide labor for your business in which you turn a profit. It is my understanding that by this statement, one cannot have a prospective employee work on a station in the kitchen and prepare dishes to be consumed by guests in turn for profit for the restaurant. The way around this, I've found, is to have applicants come in and prepare dishes using ingredients in house within a certain time limit, then these dishes to be sampled and critiqued by upper management.
Has anyone else had issues regarding this matter? What are your solutions to prevent the risk of "free labor?"
Joined Jan 17, 2015
In my experience stages are free labour, what chefs get is a prestige of cooking in the kitchen that is well known/famous. I don't agree with it, but in my 20 plus years of experience I never got paid for my trial. In turn when I started recruiting I only ever kept people for a few hours never a full shift without paying them, and if they got a job a paid them for a trial as well, management would never want to do more than that. Chef I know has walked out of his "stage" in Jason Atherton's Michelin star restaurant in London after he was peeling broad beans for hours in a prep room alone. I think it is up to all of us to stamp this bad practice out.
Joined Jan 19, 2014
Unpaid internships occur in many industries and are a common and legal practice. How is staging any different?
Joined Aug 15, 2003
I think it is important that we differentiate the words "stage" and "trail" or "trial." A stage is a corrupted term that SHOULD mean when a cook or chef works for no pay, or no pay but room/board, for a certain amount of time in order to learn in another kitchen. Like if I traveled to Spain for 2 months and worked for free in kitchens throughout the country in order to learn and see different restaurants.

A trail or trial is when someone is doing a shift as part of the interview process in order to see if the kitchen is a good fit for both parties. This is often what people mean when they say "stage" and it absolutely drives me nuts. Personal petty pet peeve of mine.

I'm not sure about labor laws and all that...I tend to think like CapeCodChef in that staging isn't any different from an unpaid internship. As long as both parties are clear in understanding the terms I don't see the problem.
Joined May 25, 2015
An internship, whether paid or unpaid is for the benefit of the intern. Usually to gain experience and knowledge. Therefore no compensation would be due beyond the original agreement.
A stage or trial is part of the interview process for someone applying for a position. The chef or management wants to see a hands-on demonstration of the applicant's skills. Whether they should be paid depends on what they are asked to do. If they are just given some representative tasks like preparing a dish, demonstrating knife skills etc. for a few hours then no, that is part of the interview and doesn't warrant compensation. However, if the applicant is placed on the line for a shift and prepares food that the restaurant serves to its customers then he or she should be paid for the time.
Joined Aug 15, 2003
A stage or trial is part of the interview process for someone applying for a position.

That is not what a stage is. A stage is when someone works for free in someone else's kitchen as a learning experience. The terms is misused all the time and, I don't know why, but it really bugs me.
Joined Oct 10, 2005
It all depends on how good a negotiater you are...
Me, I don't mind coming into a new place unpaid-- for no more than 3 hrs. Firstly it gives me a chance to scope out the place. Secondly, if mngmt. doesn't pull me out within 2 hrs to discuss salary and start date, well then either I'm unsuitable, or the place is unsuitable for me, but either wsy Im outta there

Thirdly, most employers who are serious, and tell me about "trials" usually offer some kind of compensation. I have had phone conversations with employers who wanted 4-6 hrs to "assess" me. I told them 2 hrs are free, and I'd love to work for 6, but I need to be compensated. They declined, and do did I.
Joined Mar 3, 2017
If your eager learn then I would recommend staging. I came from an industrial kitchen as a garde manager to a scratch french/Italian restaurant and I learned a ton. Experience is the most valuable thing you could invest in. Money will come later. I stayed for 3 days w/o pay then I went on a 1-3 month probation. After 1 year I was promoted to sous chef in training. That experience is golden now I am a sous chef for a major hospitol. Experience is golden.
Joined May 25, 2015
Staging is just a term for free help. If you were there for three days and they paid you do you think you would have gotten the job? What experience do you think you acquired in three days?
Joined Oct 31, 2012
interesting topic. I think foodpumps' outlook is mine too. I've done a working interview where I worked in a kitchen for about one to two hours to see if we suited each other. I got the job.
I've also done a one day (10am-11pm) stint for free in a michelin restaurant in NYC. I asked for that just to see how they do things differently. As I paid for my own travel and hotel, it was pretty expensive but I learned a great deal and have no regrets.
As foodpump pointed out, it's about negotiation. I have to decide how much free labor I'm willing to give in order to learn new things but there is a limit in any situation. As often as I can, I volunteer at a local community kitchen. No pay but I get to exercise my creativity and my help is very much appreciated.
I also don't need much time to figure out if the kitchen I'm in is one I want to continue working in, pay or no pay. If the climate, attitudes, food quality, etc aren't to my liking, I'm not sticking around for any amount of money.
But rent and bills need to be paid so learning and volunteering aside, I can't work for very long for no money, certainly not for days or weeks and I shouldn't be expected to.
Joined Jan 24, 2013
The Few Stages I have done have been in off business hours and I cook what I am given to work with as a meal for the Chef at the same time as they have cooked a meal with the same ingredients and products I have been given and they cook a meal for me with that then after 30 minutes we sit at the same table and eat what the other prepared

However my very first stage ever I spend 5 hours trimming and cleaning chanterelles the Chef came in every 20 minutes and said your still not done after the 5th hour of hundreds of pounds of chanterelles like that 10th time he came in and said your still not done I decided to say something that I knew would either get me kicked of that kitchen and that's what I was counting on i said Chef screw the fuck off Chef does it look like it was done. There was a long pause and he said go home and come back tomorrow ready to work the pantry.
I worked there for 8 months before we got a new owner and I couldn't work for that Owner.
oh i had 8 deserts and 8 salads on that pantry menu
Joined Dec 8, 2017
There is a miscommunication here - there is a difference between a "Stage" and a "Trail", so I'll clear it up for you all. I've been in the business for 30 years, and in that time I spent a year working in France, for free - in fact, to work briefly at a 3 Michelin star in Vonnas, I had to pay them for room and board. My other position was at a Michelin 2 star in Gascogny, for which I was unpaid but my room was free as were my meals - my room was nothing special (who cared I was never there), but I was fed like a king. I was treated with a strict hand in the kitchen (as it should be), but with great respect and friendship. I was supposed to stay for 3 months, and wound up staying almost an entire year. Agreements were made beforehand, all travel expenses were my own, and any other money I needed was up to me. It was beyond a doubt the most wonderful time of my life - I was a Stagiaire, which is where the term 'stage' comes from. Now, a "Trail" is different - this is where a chef asks you to work for a period of time during service to see your chops. This is a reasonable request, but here's the rub - if they ask you to work a 10 hour shift for free, they're both skirting the law and displaying signs of abusive behavior. It's not a matter of being technical with regard to legal vagaries, but if they're willing to disrespect you so blatantly right up front by demanding an excessive number of free hours (in essence slave labor), how do you think you'll be treated once you get the job? Must be nice to just book a week's worth of trails and cut your labor cost by 10 points. In my experience a trail is for 3 hours, either during service or a little bit before - at the end of those 3 hours, if they want you you're invited to stay the rest of the shift, for which you will be paid, and you just started your new job. If not, you go on your way - no money. So my message is don't allow yourself to be abused by employers, no matter how good you think they are. Learn to sniff out the bad signs.
Joined Mar 3, 2016
From a front of house perspective, it's called a trial shift. It's wrong.
There is a venue in my town that I'm dead set going to report. They constantly require trial shift new prospective employees for their busy nights and never, ever employ even one of those people.
I know of at least twenty people who have "trialled" there and none have been employed. It's a scam.

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