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Why do chefs in top restaurants work really long hours?

post #1 of 28
Thread Starter 

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.

post #2 of 28

Easily explained:

 

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

Two salaries

 

One Cook

One salary

 

That's why.

...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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post #3 of 28

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.

"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
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"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
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post #4 of 28

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

FOR YEARS I LIVED TO WORK! NOW I WORK TO LIVE!
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FOR YEARS I LIVED TO WORK! NOW I WORK TO LIVE!
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post #5 of 28
Thread Starter 

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.

post #6 of 28

Because that is the requirements of the job. Lawyers and Doctors put in plenty of hours also , but are paid a lot more.
.

Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

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Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

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post #7 of 28
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.
post #8 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by ChrisBristol View Post
 

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.

 

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.

Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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post #9 of 28
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.
post #10 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lagom View Post

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.

 

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.

"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
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"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
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post #11 of 28

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.

...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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post #12 of 28

Because they are driven.  That's my answer.

post #13 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by kuan View Post

Because they are driven.  That's my answer.

Like sled dogs. smile.gif
post #14 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lagom View Post


Like sled dogs. smile.gif

 

Yeah but unless you are the lead dog, the view never changes :bounce::crazy::roll:

Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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post #15 of 28
How true, and your closer to the whip if your not the lead.
post #16 of 28

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. 

post #17 of 28
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.
post #18 of 28


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

Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

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Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

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post #19 of 28

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

post #20 of 28
Well put
post #21 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by picpoulsherbet View Post
 

 

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

I think that's the solution and the problem rolled into one.  You don't mention your age or how long you've been doing this.  As Keller says, passion is fleeting- it comes and goes.  Beyond that you need desire.  How long will you be happy putting out great food in every waking moment for little or no monetary reward?  How will you feel when your breaking down body is broken down?  This isn't an accusation or criticism, just discussion.  What is the goal here?  To eventually get your own place and work even longer hours?

 

In the US long hours are part of the culture, and maybe that will never change. Certainly I've 'paid my dues' to the tune of decades of long hours.

"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
Reply
"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
Reply
post #22 of 28

This issue is really more of one that's systemic to kitchens worldwide than in the US in particular.  I'm pretty sure Michelin-starred restaurants around the world have their cooks and chefs putting in similar hours.

 

As for the idealized 40-hour work week it only really works if the service and prep aspect of the job were more divorced from each other.  In restaurants where service runs from 5:30 to 10:30 (sometimes later) and clean-up takes an hour or so it leaves only 2 hours to prep:  In a fast food chain or a place where you get everything frozen from a box that may be enough but not for a kitchen that does a vast majority of its menu from scratch.  With Ford he moved auto making from a craft into the realm of assembly line commodity pushing; this is analogous to fast food, quick service and chain restaurants (which is readily seen in the way they operate) but doesn't translate quite so cleanly or well when moved into fine(r) dining, where individual craftsmanship and ability largely affect the quality of the product that is sent to the customer.  While this means a place like Cactus Club (a canadian chain) or Cheesecake Factory can be more consistent than a French Laundry, it doesn't generally translate in terms of the overall quality nor does it have that spark of individuality or care put into it.  Granted, there are independent restaurants out there where the cooks work long hours and the food unfortunately ends up being poor/mediocre for a variety of reasons, but that is unfortunately the price to be paid for individualism.

 

Secondly, In restaurants where service and prep are separated you end up training cooks that only know how to do service or only know how to prep, not both.  This is more an observation than justification, but frankly cooks who work in these types of restaurants, who've dedicated the time and effort to being proficient at the craft are simply better at it than their peers who have worked either exclusively in chain environments or have worked at places where prep and service are split responsibilities.  Now I agree that the money for cooks and the industry should be better (and I'm doing my part as a manager to fight for better pay), but ultimately I still believe that at a certain caliber the cook must devote a minimum amount of time to their work, it may not be 16 hours a day for me personally, but it certainly is more than 8.

 

People keep spouting about how they want to maintain a work/life balance, but fact of the matter is we spend at least a third of our lives at work; if we don't make work a part of life then we're essentially wasting a third of our lives just for money to (hopefully) enrich what's left, and I think that's the biggest shame.

"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
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"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
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post #23 of 28

As far as I'm aware, unions are far more powerful here in Europe than they are in the States. Hotels and larger restaurants tend to pay union wage and have their staff work union hours. In a Michelin-starred place this could mean working 16 hours a day Thursday-Sunday, overtime taken as additional leave. Other restaurants may split individual shifts into two four-hour shifts every day, i.e. lunch service and evening service, any overtime, again, taken as leave. Very few restaurants over here open seven days a week for those reasons.

 

I have just noticed that this is the first time in weeks that I have posted on this forum, because I simply have not had the time or energy. Now that the main season is slowly dying down, I'm actually stood at the bar right now with a beer next to me, staff gone, and interested in ChefTalk again. I'm the chef/owner of a small restaurant in a tourist region and have busted my arse into near-burn-out territory over the three years we've been operating. Last year, my doc told me I would end up in long-term therapy if I didn't seriously cut down on my workload. (I was also right in the middle of a traumatic separation from my wife and baby, partly due to trying very hard to make this place work, which didn't help. It's working now, but I'm getting divorced.) As a result, I eventually hired a young chef that I couldn't afford, took a 'back seat' as prep cook, garde manger and took a firm hold of the business side again which had been neglected for some time. This restored my sanity and health.

I kept the chef on throughout the main season, had to let him go last winter and completely refocussed on my business. I looked at the figures and abandoned weekday lunch services. They were making a loss in this nature-trail tourist region and making me work 12 - 16 hours a day, except Mondays (closed). Previously I'd thought I'd have to stay open for lunch, being the only non-fast-food place in the village. Last winter I also introduced a second off-day (Tuesdays) during the off-season. We're now open Tue-Sun from April to October, and Tuesdays closed the rest of the year. So I've managed to cut my hours to more manageable levels, but at the end of this season I'm still completely exhausted.

 

I think I'm kind of hijacking this thread, sorry about that.

 

However, while stupid working hours may feed the machismo in us cooks, it clearly ain't healthy! Given, I'm 46 and not trying to work my way up the ranks. If I were 20 and working in the US, I might completely ignore any sanity and health considerations. In fact, there are people like Gordon Ramsay who thrived on the constant pressure and relentless self-affirmation gained by dedicating 24 hours of their days to their jobs while trying to establish themselves in the industry. I guess, it wouldn't have been me. I couldn't have done it like that, and at age 46, while I still feel young and dynamic (oh yeah!), I feel far less in the position of exploiting my health and sanity.

 

In a nutshell, I don't get how upmarket restaurants get away with exploiting their staff like that. I know from colleagues in the industry that most cooks working silly hours at Michelin-starred restaurants don't last any longer than 6 - 12 months. It's turn-and-burn, unless you're a complete maniac.

 

Enough of my ranting and self-pity! ;-)

 

Cheers,

Recky

post #24 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by ChrisBristol View Post
 

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.

 

"Top" restuarants have prep staff to do the 'loads of prep' if not a more or less modernized brigade system.

 

I would have a stroke to learn that Thomas Keller comes in early to chop the onions, celery, and carrots needed for that day's service wouldn't you?  I can assure you that he does not, nor do chefs in places more than a few notches below The French Laundry.  A chef comes in early, but it isn't to do actual prep unless something has seriously gone awry or he has put something on the menu beyond the capabilities of his staff.

 

I think your definition of a 'top' restaurant needs refinement or clarification.

post #25 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by Recky View Post

 

In a nutshell, I don't get how upmarket restaurants get away with exploiting their staff like that. I know from colleagues in the industry that most cooks working silly hours at Michelin-starred restaurants don't last any longer than 6 - 12 months. It's turn-and-burn, unless you're a complete maniac.

 

 

Well that's an easy one to explain, and a route that I took too.  One word explains it: 

 

"Zeugniss"

 

In Englisch that would be, "Employer's testimonial". They are worth something, especially from the top notch places.  You can't keep it up for more than a few years, not if you want some kind of a relationship with a partner and have most of your mental health intact.  But for a few years, yeah, it can be done 

...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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post #26 of 28
@CStanford I believe in the UK the term "chef" is used to denote all the cooks, i.e., chefs de partie
post #27 of 28

The "Top Notch" restaurants to which you refer, are few and far between.

I would think that the more intense the menu, the more prep is involved, thereby needing more hands.

It would be a generality to say that very few NON TOP NOTCH restaurant kitchens do "from scratch" cooking,

but the kind of food prep in those places are usually not of the quality found in better places.

 

Still....we haven't found a compromise here. Quality kitchens need dedicated Chefs to run them.

Chefs feel a sense of ownership, even if they work for someone else.

It is inherent in our nature, so we put in the necessary time and work to get the job done the way we want it to be.

Time is of little consequence. It has always been this way.

I feel there has got to be a middle ground found to balance career and life.

post #28 of 28

Here is my experience from a two stars Michelin restaurant in Barcelona, Spain.

 

9 Paid staff

From 4 - 20 Stages/estaggiers, call it whatever you like. If you want to do this, its a minimum of 4-6 months usually.

 

Paid staff:
Chef

Jefe de cocina (Head of kitchen)

 

Pastry:

Pastrycook 

2-3 estagers

 

Cold starters:

CdP Cold starters

1-3 estagers

 

Fish:

CdP Fish

Demi CdP Fish

1-3 Estagers

 

CdP Meats 

Demi CdP Meats

1-3 Estagers

 

 

Enter at 10.00 - 10.30

Family meal at 12.30

Service starts at 13.00

Go home at 16.00 - 17.00 depending on the day/service

Pastelleria leaves later, but also start their day later.

Siesta

Normally back into the kitchen at 19.00 - 19.30 depending on the day, but also with days when you start at a lot earlier. Depends on the days, and the stager(s) you have available in the partie.

Service starts at 20.00

Go home at 24.00 or later.

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