We need to be better

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I was shocked today when I heard that a 37 year old local chef died yesterday, this is the 2nd such death in my town in the last 3 months.

We need to admit to ourselves that we are human and not super heroes (though we do play one on TV), there is no shame in admitting that we are tired or burned out, if we get push back from ownership we need to ask ourselves is this worth my health and family life, in the end it's a plate of fucking food not rocket surgery, is it worth my life?

We need to speak up and advocate for ourselves and our staff for a fair work place, as a chef its no longer enough to wear a big hat and be shouty we need to have the skills and fortitude to negotiate a work schedule and conditions of employment for ourselves and our staff that are fair to the business and ourselves, any restaurant relies on it's staff to work more than 55 hours a week does not have a workable business model.

We need to be more empathetic (google it) like it or not we need to actually care about ourselves and our staffs well being, we need to set an example in our social lives that will promote moderation, if we show up hung over with the shakes what kind of message are we sending? if we know that a member of staff is having alcohol or substance issues we have an obligation to the business, the team and the staff member to address it, it's not easy, it's not nice but there are resources out there, I know i'm 12 years sober.

Our industry must evolve, the work conditions that can literally take your health, sanity or life must stop and we have to be the ones to do it.

Sorry for the rant but I'm fucking tired of reading about good hard working people dying for a perfect plate of seared ahi tuna
 
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Joined Jun 11, 2018
A few years ago, I would have thought you were being a little dramatic. But in 2015, I worked for a chain that pushed their managers so hard (one in particular) that when they forced him to take a vacation, he had a heart attack, on a beach.

HEART ATTACK. ON. A. BEACH.

He was wracked with so much anxiety about the state of his restaurant while he was away. He survived the heart attack, thankfully. I probably wouldn't have believed this if I hadn't been working for the company and seen it all go down. And there may have been other factors that contributed to it, but still, it makes you think.

Unfortunately, I don't see working conditions getting better for anyone in this industry anytime soon. Just try and find time to relax with your families, even if you have to force it a bit, I guess.
 
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Joined Jan 9, 2019
Back in the early 1990s, Gordon Ramsay was a top chef in the UK, before he crossed the pond to become an American TV star. You probably already know his style - shouting, swearing, bullying. He's not a nice guy, and he's not particularly intelligent (he made a complete backside of chairing "Have I Got News for You", a popular political/satirical panel show in the UK), but he's a very accomplished chef and he's good TV.

Unfortunately he became a role model for many British kitchens at all levels. Shouting, bullying and swearing became kinda cool. As a commis in those days it was hell. Anyone with even a tiny bit of power in the kitchen hierarchy would treat anyone under them in the chain of command as being worth less than a dog turd. They thought it made them a better chef to be like their role model and throw tantrums.

So, who was Gordon Ramsay's role model? Marco Pierre White - another "difficult" guy. Strangely, he learned his trade from the mild mannered Raymond Blanc.

I believe we've moved on from the idea of bullying being clever now. I really hope we have. But even so, there are still cases where young and upcoming chefs are run into the ground because that's what's expected of them. In my opinion that's just wrong. Yes, you expect tomorrow's stars to have passion and dedication for what they're doing. But, they shouldn't be expected to give their health and lives for their career - just like junior doctors shouldn't be expected to work till they drop.

Things are changing, Michel Roux Jr - who seems like a nice guy - was called out a couple of years ago for paying staff below minimum wages for working so many hours. He apparently was surprised by this and changed his restaurant staff rotas. But it's still often accepted that trainee chefs, even sous chefs, will work long hours without pay or with low pay and be treated badly.

I've seen a few chefs on telly recently who say their place is a cool and calm environment to work in without the aggro. That's probably true. I just wonder how much their proteges are paid. And it's the norm to work for free in top kitchens to get the benefit of the experience.

Is that morally right? Or should people be paid a decent day's wage for a decent day's work? I have mixed views, I'm simply curious to know other people's opinion here on these last points.
 
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Joined Jul 8, 2019
The first time chef tried giving me a grilling was a last time and that was back when I was a commis. It is something I have never understood nor will I. I took it on the chin for that moment then after service I told him in no uncertain terms that I don't care what position you hold in the kitchen, I will do absolutely anything you ask, I'll work my balls off for you but I will not tolerate bad manners when at the end of the day, I'm busting my balls for him and the company.

He understood and whilst others weren't so fortunate, I believe it was the best thing to do and to give him his due, it can't have been easy biting your tongue with me when you're easily riled as he evidently was.
 
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Joined Oct 10, 2005
Well... concerning ownership there is no way out except to work harder.There are the loans, the line of credit, the payroll, the suppliers, the rent, and the taxes, the taxes, the taxes. Calling it quits would mean bankruptcy, and then there’s the small matter of the lease....

So, yeah been there, done that, don’t have the t-shirt, but still have a case of aprons in the garage somewhere.

Can’t really say if this unique to the hospitality industry—mainly because I’ve been in this industry since I was 16 and have nothing to compare it to. I do know all sorts of other businesses have the same problems, with one exception: Their respective trades have recognized qualifications.....
 
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I was unaware that PTSD can also affect Chefs, until I read up on the topic. The Chef that loses a Michelin star, then kills himself, or the Chef that has a mental breakdown on the line during service, or...........
Our industry is riff with this kind of thing. At first, I thought it was up to the Chef to train their crew to understand that everyone on the team looks out for each other, and that they are much like a football team. In reality, all you get is a bunch of people that are either just there for the money, or are guys with little to no training.
In the end foodpump is right in that the industry is all about maximizing profit with little to no regard for the staff that creates that profit.
No worker should be humiliated, shouted at, or abused.
 
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Joined Oct 1, 2006
When I was 18, I remember punching a brick wall and ripping the skin off three knuckles out of frustration at not being able to punch that 65 year old, white haired, obnoxious chef. I didn't really want to get arrested...

What I did do, was assess my situation to determine whether the abuse was worth the knowledge gained. At 18, I was not qualified to be a Sous Chef, but doubling my previous salary, and asking me to execute things I had never done, told me to stay. It was a Country Club with a Seafood menu, Dinner menu, Tableside menu, and Dessert menu. The workload was ridiculous but, I was forced to learn a tremendous amount of useful information. I stayed.

Continue to apply that thought process the rest of the career. Are the circumstances of working here worth it?

The beauty of a career in food service is that everybody has to eat and that means you can find work wherever there are humans...

If you are any good at all, there is always a kitchen looking for good help.

I worked myself into series of heart attacks, but it was my choice to work as hard as I did. I take full responsibility for my choices. I won't blame "management" for my choice to stay. I could have left at any time, but choose to stay.

Some previous co-workers now work in school lunch programs and one at a Prison, just to reduce the hours and the stress.

I feel sorry for someone that feels so trapped by where they are and stay anyway, even though they are underpaid and miserable. For those that are miserable, please consider moving to a different situation!

I have worked for free twice and took a 50% pay cut once. I would gladly repeat those times in my career. The knowledge gained was time very well spent, for me.

I'm proud of how I always treated my staffs, "do unto others" worked well for me. If I yelled, unfairly, at a team member, I would apologize in front of the same people that heard me, not pulling them into the office to speak privately. I treated everyone fairly. I held myself to the same standard that I expected from others. (Eventually, that is. It took me until age 32 to hit this stride... )

P.S.- Hey r.shackleford! CONGRATS on 12 years!!!
 
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Don’t want to read that stupid thing. Drugs and alcohol are occupational hazards for Every profession. So why single chefs only?
 
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Joined Jan 9, 2019
Given that you haven't read the article, I think it's a bit unfair to describe it as being "stupid". Perhaps I should've said more about it rather than just posting the headline and thinking that people might like to read on.

The article was partly a case study of a youngish chef who very nearly commited suicide. It also explored how the conditions of working in the industry, particularly as a chef, are more stressful than many careers. Specifically it also looked at the long hours and the bullying which was so rife in the 1990s and even into the 2000s.

Notably, Gordon Ramsay featured prominently as one who promoted this destructive culture.

Sure, other professions have similar occupational hazards, but being a chef seems to be more challenging than many, if not most.

I'm sure if you did read the article you'd find yourself agreeing with at least some of it rather than just dismissing it.
 
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Whoa there, nowhere in my 3 sentence post did I describe anything as stupid, no did I use the word stupid.

Why is it that media tend to focus on the hospitality industry in only the following ways:
A) drugs n’alcohol,
B) super chef
C) the glamorous chefs life

The hospitality industry is in a crisis—everyone wants to be a server and take home tips.Virtually every employer in N.America has great difficulty attracting and retaining good cooks, and no one wants to acknowledge that cooks earn crap wages—especially the culinary schools......

When will the media focus on the hospitality and tackle the important subjects? The subjects that will determine the success or failure of the hospitality industry in the next coming decades.
They are:

A) the lack of credentials, qualifications, and general recognition of the cooking profession.
B) The whole issue of tipping, how it can be eradicated, how the wage gap between servers and cooks can be shortened.
C) The lack of qualifications for a restaurant owner, how this fact has pushed the industry (for N.America)into the dark ages, and how qualifications for owners could advance, modernize, and generally improve the whole industry.

Then again, we’re dealing with a media that refuses to acknowledge that professionals use a scale to weigh ingredients and insist that any recipie, program, or book or magazine use cups and teaspoons......

And now I’ll climb off my soap box and get back to work....
 
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Joined Jan 9, 2019
Thanks. That's an interesting reponse. You've raised several issues which I'd like to comment on.

Whoa there, nowhere in my 3 sentence post did I describe anything as stupid, no did I use the word stupid.

Why is it that media tend to focus on the hospitality industry in only the following ways:
A) drugs n’alcohol,
B) super chef
C) the glamorous chefs life
Presumably because it's "shock/horror/glamour/celebrity" headlines that sell newspapers or gain eyeballs. "Chef makes nice pie" isn't going to grab any attention. The press has always been like that, even long before the days of the Internet and clickbait.

The hospitality industry is in a crisis—everyone wants to be a server and take home tips.Virtually every employer in N.America has great difficulty attracting and retaining good cooks, and no one wants to acknowledge that cooks earn crap wages—especially the culinary schools......
I don't know anything about the situation in N. America (I'm sure you're right), but it's certainly true that it's in a crisis in the UK - for different reasons. Brexit is scaring off many of our European chefs and other kitchen staff and they've fled home. UK restaurants apparently now can't attract enough qualified/experienced people to staff their kitchens.

It's not all just about Brexit, though. The curry houses are similar with the clamp down on immigration. (On a similar subject, don't expect to see a doctor anytime soon in the UK if you have an accident.)

When will the media focus on the hospitality and tackle the important subjects? The subjects that will determine the success or failure of the hospitality industry in the next coming decades.
Most of the media probably never will. That's not how they make their money. There are a few publications who would focus on such things but they tend to be niche rather than mass market.

They are:

A) the lack of credentials, qualifications, and general recognition of the cooking profession.
I agree. Someone can do a crash course over a few months and be "qualified" as a chef. I, of course, am referring to the UK. But I agree it would be helpful to have a better system of recognition of achievements. There again, most employers seem to prefer experience over certificates anyway, so does it really matter?
B) The whole issue of tipping, how it can be eradicated, how the wage gap between servers and cooks can be shortened.
I wasn't aware of this wage gap. I'd be interested to read more - and I don't know if it's an issue outside N. America. Is it?

C) The lack of qualifications for a restaurant owner, how this fact has pushed the industry (for N.America)into the dark ages, and how qualifications for owners could advance, modernize, and generally improve the whole industry.
Sounds like a good idea, in theory at least. I've not enough knowledge about it to comment, but I'd like to learn more. Restaurant owners, like any other business owners are entrepreneurs. Their success, or lack of it, should rest upon their skills as a business person. That said, I'd agree that there a lot of people with no business (or culinary) skills at all who seem to think it'll be easy to make money in the industry. Most of them probably fail - but... who else gets hurt in the process?

Then again, we’re dealing with a media that refuses to acknowledge that professionals use a scale to weigh ingredients and insist that any recipie, program, or book or magazine use cups and teaspoons......
I'm with you there! Cups and teaspoons? Grrrr! I recently bought a book which annoyed me. It would specify a few grams of this and that, even to the extent of 1.2 grams of this and 1.4 grams of that, and then said to add two cups of something else. WTF?

And now I’ll climb off my soap box and get back to work....

Hope you have a good service. I'm off to bed - as I'm in a different time zone to you, but thanks for the discussion anyway. :)
 
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Joined Aug 21, 2004
I don't have an issue with the article or any opinions expressed so far. I run into similar discussions, not just on this thread but lots of places. I hear people talk about the problems in the industry and the changes that need to come about. Once again, no disagreement from me. Better wages, less hours, benefits, certifications, recovery options for those that need help,... is just a short list. The one thing I have yet to hear is how to implement these changes and still remain a viable, successful, and profitable business.

Bottom line is that the industry's customers will ultimately foot the bill for sweeping changes. Are they willing? Eating out is still for all practical purposes, a luxury item and not an necessity. The average net profit margin for all S&P 500 companies is a little over 8 percent. Restaurants come in at 4.8 percent.
 
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Joined Aug 15, 2003
Bottom line is that the industry's customers will ultimately foot the bill for sweeping changes. Are they willing? Eating out is still for all practical purposes, a luxury item and not an necessity. The average net profit margin for all S&P 500 companies is a little over 8 percent. Restaurants come in at 4.8 percent.
I agree with Foodpump that some sort of standards and qualifications would help, similar to how we treat other trades. One of the main problems is that cooking is a skill that, for whatever reason, seems to not be valued highly among non-industry people. More and more people eat the majority of their meals out, yet cooking is still not considered a viable profession. It is seen as menial, and as a skill set not worth having to pay for.

Owners treat employees like disposable cattle, provide no benefits, no training, low pay, and still expect 12-14 hour days 6/7 days a week.

Of course consumers will foot the bill, that is true in any industry. Costs go up for the producers that means the consumers pay more...again not necessarily a bad thing IMO.
 
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Joined Aug 21, 2004
Of course consumers will foot the bill, that is true in any industry. Costs go up for the producers that means the consumers pay more...again not necessarily a bad thing IMO.
Not a bad thing until they stop paying because it is perceived as too expensive.

Judging by the picture you paint of owners, I assume that you have not yet been one. Why not?
 
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Joined Oct 10, 2005
Hi Someday...
Looking once again at my first post I see that I have indeed used the word “stupid”. It’s not a word I use all that often, and I should have really doubled checked. That was uh...”stupid” of me....

That said, the customer always does pay, including changes.

For arguments sake let’s say I go into a shoe store and buy a $100 pair of shoes. The cashier rings up $115. Wtf? Oh, it’s customary to tip the sales staff. Yes, the sales person provided service, measuring my foot, bringing out several pairs from the stock room, suggesting a different pair, taking the stuffing out of the shoes. Would you pay the $15 tip? Did the sales person make the shoes?

The customer is paying +/- 15% tips to the server, and yet no matter how hard the server works, they are not responsible for the entire dining experience.

Change the tipping customs and everyone in the business gets a fair-er wage. Customer pays the same...

Not being American, correct me if I’m wrong here, but the last person to address--let alone acknowledge the tipping situation was Ah-nold, then Governor of California. Didn’t do diddly-squat for the kitchen, but Ahnold got his tax money.

Change, a South African golf pro once mused, is the price of survival...
 
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Joined May 30, 2019
I worked kitchens in the 80's and 90's and was fortune to only work for two head chefs that thought anger and belittlement were staff motivators.

The first one was when I was 18, I had no life experience to deal with it. The second time, I was 27 and had a huge chip on my shoulder.

It was a plated banquet service and the entree was taking to long to finish. Because I was his sous, he blamed me and proceed to cut me down in front of the crew that I was supposed to lead in his absence. After the service he went back to his office and slammed the door and started throwing things around. I knocked on the door and asked him if everything was alright. He whipped opened the door and pulled me in by my chef coat and slammed the door behind me. He proceeded to bump chests with me and tell me he was going to fire me for being a "total dip sh** of a chef". At that point I was not going to take this guys crap any longer and feared for my safety (he blocked the door so I couldn't get out). I kneed him in the groin and gave him an open hand slap to the ear. As I pulled him away from the door and walked out, I proceeded to tell him if he ever touched me or the staff or yelled at any of us again I would beat him down even worse. He was fired the next day and I was promoted : ) Not my intention but hey, shouldn't have been a dick. You get what you get.

The classically trained chef is a dying breed and all we're going to be left with are chain and fast food restaurants.
 
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