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Work/Life Balance: The Holy Grail for Restaurant Chefs

Written on 20-Jul-2015

It’s no secret that restaurant chefs are some of the hardest working people on the planet.  Only in a workplace driven by passion would you find people regularly putting in a 60 to 70 hour week in a high pressure work environment.  But sometimes it seems, for chefs to be at the top of their game, they are almost punished by these excruciating hours.  The passion for the job comes at a detriment to work-life balance, and nowhere more so than in the restaurant kitchen.

A typical restaurant role will see a sous chef often working 60 hours minimum a week, split into shifts over five or six days on an approximate £25,000 salary. If you calculate this in real terms, the chef is working for £8.00 per hour, often over a split shift so their chances of seeing their family and partner are slim. They will typically be leaving at 8am and returning home after 10pm. If they are lucky enough to live nearby, they will be able to pop home for a couple of hours or maybe do the school run. If not, their relationships will be one akin to ships passing in the night.  So it is little wonder that so many restaurant chefs move on to opportunities that, may not have the same creative appeal, but which fit their life outside work better.

In comparison to independent restaurants, chain restaurants and hotels often afford a better life balance.  The reasons for this though are actually somewhat ironic.  One of the key differences between hotels and restaurants is that they are always open for breakfast.  That means that the kitchen is open longer.  Those longer hours are simply impossible for a single individual to do, so shifts have to be split daily between two people, not one.  So counterintuitively, the longer hours the kitchen is open for mean more sociable hours for the two chefs that work there.

Perhaps independent restaurants could learn a few lessons from the chain restaurants and hotels.  Those establishments have learnt long ago that opening for breakfast, lunch and dinner, is the most profitable way to run a business.  Without losing a sense of creativity and high quality, restaurants could be well advised to take heed of this approach and find themselves making greater profits and also enjoying a more stable work force.

Restaurant kitchens have to move with the times.  Chefs are in demand. They can get a job anywhere – especially if they feel they are going to be better appreciated and looked after by another employer.  So a job with straight shifts, decent hours, flexibility to job share, two days off a week and an appreciation of the skills and efforts they bring to a business is something it is essential that the best establishments seek to provide.

But what about remote, destination, restaurants, where opening for breakfast is not an easy option?  Again, it’s a case of thinking “outside the box”.  To put an end to the days of working 60/70 hours in split shifts, employers must be different.  They need to embrace better working methods, pay structures and hours to attract and retain the highly skilled professionals, who ultimately bring in and retain their customers.  This can be achieved through more careful pre-planning.  Often chefs are appointed during the rush of setting up a new establishment, or with the need to replace a previous chef quickly.  Restaurants and recruitment companies can actually work better together to devise the most efficient team structures that not only deliver customers the best results but maintains a happier, more stable kitchen too.

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