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working for free.

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 
Hello all, I'm currently 24 and have put off going to culinary school for various reasons mostly because of cost. Well, I'm at the point in my life now to where I want to do what I love and what I know I will be good at-cooking. I don't have any experience in a professional kitchen, but I've been applying everywhere for dishwasher/prep work, hopefully that pans out. I do however have a meeting set up with the owner of a local restaurant here whom I emailed with an impassioned plea. He expressed that he doesn't have any payed positions but since I mentioned that id be willing ti volunteer my services in exchange for the knowledge received, he says that he thinks this would be a good avenue for me.

Is his a good idea? I'm stoned at the possibility because I think it will help me gain employment in the future. Or is working for free dumb?
post #2 of 8

One of the things I tell my students all the time. Volunteering IS a form of experience. As a matter of fact, it is probably the easiest way to get experience due to the fact someone doesn't have to pay you. However, we can't all go around "working" and not receiving pay. Though, I'm sure you realize that volunteering with this local restaurant should not consist of full-time status. If anything, as a matter of building experience you shouldn't start out being there when it is busy or hectic at all.

 

There is a large difference between a restaurant going out and offering to give you experience versus using you as a form of "slave labor." Chances are this person is genuinely trying to help you. I have helped place individuals with non-paid experience in local restaurants. My main advice to them is work like they are an actual employee. I am happy to say that every person I have ever helped do this was offered a job shortly after their experience (or during).

 

However, all of those individuals worked hard and weren't afraid of taking challenges or stepping up. There is a negative drawback to working in a restaurant for free for experience. The actual employees can sometimes treat you poorly. Besides, you have the ability to have a convenient schedule, you aren't "required" to do anything to keep your "job", and you generally get training in areas they may have wanted to work in for some time.

 

On the other hand, some people really like the opportunity to train people with interest who are not motivated by a paycheck. To answer your question...No, it's not a stupid idea. In nearly every industry experience trumps education. Just be careful of the situation you are involved. Also, there are legal risks associated with this. Kitchens can be very dangerous and you need to make sure if you are injured that it is addressed.

post #3 of 8

One other caveat, as far as I know, it is illegal to have someone work in the United States and not pay them at least the minimum wage. I have no idea as to how well enforced this may be.

Chef,
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
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Chef,
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
Reply
post #4 of 8

Another caveat-

 

Any owner/manager is taking a huge liability risk having someone work in his kitchen without putting him on the payroll. If the person working for free is injured, workman's compensation would not cover him. 

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www.foodandphoto.com

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She's got the biggest hair in town!

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post #5 of 8

Plus they can get sued. Kitchens are pretty dangerous places for the unskilled and unfamiliar. Even for seasoned cooks and chefs.

 

It is a pretty cushy deal for a restaurant owner to get freebies, but yeah, it is illegal to "hire" someone to do work that will ultimately end up benefiting the business end and not pay them minimum wage...and yeah, it IS enforced once someone pulls the plug on it. (maybe a disgruntled other employee that the other post suggested?) 

 

The definition is if it's 'training' and not actually used during working hours then it's ok to not pay. OK, use the kitchen to develop knife skills or whatnot....(which I doubt would work either because that would entail keeping the kitchen open and operating and electric or whatever costs are COSTS)

 

I know a lot of young cooks do that, but personally I wouldn't. I'd suggest applying to an agency that supplies personnel to catering operations, events and whatnot. They need entry level cooks all the time. It may be sporatic because it's exactly like working for a temp agency, but it's paid income.

 

If you want kitchen experience and really don't need the money (who doesn't though?) you might volunteer at a large soup kitchen depending on what city you live in. My daughter works/volunteers at a huge one here in San Francisco. Potential employers DO look at the experience and reliability of working to feed the homeless. At Glide they serve over 700 meals per service. That is a LOT of prep that needs doing and kitchens need a lot of help but sadly most of the walk-in volunteers don't have a clue and are more of a hindrance than a help. 

 

So that's just my 2 cents worth. 

 

 

post #6 of 8

To follow up:

 

It is not "illegal" to work and not be paid. It is also not "illegal" to work during hours of operation. There are just very strict guidelines that must be followed:

http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs71.pdf

 

Regardless of that, like I said and the others, it still remains a huge liability issue.

post #7 of 8

Do it man, you aren't getting paid.. but you aren't going to school and PAYING!  continually check in with other kitchens with this new position on your resume and see how that works.  I strongly encourage this mainly because the few individuals I know of that have done this ended up getting put on the same kitchens payroll after a month or two, once they really got the hang of things and actually had something to offer.  If a kitchen can train someone for free...  it is a lot of money saved and they don't run the risk of having to fire/hire again if it doesn't work out.  So once this kitchen loses someone, somebody else will take their position, moving everyone up the ranks a notch.. leaving room somewhere at the bottom for you to jump in and begin your career. Best of luck!

post #8 of 8

I agree that volunteering is a good way to gain experience in a kitchen. I also know for a fact that it is legal to "work for free." Hospitals do it all the time, it's called interning. Sometimes it's paid, but the vast majority of times, it is not. I know I did 4 months as an intern with no pay at a hospital, for a B.S. degree many years ago. I've done some free kitchen work as well, but I didn't stay when they offered me a job, because thier food wasn't that great.

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