Why do Chefs work more hours for less money than most all other professions?

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Joined Jul 25, 2011
 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's 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. All construction trades, Carpenters, plumbers 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?

_______________________________________________________

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 is able to manage their time, not to get burned out!

.

There is allot of cheap bastards out there that own restaurants. And allot of hotel general 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 adds like this.

So, beware... This restaurant owner doesn't want you as a partner. He's a cheap bastard, his business is failing. And if a you're the chef that takes the job and turns the business around, the owner ain't gunna make you a partner, you'll be tired and pissed off by then. He'll just run another add for a fresh sucker..
 
7,375
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Joined Aug 11, 2000
I worked as a personal chef, 4 days a week, school hours for several years and clearred 600-950  a week.  

Instructors don't usually have awful hours

caterers can typically take vacations

docs, surgeons, attys all can have outrageous hours.......my ex-husband worked 70+ hours a week for the 15 years we were married.....partners in his lawfirm were known to actually knock off work every day at 5:30 to have dinner with their families.....they are probably still married.
 
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Joined Aug 14, 2011
   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
 
5,423
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Joined Oct 10, 2005
Amost the same question, but not quite.

1)Plumbers, etectrician, etc all have Unions that actually do something, like set pay scales for that particular State, but more importantly, make trade qualifications and standards to base the pay scales on.

Q: Can you refer me to a hosptiality union that has achieved a State-wide or national  trade qualification or benchmark for cook, bakers, butchers? 

2) There is a fierce, cut-throat competition for the dining dollar.  Every penny has been shaved.  This is not the case for plumbers, electricians, etc.. 

Since there are no qulifications for cooks, there are no qualifications for Chefs, and there are no qualifications for restaurant owners.

Let me repeat that, there are no qualifications for restaurant owners.

And it shows, doesn't it???????????
 
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Joined Jul 25, 2011
My friend of 20 years is an estimator for a predominate insulation company in the LA area. All of the installers are union. The entry level journeymen insulation installers get $32.00 and hour. And because it's union, it costs the company about $52 an hour to work these guys. Let me tell you, half of these guys can not read the electronic blueprints on the job-sites. And, half of these guys don't have a high school diploma.             Well..... what's the starting wage for a culinary graduate?    In my area it's around $12.00 and hour.        And how many years does it take the average journeyman chef to get to the equivalent of $32.00 and hour, unless they are a prodigy or just lucky?. Most executive chefs average around $70K to $80K in my area, a few chefs do better. The journeyman insulation installer is not far behind in pay than the executive chef. And that union trade worker puts in 40 hours a week. If you consider the responsibility of the executive chef, and the amount of hours, chefs are the worst paid professionals in the world.
 
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Joined Sep 18, 2008
My friend of 20 years is an estimator for a predominate insulation company in the LA area. All of the installers are union. The entry level journeymen insulation installers get $32.00 and hour. And because it's union, it costs the company about $52 an hour to work these guys. Let me tell you, half of these guys can not read the electronic blueprints on the job-sites. And, half of these guys don't have a high school diploma.             Well..... what's the starting wage for a culinary graduate?    In my area it's around $12.00 and hour.        And how many years does it take the average journeyman chef to get to the equivalent of $32.00 and hour, unless they are a prodigy or just lucky?. Most executive chefs average around $70K to $80K in my area, a few chefs do better. The journeyman insulation installer is not far behind in pay than the executive chef. And that union trade worker puts in 40 hours a week. If you consider the responsibility of the executive chef, and the amount of hours, chefs are the worst paid professionals in the world.
or stated another way: the journeyman union worker is overpaid!

Depends on your point of view to some degree.

WAIT! I know! Become a journeyman union worker, work 40 hours/week, and have enough to support your second career as a cook-->chef!
 
 
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Joined Jul 28, 2001
I think the most popular reason for the primative ways chefs are treated are all based on a lack of business knowledge.

Most chef don't have the ability to calculate the senerio they are in. You have to be able to generate the tools needed

to justify your labor and food cost. I have found that a lot of youngens get into hotel or private business and don't have a clue how the

products find their way to the storeroom.
 
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Joined Feb 13, 2008
First, cooking (and cheffing) is not -- or at least not usually -- a profession.  It's a trade.  That may be a little besides the point, because it's a long hour, low money trade -- which was the real point.  But still...

Second, don't be so sure you know what hours other people work.  100 hour weeks are not uncommon for attorneys. 

BDL
 
5,423
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Joined Oct 10, 2005
Cleverchef,

Read my post again.

Read the part over again where I said the competition for the dining dollar is cut-throat.

Read the part where I said owners/operators don't need any qualifications to open up a place.

The public want their food and they want it cheap.  If they don't, they go someplace where it is cheaper.   It may be a place where 90% of the food comes out of a box or bag, a place that will probably go under in a year's time, but no one really cares.  What do you pay someone to open a pouch?

And that is why Chefs and cooks get so underpayed and overworked.
 
5,423
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Joined Oct 10, 2005
Yup. And those boys passed the bar exams and adhere to the suggeted rate of pay as set forth by the bar.
 
5,192
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Joined Jul 28, 2001
Got this from a new little PA at the doctors office. She noted that if everyone was 10 minutes late. It  just snowballs through the day. I said maybe you could charge more!

I bit my tougue and explained that I actually charge more per hour of my time then your young Doctor. I will bring my lap and start to charge

you all for all the time I wait to be seen. In fact today we should calculate the PA discount. I mean, I'm just saying. I wouldn't think about

sending my Assistant to see someone on such an  important matter.
 
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Joined Jul 25, 2011
Got this from a new little PA at the doctors office. She noted that if everyone was 10 minutes late. It  just snowballs through the day. I said maybe you could charge more!

I bit my tougue and explained that I actually charge more per hour of my time then your young Doctor. I will bring my lap and start to charge

you all for all the time I wait to be seen. In fact today we should calculate the PA discount. I mean, I'm just saying. I wouldn't think about

sending my Assistant to see someone on such an  important matter.
OK, let's start a thread on doctors... Don't get me started. I wait and hour and a half every time I see my doctor
 
7,375
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Joined Aug 11, 2000
time to have a frank discussion with your docs......if they keep you waiting regularly, it's time to look for a new doc.
 
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Joined Dec 17, 2013
 
Attorneys with the same years under their belt as the average executive chef make $150 to $300 an hour
And they're not enduring the back pain, oil burns, and general ware and tear that we get the pleasure of surviving! Lucky dogs

I will also add that I enjoy my long long days. I sleep better, I feel more accomplished, and I don't have to kill time with silly things like hobbies or a social life. 
 
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Joined Apr 14, 2015
From my experiences and what I've witnessed working with restaurant owners...

there are several reasons as to why Chef's, Cooks, Hospitality staff are subject to such poor financial and professional treatments by owners. (especially independent restaurant owners)

1. Owners rely on the passionate/aspirational nature of their Chef's/Cooks to work more hours... while paying them as low as possible. 

* True Story Example:  I worked with/for an owner in San Diego that had hired staff come in to clean up the entire restaurant (moving furniture, scrubbing floors/walls/bathrooms/etc, lifting heavy items, etc for over 6+ hours) for free! and suggested to all employees that those who "care" will come in to work for free ... of course, non-verbally insinuating that if people didn't want to work for free, that they won't get hours or will be let-go after the trial period. 

* The same owner when I first interviewed, dangled all kinds of cherries to gain my interest with phrases such as: "future partnership", "ownership stake", IF they saw that I was "loyal" and was a "hard worker" and went "above and beyond"

The truth is, any real cook who has pride in their craft will work hard (in comparison to other professions) because they care about their environment and finished product.  Owners using such verbiage really is expecting that person to go above and beyond... THE LEGAL expectations of fair-labor, meaning ownership expects employees to work overtime without pay, not take their legally required breaks and work 6-7 days a week without consideration for that employees family/mental, physical and psychological health and these dangled cherries are used in the interview/hiring process for candidates to accept LESS starting wage/salary than what is their true fair-market value in "hopes" of receiving the "potential ownership stake."  (I and most of my peers of Chefs have heard this BS way too many times to even entertain the notion.)

** IF YOU'RE A YOUNG, UP AND COMING CHEF... DO NOT GET INVOLVED WITH OWNERS THAT DANGLE CHERRIES IN-FRONT OF YOU DURING THE INTERVIEW/HIRING PROCESS.  if you really think about it... if you're an exceptional chef/mgr/etc...  owners won't have to dangle the "POSSIBILITY" in front of you... instead, they'll just offer it because they see that you're an asset they would rather be with than without.  Otherwise, be prepared to work 80+ hour weeks, lose all family/social life, be under-staffed to where you're doing 65% of all the BOH and FOH manual work and be underpaid for as long as it takes for you to either demand a raise or quit. 

Let's talk about the word often used as a requirement of business owners to employees...

"Loyalty"-  

From what I've learned...  this word is used by ownership, as a consequential factoring of employment term.  Really it's so the employees (non-ownership management included), can be paid as minimum as possible for as long as possible no matter their talent level, their hard-work, their sacrifices and the positive value they bring in to and for the business.  Basically, owners are just using this word to tell employees... don't expect or ask for a raise no matter how much money you make me, otherwise you're NOT LOYAL!

If you really think about it...   a talented chef with very good work ethic should be able to find any job, any where...   if that same chef is currently getting paid... $60k/annual...  in a thriving restaurant... and is positively affecting the bottomline of that restaurant, why shouldn't that same chef be awarded a raise or bonus?.... or bring his TALENT'S TO SOUTHBEACH like lebron james famously stated... and get paid more somewhere else that is willing to pay for his talents and work ethic?  ... I'll tell you why.   It's because 1) he will be deemed UN-LOYAL.  2) which will reflect on his resume and most employers only look at how long you were in an establishment without really factoring in any other scenarios. 

Let's flip that coin... are owners loyal?  In my experiences, most of them are not (there are a select few that have seen the light)...   owners will terminate anyone for any given or without any reason (it's their right.)  ..... but let's think consciously as well...it's also an employees right to pursue happiness.  and if that means getting paid more than what you currently are (hopefully, the increase in pay is deserved)...  they should be able to pursue that option.  The unfortunate fact of this scenario however, is that when employees take such course, they are deemed UN- LOYAL. but when owners do it, it's considered "business acumen" .. ????   doesn't make much ethical sense does it?   

Most restaurant owners (except for a few I've met in my experiences) take full advantage of people.  They want to make the most money, have the best qualities of lives while leaving their employees to fend for scraps.   

Piece of advice, Because most chef owners really feel the pain of SERVICE STAFF (that's why if you're looking to work in the restaurant industry... you should work for a CHEF/OWNER... and not some financially gifted donkey's who decided they want a restaurant).  They are more keen to a better working environment and are more keen to fair-wages, hours and treatment of staff. 

and the owners who really doesn't have restaurant experience (from dishwashing, to training staff to properly toss and season a salad, etc.) ... and try to be restaurant operators... They are the ones employees should stay away from...   they have a tendency to only see the bottom-line without factoring in the human element in every workplace environment.  They are most likely to underpay, mistreat, turnover and run complete sh*t shows. 

Restaurant owners expect their employees to LIVE TO WORK.  while they work to live.   That's as true a statement as any. 

If you're curious or sceptic about this message...  look at the financial statements of restaurants and compare how much an owner-operator makes to how much a chef makes... then compare their hours and scope of work.    
 
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Joined Feb 24, 2015
 
time to have a frank discussion with your docs......if they keep you waiting regularly, it's time to look for a new doc.
Or just wait till they come in to grab a bite to eat next time - guess which table will have to wait

Chefs, cooks, gastronomic employees, hotel employees, service industry - yes, it is a low paid job considering the hours and energy put into it.

My wife worked for a long time in the banking business and wow - they make more money than I ever wanted to believe for just sitting on their a$% and typing numbers into a computer...sounds pretty laid back to me.

Then again - looking at the suicide rate in that job (crazy enough they have one) it is the mental pressure that gets them in the end.

Having a military background myself I can only say so much - if you have been working the kitchens for 15+ years and can still think straight, the world is your oyster :)

There would literally be no management position (stress wise and work load wise) you could not do :)
 
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Joined Dec 24, 2016
Its actually rather much more simple than everyone here seems to be describing it.  Its the same thing that drives everything in this world.  Its money.

   Most diners in america are not willing to pay for their food because they can see the retail cost of food.  Why would they pay the plumber, electrician, and other trades more?  Well they can't normally go home and install their three speed fan, they didn't learn how to run sewer lines from grandma, and they don't see the cost of car parts on a daily basis to compare to the rates they are being quoted by their technician.

   People are surrounded by a consumer based system that only succeeds when things are consumed and destroyed.  More money can only be made with increased sales and this can only happen when the cost of consumption is manageable.  Very few people are going to choose to be conservative spenders, just look at 1 st world country debt ratios in the modern age....individuals and groups have no desire to live conservatively and appreciate the value of an expertly cooked meal when they can consume 22 cheeseburgers for the same price from Mccrapfactories.  
 
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