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Do great working conditions for chefs exist anymore?

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 

Hello all (:

 

I am a professional pastry chef and I am currently in a crappy work situation. I will spare you the details. This is the latest crappy work situation in a long line of similar positions. I seem to be a magnet for scummy, dishonest people who are just a nightmare to work for. I would love to hear about some positive workplaces just so I can see that they actually exist. Do you love where you work and who you work for? If so I would love to hear about it. I feel cursed... 

post #2 of 6
Quote:
Originally Posted by queencupcake View Post
 

Hello all (:

 

I am a professional pastry chef and I am currently in a crappy work situation. I will spare you the details. This is the latest crappy work situation in a long line of similar positions. I seem to be a magnet for scummy, dishonest people who are just a nightmare to work for. I would love to hear about some positive workplaces just so I can see that they actually exist. Do you love where you work and who you work for? If so I would love to hear about it. I feel cursed... 

 

I have worked in a single kitchen (as a prep cook) that had a truly positive environment. Chances are I'll never see another one in my career. It's just the reality of the industry. So many factors contribute to this tough industry that can make your time in a certain kitchen mind numbingly painful. You will never find a kitchen filled with unicorns, rainbows and and happy people. All you can do is find the best kitchen you can, stay as long as possible and make the best of it. Finding good kitchens isn't as hard as it was years ago, the industry standards are rising partly due to greater exposure to the masses about the realities of working in a professional kitchen. Try looking for hotel kitchens, these generally have bigger budgets to deal with and thus better working conditions (and hours!) are generally easier to work in than a stand alone restaurant. Any place that is loosing money is going to be a difficult situation to work in, look to work in successful operations only. In some scenarios there is simply nothing you can do to change it. Sabotaging coworkers/co-manangers, irrational owners, a megalomaniac sous chef, favoritism, shit-slides-downhill management style and financially sinking ships are some of the worst things but most common scenarios that are dealt with everyday. Don't get too caught up in the "I hate this place" mentality. If you know you're truly not going to stay at a place simply do your job well and go home, don't waste a single moment of your time putting anymore thought into your job.

 

That's my 2 cents. Hope it helps in anyway.

 

PS- The best management working condition I had I stayed in for one year. I had fun times, had immensely frustrating times, times of "yes this is why I am a chef" and times of I can't take another f*cking nano-second in this place. In the end burn-out is what did me in.

post #3 of 6

I'm really happy in my kitchen. It's an independently owned restaurant, been open for about 5 years, and is quite popular. The management is incredibly supportive of us not getting burned out, so taking extended periods of time off to pursue our own stuff is not an issue. I take anywhere from one to six weeks off every two months or so! And I'm not the only one, two of our staff (our lead prep cook and and FOH manager) are in bands that tour and record, so one or the other of them might be gone for up to six months at a time. There's one guy at work who is burning out, and is miserable to work with, and he's the guy who hasn't taken a decent amount of time off since he started.

We also get extended medical and dental! This is offered to every staff member after they've been there six months, regardless of whether they work one day a week, or every day. For the dental, they cover 80% of the cost, and as it happens, we have a regular customer who is a dentist, and he offers our staff a 20% discount. Yep, free dental.

We are paid higher than the standard pay for kitchens in our city, tip-out to the kitchen includes alcohol sales, staff prices on drinks are good, and we don't have to ring in our staff meals, nor do we have to stick to the menu.

In terms of the food, we make everything in-house, including gluten-free bread, and we have a gluten-free station. Our meats are locally sourced, our breads come from a local bakery, and as much as possible, we use organic ingredients, and local suppliers. The menu focuses on modern comfort/diner food, and we have a lot of freedom around specials, if we want to order ingredients not usually in stock to make something, we can.

Overtime is rare, some weeks I've had eight-day runs, but I typically work four or five days a week, with the occasional six day week in there. Days off are always consecutive, and if I do a long stretch (six-eight days in a row), I'll get two or three days off, three days on, two off, then back to a four or five day week.

I lead about 80% of the time when I work, which I love, but it also means I get to be second or support at least twice a week, which is always a treat. It's nice to not be running the show every day, and to have those chill days.

When I started there, I was shocked to discover that the majority of the kitchen staff had been there for at least three years, that's unheard of! Now I know why. I am the oldest person in the whole restaurant, but only by a couple of years. Everyone is a lifer, with at least ten years experience, which means the flow is pretty smooth, we all know what we're doing.

I am a firm believer that if I have to work and spend a good chunk of my time doing something, then I better damn well enjoy it! I won't stay in a kitchen if I don't like the vibe. As a result, I've had some pretty short-lived jobs, but I'm good at what I do and never have trouble finding another one.

There are good kitchens out there, you just never know if you've found one until you spend some time in one.

post #4 of 6

I understand your frustration at working in a bad situation. I would however point out an interesting turn of phrase you use.

    "I seem to be a magnet for scummy, dishonest people who are just a nightmare to work for."

It is not possible to be a magnet for people you work for, only  a magnet for people who work for you.  So that begs the question, why do you keep working for scummy, dishonest people? 

     As someone who has suffered more poor situations, bad employees and miserable owners than I care to remember, over the years I have learned to observe what makes a kitchen more likely to be a  place I want to work and which circumstances will make me miserable  so on those rare occasions when I have to look for work I can increase the likelihood that I will enjoy my job. 

     Unfortunately a restaurant can enjoy a great reputation with the dining public and be a bad place to work and learn anything. So going to work for what is reputed to be the "best place in town" doesn't necessarily guarantee anything. 

       In no particular order, before applying for a job anywhere, 

1. I eat there if possible.

 

2.    If I can't afford to eat there, I walk in when it does not appear to be extremely busy and ask to see the menu. While doing so, I spend three to five minutes "reading the menu" but also observe the staff, the environment, the condition of the dining room, the kind of customers. This is necessarily a brief experience but does provide some information. 

 a. Do the employees generally seem helpful, friendly and courteous? Do they appear to be in a genuine good mood or masking a bad one? Do they appear to be engaged in doing their jobs or standing to the side muttering to each other? Is it possible in those brief moments to observe any interactions between the FOH and BOH? Did it appear to be a calm, professional interaction? 

  b. Is the dining room in good repair? Is the carpeting run down and in need of replacement? Does the room look fresh and inviting or dated and rundown?

  c. Do the customers seem to be enjoying themselves or do they appear anxious or distracted, not engaged in convivial conversation? Anyone smiling at each other or the staff? Does anyone arrive or leave while I am "looking at the menu"? How does the staff handle the greeting and seating of the new arrivals? How does the staff handle the customers when leaving? 

3. Does the menu look interesting? Is there anything I would like to cook? Is it too large, too small, too silly, too hip, not hip enough? Does it mention anything about "made in-house", farm raised, sustainable, seasonal, or anything else that reflects current trends?

4. If I decide to apply, I make sure to see the kitchen before I accept the job. Either I walk through on my way to see the chef or I specifically ask during the interview. Sometimes when I am finished with reading the menu, I will ask to use the bathroom. Sometimes you can pass by the kitchen door and may get a glimpse of the kitchen. 

5. Is the kitchen clean? Are the burner knobs on the stove missing? Is the floor of the line littered with debris? Does everyone seem to be focused on their work? Does the mood seem to be miserable or quietly professional? Are work stations neat and organized or cluttered and messy?   Does anyone say hello, nod or otherwise acknowledge me?  Is there any interaction between FOH and BOH while I pass through and was it a professional interaction or tense and angry? Is a loud radio playing so the staff has to raise their voice? What if any communication do I witness between members of the kitchen staff? Is it positive or tense? 

     With practice, this can all be done quickly and you can at least get the general mood of a place. And after so many years in the business, you should be able to pick up pertinent observations without much effort. 

6. I use the grapevine and rumor mill to my advantage.  Does anyone else want to work there? Do others in the industry discuss the place as a great place to work or a place they would like to work? A place to avoid? No reputation?   Is the owner known for their gambling/addiction problems? Is the owner's reputation one of tough but fair or a total idiot?  Do I personally know any employees? Are they professional or professional idiots? 

     So generally speaking, I now know pretty much whether or not the place is worth applying at. If I have done my homework and no red flags come up, I'll apply and hope for the best. 

  Having done all of the above and then getting the job, I arrive feeling much more confident that my chances for enjoying my work rely much more on my ability to get along with my co workers and work hard consistently.  

post #5 of 6
Ive enjoyed, for the most part, all the kitchens Ive worked in.

8th summer coming up at current job and I plan to have a good one as possible, doesnt really matter what the rest of em do does it. I still feel like the new guy but I have seniority by a long shot lols.

Countless pissed off entitled line cooks and dishwashers in these few years. Try to make the best of all of them.

You can only control your own experience in life, let the others be miserable, although they do love company, dont they?
post #6 of 6
Thread Starter 

Thank you all for the replies! It's a little bit more than just making the best of an annoying situation. I don't have to like who I work for, but I do have to trust who I work for and they have proven themselves to be completely dishonest. It's really nice to hear about some awesome workplaces, and also that I'm not alone in finding many icky work situations. I really appreciate it guys, thank you.


Edited by queencupcake - 4/25/15 at 3:15pm
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