Are chefs overworked and underpaid?

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 12th September 2014
Overworked chef - credit to Getty ImagesIt’s a well-known fact that chefs work long hours, often starting at 8 or 9am and finishing after midnight. 15-hour shifts six days a week gives a grand total of 90 hours – almost twice the usual maximum weekly working hours which is 48. And for most chefs who are restaurant owners, days off are nigh non-existent – spent in the office on the phone, contacting suppliers and balancing the books, and in the kitchen experimenting with ingredients and creating new dishes. Speak to most professional chefs and they will gladly tell you about the dedication and hard work needed to succeed, often to the detriment of family and social life. Marc Wilkinson of Fraiche told The Staff Canteen in a candid interview ‘if I had a family, then I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing now’, noting the financial burden and the general stress that opening a restaurant frequently creates, and how long hours behind the stove leaves little or no time for family life. Gordon Ramsay often states that he worked 16 hour days when working at Aubergine and also when running his own restaurant – although at the former establishment he earned a base salary of between £150,000 and £200,000 per year for his troubles. This level of input is not uncommon for someone running two or three-starred restaurants, where even the minutest of details is critical. Yet, at the peak of his fame Ramsay fronted TV programmes, toured the world and cooked for the rich and famous, raking in huge sums for promotional work as well: a simple cooking demonstration could earn him £5000 for a morning’s work. Ramsay is estimated to be worth around £70m, but he is an exception to the rule, and in his kitchens - an army of chefs working long hours for a basic salary. Big Fish Fight - credit to Daily MailMany excellent cooks of the calibre of Ramsay, Blumenthal or Blanc run top restaurants with a healthy turnover, but are unknown to the general public because they don’t have their own TV show and as a result their earnings are a fraction of those of celebrity chefs. It is only when comparing the life of a top chef to that of highly successful individuals in other industries that a proper insight can be gained. It is widely known that trainee nurses and doctors work long unsociable hours with nights on call and 12 hour shifts, all explained by the notion that any experience gained is good for their career. This is all well and good until you hear stories of tired junior doctors working 10 hour shifts for 10 days with no break. A fatigued chef may produce an inferior quality of food, but a mistake from an overworked doctor could just be fatal. According to the NHS website a junior doctor will earn £22k in the first year and will be recompensed for additional hours, a paltry amount for someone who saves lives when contrasted with footballers, CEOs or top chefs. But, once fully-trained, a GP can command a salary of up to £80,000 and specialist surgeons, although few in number (like celebrity chefs) can earn hundreds of thousands of pounds and supplement income with work in private practices.Junior doctors - credit to The Guardian David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo became famous for their skill on the pitch and earned huge contracts from their clubs, in excess of £100,000 per week. Hours and hours will have been spent practising as a kid and a teenager, going to local clubs and national academies. Most professional footballers will do 3-4 hours per day on the training ground and in the gym, plus match preparation, travel, and media and social duties for their club. Yet it is the marketability off the pitch for the top players that brings in the biggest pay cheques. Like celebrity chefs, talent in one area creates opportunities in others, especially TV appearances, product advertising and endorsements, and gaining sponsorship from multinational companies. We cannot forget the amount of charity work that footballers do too, giving up many potential money making hours for good causes. But in comparison to chefs, there are few if any 16-hour long days, as sleep is critical for physical fitness. Alan SugarTop footballers will also have a vast support network of physiotherapists, psychotherapists and coaches, and a team of staff and a manager who make decisions and plan the schedules for the player. A head chef and restaurant owner is the main man who has to run everything, so there is a big difference in this sense when comparing chefs and top sportsmen. Lord Alan Sugar has built up a global business empire from his humble beginnings on a council estate in east London. From working for a greengrocer before he was even a teenager, to running his own market stall to launching Amstrad – an electronics company which earned him the bulk of his £750m fortune – Sugar has never shied away from hard work. Business owners, especially when starting out, have to put in hours of grafting; an interesting and relevant quote from business coach Brad Sugars says ‘entrepreneurs are the crazy people who work 100 hours a week so they don’t have to work 40 hours for someone else.’ Their choice to work independently demands a much greater input than your average worker, although it offers more opportunities for success, recognition and, of course, a more impressive bank statement. Chefs who go it alone and start their own ventures are entrepreneurs, more along the lines of Alan Sugar or Richard Branson than David Beckham. Laborious and economically unfruitful early years are what it takes, and the amount of effort put in should later reflect the level of success achieved.Multi-tasking chef - credit to Ron Leishman However, just like a footballer must dedicate their time to becoming the fittest, fastest and strongest player that he can be, chefs must equally immerse themselves in their passion; practising techniques and learning new ones, discovering recipes, exploring ingredient combinations, reading and visiting other restaurants. Both are a craft, and as a craftsman you have to work endlessly to improve, and even when you’ve learnt the trade you can always do more to get better. Cutting corners tends to lead to disaster – a footballer who has not put the effort in will not be selected by his manager or will get cramp in extra-time, and chefs who take shortcuts in the kitchen usually produce food below the standard demanded for recognition from the best. The Premier League footballer does get a respectable summer break to relax under the sun in Dubai and is paid despite being injured and unable to perform – something which chefs could only dream of. By Mark Savile

Do you agree with this - do you think that chefs work far too many hours for minimal pay? Or is it just part of the job? We'd love to hear your thoughts.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 12th September 2014

Are chefs overworked and underpaid?