Why do Chefs Have to Work Such Long Hours?
One of the first things every new or aspiring chef hears is how long the work days are. Chefs and cooks are notorious for working between 50 and 70 hours per week, oftentimes on weekends, evenings, and for up to 12 hours per day. The rate of burnout is high, and many cooks suffer from physical problems that make it difficult to stay in the field for an entire lifetime.
This has long been a standard in the culinary world, and it wasn’t until recently that people began asking why. Why, in an age when professions are regulated in how well they treat their employees and how often they are given breaks, do cooks and chefs continue to push so hard?
The “Real” Workday
The truth is that few professionals actually work 40 hours per week. Teachers grade homework and papers well into the night, often after putting in 7 hours of class time and 2 hours of coaching. Lawyers are right up there with chefs when it comes to putting in 80 hours per week. In fact, long hours are fairly typical of anyone who makes a salary (as opposed to an hourly wage) and who isn’t part of a heavily regulated union (think carpenters, nurses, or electricians).
The main reason kitchen works stands out as particularly grueling is that almost all of that time is spent on your feet and moving at a fast pace. A lawyer who works long hours spends considerable time at a desk or even having lunch with clients. A teacher, too, can sit on the couch while grading papers. This doesn’t make the work they do any less important or time-consuming—it simply means that chefs, by comparison, have a pretty hard route.
So why do they do it?
In many cases, the long hours worked are against the law, damaging to long-term health, and hard on families. Yet people continue to go to culinary school and strive to be the best cooks they can be. It usually boils down to the question of passion. Just as a teacher teaches because he or she loves it, so too does a cook, spending long hours working in the kitchen because of an inherent love of food and food service.
While there are ways to avoid burnout (including managing your time, delegating where you can, taking your legally required breaks, and developing faster skills), you will probably never get down to a 40-hour work week—at least not at first. The competition in the culinary field is tough, and most people have to prove their mettle before they can begin enjoying better positions, better pay, and, in most cases, better hours.