Why do chefs in top restaurants work really long hours?

Discussion in 'Professional Chefs' started by chrisbristol, Sep 21, 2014.

  1. chrisbristol

    chrisbristol

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    In top restaurants there is loads of prep to do so the chefs have to start early and finish late.  But what I don't get is instead of getting one chef to work 16 hours why don't they just get 2 to work 8 each?

    The chefs would be less tired and much more focused if they did that.
     
  2. foodpump

    foodpump

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    Easily explained:

    Two Cooks (ie, those who prepare food, not lead a kitchen brigade)

    Two salaries

    One Cook

    One salary

    That's why.
     
  3. phaedrus

    phaedrus

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    It's complicated!  Foodpump certainly nails the monetary aspect- unless the chef is also the owner then it's cheaper to pay one than two.  But it's not just about covering the shifts.  Really that's what you have a Sous Chef(s) and supervisors for.  Having two chefs generally is hard to do since "chef" means head of the kitchen.  You can't really have two co-leaders with competing visions.

    A lot of it is about tradition.  In years past chefs have worked long hours and it's baked into the culture now.  The reality is that doctors, chefs, investment bankers, etc aren't exempt from human physiology but somehow we all act like we are.  Around a century ago Henry Ford conducted his own research to determine what the optimal work week was.  He figured there was a "sweet spot" that was ideal for productivity.  His research showed that 40 hours was close to ideal; less could lead to boredom or lack of engagement and much more lead to burnout and decreased productivity.  Lots of research done in the century that followed basically confirmed Ford's conclusions. 

    But restaurants didn't get the memo, and that's a shame.  Instead of doing more lots of us need to do better.  Speaking for myself I can definitely state that I'm not very efficient after about 60 hours.  I can work 75 but those last 15 won't be the quality work I aim for.  Anyone that says differently is either an exception or a liar.  But there's this machismo about kitchen work, and long hours are often a point of pride.  Anyone that works 9-5 or "banker's hours" gets called a "country club pussy" by a lot of old school cooks.

    I don't know if this is really sustainable.  Over the decades I've spent in the kitchen I've seen a lot of good chefs drop out over the long hours and lack of work/life balance.  Really good, talented passionate guys.  Nothing will crush the passion out of you like the drudgery of endless 16 hour days.  If you don't take off sometimes, how do you recharge?  How do you create new things if you spend all your time staring at the same walls?  I think this is leading to "brain drain" in the culinary world.  Why would a bright talented you woman or guy get into the kitchen if they can make more money is half the hours doing something else?  Not for passion- there's nothing to love about slogging through sixteen hour days every day, cooking the same food.

    But as to the point of the OP- yes, the chef would be fresher and less tired.  Mentally, physically and spiritually.
     
  4. panini

    panini

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    This is just me, but the food industry is relatively new in the US. I think this primitive aspect of working came from places like Europe.

    They brought here this mentality that one must pay their dues. And still pay your dues while moving to the top.

      I feel like it is getting better here with some leaders giving ownership to the up and comers, letting them be more creative. I'm just sayin
     
  5. chrisbristol

    chrisbristol

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    Hello

    I think chefs are working less hours than they use to. Not in top restaurants but in pubs, some hotels they can work a normal 8 hour shift.

    I think the point about having to pay 2 salaries is right but if two chefs are on an hourly rate then it would make no difference because the money spent on wages would be the same.

    I think in 20, 30 years time the 60,70 hour weeks will be less common. Personally I can't work more than 40 on a regular basis.
     
  6. chefedb

    chefedb

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    Because that is the requirements of the job. Lawyers and Doctors put in plenty of hours also , but are paid a lot more.
    .
     
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2014
  7. grande

    grande

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    Lets all remember that in England "chef" means all the cooks in the kitchen, which I think is how ChrisBristol meant it.
    Having other people on your payroll adds other expenses, like payroll taxes, beyond just the salary. Also my impression from talking to high end guys is that they are often paid a fixed rate and are expected to put in as many hours as needed. None of my cooks work more than 40 hours, because we're not trying to pay overtime- which is pretty much standard in my experience, now. So, of course they all have two jobs! My chef & I both *tend to work between 45-50 and that's totally doable- that can become more pretty quickly though.
    I have to say, one company I worked for required me to work 5 tens, which I think was a bad policy, because you end up putting in more, invariably, and some hours you probably didn't have to put in and were scheduled for.
    But knowing guys that opened their own restaurants, that's burnout territory, because those 16+ hours are the only way to get everything done.
    An interesting sidenote is that I recently read part of George Gissing's "The Nether World" and Jack London's "People of the abyss", both books about the abysmal conditions of the working poor in london around the turn of the century, and both mention how much worse than anything else kitchen work was. At that time you were basically expected to work 7 or 8 AM to eleven or twelve at night, with maybe one half day, six or seven days a week, with no overtime.
     
  8. cheflayne

    cheflayne

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    In the US, two people (paid hourly) working a total of 16 hours are actually cheaper than one person (paid hourly) working 16 hours due to overtime pay. If you figure out roughly what the hourly rate of a salaried person working 16 hours would be, it is usually less than the hourly rate paid to the two people previously sited.
     
  9. lagom

    lagom

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    One of the main reasons I find in my expierence for cooks/chefs working long hours or double shifts is that it has been and still is extreemly hard to find ONE qualified, skilled, passionate, reliable person to hire, let alone 2.
     
    grande and flipflopgirl like this.
  10. phaedrus

    phaedrus

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    This is the part I forgot to mention.  I was actually coming back to point this out!  I'm leaving my current job to go back to management (just a Sous job for now, still finishing school) and am trying to help train a replacement.  The first guy crapped out after a couple weeks and the next one they hired isn't looking promising.  Realistically they won't likely find anyone that can do everything I do for them now but just being able to hold the station down when it gets busy would be a good start.
     
  11. foodpump

    foodpump

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    You also have to remember that many top notch places have a strong European influence--with either the Chef (the one who commands the brigade) or the owner having a continental European background. 

    And in continental Europe is is customary (or at least it was customary until very recently) to work split shifts.  This means a typical shift would be from 9 am to 2 pm, and from 5 pm to 9 pm, with other shifts staggering and overlapping, but still with a split in the middle.  I did this for 7 years in Switzerland, and it was done that way for well over a hundred years before both for cooks and for serving staff.  Of course, you were paid a monthly salary, not on a per hour basis.  This way the Chef had a steady labour cost that never fluctuated (which may or may not be a good thing...)

    Many Asian restaurants work the same way--pay a monthly salary and work the employee ragged.
     
  12. kuan

    kuan Moderator Staff Member

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    Because they are driven.  That's my answer.
     
  13. lagom

    lagom

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    Like sled dogs. :)
     
  14. cheflayne

    cheflayne

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    Yeah but unless you are the lead dog, the view never changes /img/vbsmilies/smilies/bounce.gif/img/vbsmilies/smilies/crazy.gif/img/vbsmilies/smilies/rollsmile.gif
     
  15. lagom

    lagom

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    How true, and your closer to the whip if your not the lead.
     
  16. mike9

    mike9

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    When I worked at The Water Club in Manhattan in the early 80's the chef would typically start his day @ 4:30 - 5am with a trip to Fulton fish market, then onto produce, the meat packing district, etc.  He would oversee all the prep and make lunch for the staff.  He would take a break and work through dinner service to closing.  A friend of mine was hired as banquet chef and this took a lot of the load off of Chef as he was caring both burdens for a while.  He probably put in 60 - 70 hrs/week.  He was well paid, but driven and passionate about his menu.  As I recall he was French from the old country. 

    I used to work 50 - 60 hrs/week when I was young and in the biz, but I sure don't miss that. 
     
  17. beastmasterflex

    beastmasterflex

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    Because being a chef is like being a professional athlete, you've gotta beat the other guy. If he's getting up at 7 you should be getting up at 5. If he's going to the market everyday you should be getting there before him.
     
  18. chefedb

    chefedb

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    Buzzy O Keefs former place as was River Café a buddy of mine was a manager there. Was a great place
     
  19. picpoulsherbet

    picpoulsherbet

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    i'm at a fine dining place atm, putting out the best food i ever have. my typical working week is about 75 hours, I work tues-sat 8-9am till 12-1am. I run the pastry section and I start at whatever time I need to to get my mep done and I finish when the last customer has their petit fours. On a good day i might get half an hour for lunch, on a really good day I might get an hour to nap. 

    These hours are seriously demanding and the pay is not great. There is literally no reason to do it except for the love of the food that you're producing.  Sure, I could easily get a job in a mid level bistro doing steaks and chicken breast and grilled fish or whatever working 40-50 hours a week for more money, but that doesn't interest me.  

    Some people live to work, some people work to live. I'm happy to dedicate my entire life to the thing I love, food. That means I have very little personal life, no time to see my friends or family, my body's breaking down and by a saturday night my sanity is hanging by a thread.  But I get to make the best food that it is possible to eat, in my area at least.  My aim is always to get better, to produce the best food that anyone has ever eaten, that will take even more hours.

    If you love what you do enough, its worth it
     
    spoiledbroth likes this.
  20. alaminute

    alaminute

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    Well put