Why Chefs work long hours? Foodservice vs other career paths

Discussion in 'Professional Chefs' started by cleverchef, Aug 14, 2011.

  1. cleverchef

    cleverchef

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          I am a successful certified chef of 30 years. Recently in a post, a student chef asked me why chefs work such long hours ? I really want to see everyone else input before I answer the student.

    I have worked 50 to 70 hours a week all my career, 6 and sometimes 7 days a week.
    I began to look at other professions and found that for some reason, chefs do work more hours then most.  Carpenters, plummers and electricians work 40 hours (and most make more money than chefs), business and banking people work 40 hours, teachers and professors work 40 hours..... The student asked me; "who decided that it is ok to work the chefs these hours, why it is not normal for most other professions to work more then 40 hours, and it is  expected that chefs are to work more than 40 hours in the culinary industry?"

    Chefs, what is your answers to this question?
     
  2. cleverchef

    cleverchef

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    In addition to my comments, I would like to say that a good chef with great management skills doesn't have to work ungodly hours.

    But also, He or she needs to be supported by the establishment with the proper number of staff, so he or she able manage their time, not to get burned out!

    .

    There is allot of cheap bastards out there that own restaurants. And allot of hotel managers that get their yearly bonus according to labor costs

    Check this out: I found this add on Craig's List recently:

    Ha!, talk about dangling a carrot in front of an unsuspecting young chef. This is a real "help wanted" add in OC, Ca.

    Chef, needed to take over the entire Kitchen. American / Italian food, 70 hrs a week, 6 days a week.
    Will pay a top salary, and profit sharing every month. I am looking for a long term relationship and possible ownership.
    thanking you, send resumes.


    A truly successful restaurateur wouldn't send an add like this.

    So, beware...   This restaurant owner doesn't want you as a partner. He's a cheap bastard.
     
  3. petemccracken

    petemccracken

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    Chefs, by definition (at least IMHO), are MANAGERS, not laborers nor foremen.

    In my nearly 50 years of employment, about 45 in management, I frequently put in 60, 70, even 80 and 90 hours per week when the job called for it. My pay was not based on the hours but what got accomplished.

    Chefs, again IMHO, are paid to see to it that the job gets accomplished, primarily through the efforts laborers that put in 40 hours per week, and the chef better have a damned good explanation for any overtime that gets paid!

    If you want 40 hours per week, find a corporate cook job or paper pusher.
     
  4. chefjw

    chefjw

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    I used to work those kind of hours; not anymore. I found that by sticking to my guns, and recruiting the best possible talent I coul & having absolute faith in them. . Being more organized in my planning and time usage. Having set standardized recipes & plating specs. All of these have  gained me a lot more free time. However: that being said, there are those times when it is essential that I put in extra time...this I do out of genuine love and care about my product & presentation.

    It's is an Art that takes alot love and attention.
     
  5. cleverchef

    cleverchef

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    To this day I still put in the long hours, but mostly because I want to be there.

    Yes it is:

     an Art that takes alot love and attention.
     
  6. cleverchef

    cleverchef

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    ChefJW....What if ?.. say you worked at a restaurant or hotel that wouldn't give you the budget for "recruiting the best possible talent".     Lets say all your cooks were a level one step above dishwasher at minimum wage. It's easy to say that we would move on to a better establishment, but in this economy there are fewer choices even for the the most experienced head chef.

    And yes, I do have the great administrative tools such as standardization and plate specs, but I spend 30% of my time babysitting people who can not read neither English or their own language.

    I know that I am not alone. There are many other chefs out there working tons more hours because the establishment refuses to pay for good talent. I would rather put in a 14 hour day doing what I do best, than working 6 hours babysitting losers. It's not the amount of hours that is the issue, it's the mentality of the industry saying it's ok for the chef to pick up the slack.
     
  7. cleverchef

    cleverchef

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    80/90 hours a week working for myself... Yes, absolutely....

    80/90 hours a week working for someone else's retirement $$, No way ! 
     
  8. chefross

    chefross

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    "who decided that it is ok to work the chefs these hours, why it is not  normal for most other professions to work more then 40 hours, and it  is  expected that chefs are to work more than 40 hours in the culinary industry?"

     

    Anybody have any idea why this is?
     
  9. petemccracken

    petemccracken

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    During my 45+ years of "working life", a large majority of the successful professionals I have observed, i.e. lawyers, doctors, accountants, engineers, scientists, CEOs, CFOs, and others, put in far more than 40 hours per week. Conversely, a large majority of trades workers, i.e. mechanics, electricians, plumbers, bookkeepers, clerks, teachers, typists (do they still exist?), carpenters, assembly line workers,etc., rarely work more than 40 hours per week.

    Perhaps it is a result of labor laws, i.e. overtime rules, etc.? BTW, were you aware that "overtime rules" were put in place to encourage hiring more workers rather than increasing pay to individual workers?

    Yes, chefs work far more hours than anyone else in the BOH, but chefs are the only "professionals" in the BOH, the rest are "trades workers".
     
     
  10. riochef

    riochef

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    I worked in Aspen Co. for three years at a successful catering business. We closed down 6 weeks in the spring and 6 weeks in the fall.

    But, I worked 9am to 9pm+ every single day in the summer months. I never thought, at the time, that the hours were too long, since I loved the art of the work. I did mostly small dinner parties in high end mansions. We specialized in selling a 5 course sit-down dinner party with tray-pass hors and cordials. We occasionally did buffets also . Myself and another chef, we averaged about 10 to 15 of these little $1K to $2K gigs a week along with other drop-off food business.

    At that catering job I designed the menus, ordered the food, received the food, prepped the food, loaded the equipment and food in the truck, drove the truck, unloaded at the site, executed the event,managed both FOH and BOH, loaded the equipment back in the truck, drove it back to the shop, unloaded the truck and then washed all the equipment.

    Short of selling the gigs, I did all the work, this under the anticipation of owning that company because the owner was about 3 or 4 years to retirement and he was telling me that "I was the one"... the one that would inherit his company, become the owner when he retires.

    Well, I never got the oportunity to take over that business, the owner just kept on going.

    I worked my ass off, and I am no hack. We did awsome food and events. I can walk into any home and cater any level to the highest of anyone's expectations. But what did I get out of working for that guy? yes maybee some good memories and a great learning experience. But really,

    I've got arthritis in my lower back and hips and cervical spinal stenosis.... All related to the hard back breaking work of catering.

    As for the guy I worked for, he finally retired very wealthy, and sold his company to a competitor
     
  11. foodpump

    foodpump

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    Ahh-nope.

    First we have an issue here with the word "Chef", it's all over the place,  from a guy who's managing a hotel brigade, to a "student Chef"

    So, for arguement's sake, let's just define the word "Chef" as someone who's responsible for the profitable running of the kitchen.

    O.K. so a Chef is management, and management get paid a salary, not hourly wages.  Most Chef's negotiate a wage  that also takes into account the food cost and to some extent, the labour cost.  If the Chef  only wants to work 50 hours or less, he beter have some management to back him up, but doing this will raise his labour costr tothe extent that it might get him kicked out.  If the Chef is clever  and lucky, and takes full advantage of the catering facilities, the pastry kitchen, etc. he can geneerate enough income to keep everything above water and only work a minimu of 50 hrs per week.

    But that's kind of like trying to arrange all the noodles in a bowl of soup to all point norht/southn at one time..

    It can be done, but you have to invest  alot more than 50 hrs per week to get to that stage.

    If and when you do get to that stage, the owner sells the place because you are making good money for it, or gets stupid and greedy and turfs you and hires one of your juniors or some snot-nose out of culinary school with absolulety no mangement experience at  a much lower salary and a far greater workload.

    And there you have it.
     
  12. cleverchef

    cleverchef

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    I graduated my ACF apprenticeship in 1984, I was just like most culinary graduates back then that knew the hours wer going to be long. I had the "go get it" attitude, Nobody back then would ever complain about the hard work and long hours. It is an art, differant than any other profession. It was undertood and accepted that the road would be tough. Only the strong could servive.

    Very few people outside of the kitchen really understand the real work involved in putting out a work of art and taste that people take or consume internally. An executive chef has more responsability than anyone else in the establishment, and we have to work those hours to pull it off, keep it safe and make a profit. 99% of all chefs will remain pretty much unknown their whole career. Sometimes I think it's easier to become a grammy award winning music star than it is to become a celebrity chef. I look back at the estabishments that I worked for all my career and ask myself "Why did I work so hard for that place?, Why did I put in those kind of hours for those people?"   Yes, I made a living, made some really great money and even got my 15 minutes of fame few times. I am very proud of the accompishments I made in my career. But in the end, most of the restaurants, caterers and hotels that I worked for to this day don't have the respect for the head chefs that got them where they are now. Up until just in the last 5 or so years, chefs in general were the most under-respected professionals in the world. But still we continue to be creative, develop new menus, train new crews, turn profits for the establishments and make kick-ass plates. There's always going to be the pain of long hours to pull this off.
     
  13. foodpump

    foodpump

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    That whole post you wrote could also be used to describe an aspiring musician.

    Don't know where this thread is going.

    The industry sucks big time becasue there are no standards in place.  Heck, in some of your States, the waiters even get paid a lower than minimum wage.

    I don't navel gaze and whine.

    I've been cooking since '82, and I've worked for myself since '96. Instead of dealing with jerk FnB's or owners, I deal with jerk customers. I also deal with pleasant, respectful customers most of the time.

    Cooking is a trade, a Chef runs a business.  My business philosophy is to find a niche, make something unique, charge a fair price, and work the crap hours.
     
  14. greenguy

    greenguy

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    I completely agree with this.  A chef is generally a salaried management position and many people in these positions in any field put in over 40 hrs a week.  I know sales managers working 50-60hrs a week, investment bankers over 90hrs a week, small business owners putting in well over 60hrs a week, etc.  It's just the nature of a higher level job with more responsibilities and it's not only unique chefs.  However, it does seem much harder for a chef to escape working these long hours.
     
  15. cleverchef

    cleverchef

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    Investment bankers make 6 figures, Business owners are doing it for themselves and Most sales managers do very well.

    Compare salaries, the average chef with 5 years out of school is working 60 to 70 hours and averages about $50K.
     
  16. cleverchef

    cleverchef

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    At the beginning of the thread, it was a person young and making a choice weather to stick it out in this profession..

    I was asked the "Hours & $$" questions by this individule, so I started the thread.
     
     
  17. foodpump

    foodpump

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    If the person has worked in the industry before going to culinary school, they wouldn't be asking that question.

    As one of my fomer bosses would say, "Sh*t, or get off the pot." ( pot in this case referring to a terlet)

    Anyone who has worked in the industry for a year or more knows that salary suck big time, benefits are non existant,  and that treachery and treason lurk at every corner.

    wanna make a difference?

    Tell the ACF to "look after the pennies, the dollars will lookk after themselves"
    In other words, focus on the training of cooks, the qualifications/benchmaks, of cooks, and above all the testing of cooks. 

    Not Chefs.  They can look after themselves. 

    Maybe, perhaps, if only, we had a standard for cooks, the various culinary schools could have a cohesive curriculum, maybe they wouldn't be hosing students for 60 grand, and maybe owners would actually respect the cook instead of hosing them as well. 

    And maybe the customer would pay good money for good food......
     
  18. greenguy

    greenguy

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    Yeah, those are some bad examples.  I just meant that a job's hours are generally proportionate to the level of responsibility involved, which seems to be true in most cases for chefs.  And yeah, the pay usually doesn't match making it hard to justify the hours.
     
  19. billrchef

    billrchef

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    I have been in this business for over 38 yrs. I`ve worked long hrs through out my career. My wife would explain to the women who wnated to be married or "involved" whith chefs that "its like being married to a doctor with out the BIG income.

     Lately my question to myself at over 50 is how do I tell my corporation when to much work is just TOO much. I`ve been doing the work of 6-7 people 12- 16 hrs a day since july, and I don`t know how mush longer I can actually keep doing it. My staff of 25 is now down to 7 !!!!!! My GM will not allow any OT ( she wants to make the ficsal yr, end budget)

    Along with running my own unit I also have to support our district as I`ve been handed that title as well. It`s not the long hours that are getting to me, but the pace I have to keep. you would have to imagine the pace kept on the show "Chopped" every day 12- 16 hrs. I consider myself in good shape ....but really how much can the company actually expect out of one guy???
     
  20. foodpump

    foodpump

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    Break a leg.

    No seriously. Find a way to get yourself in a hospital or in a  bed for two weeks before the end of the fiscal year.

    After that, arrange a mtg with corporate HR and demand your cut of the low labour bonus that your GM gets.

    Then, put on a teflon coated bullet proof helmet, titanium, teflon coated underwear, and watch the sh*t fly around you.  Telfon is important, because someone is going to try and make the sh*t stick on you.