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! ;-)