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Does the Chef or do the Kitchen Staff at Restaurants Drink "On Duty"?

Having just helped with the Thanksgiving holiday cooking I couldn't imagine having gotten through it all without some significant booze. Got me thinking, do the chefs or those who staff kitchens at restaurants take a sip (or hit) of anything to get through the night or do they wait 'til the end? Is it wrong?

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  1. As a general rule, no. Some people find a way to drink on the job no matter what their profession (even airline pilots etc) but its not generally accepted.

    1. A quote from Mario Batali (Heat, Bill Buford, p. 7): "I don't want to come off as a big druggy, but when a guy comes into the kitchen with a pizza pan turned upside down, covered with lines of coke, how can you say no?"

      There's probably something about drinking on the job, too, but I'm too lazy to turn more pages and the book doesn't have an index.

      1 Reply
      1. It depends on how management runs the kitchen and what is deemed acceptable. I only worked in my own joint and we'd try to keep the drinking down to the last hour or so of service. Unchecked, it would get out of hand, strictly forbidden, I'd lose good people.
        I would guess in the more corporate places things are tighter.
        Is it wrong? In what way, morally? legally?
        I bet you'll get plenty of bleeding hearts commenting on liabilities etc etc.

        1. Kitchen Nightmares UK version featured a family restaurant where the chef was hitting the bottle pretty hard during service. Ramsay was pretty clear that this is absolutely not acceptable for any chef staff. Doesn't mean that it doesn't happen, just means IMHO that tightly run top restaurants won't tolerate this. In the episode, the chef wound up having a drinking blackout during service and an ambulance was called. Kind of catastrophic for that evening's service....

          1. During my twelve years in the restaurant biz, cocaine was common in both high end and lower end places, front and back of house. Lower end joints often meant the line cooks and servers sucking nitrous from the whip cream cans and smoking joints in the walk-in. Drinking was generally front of house (though illegal in our state). Cooks and chefs didn't usually drink until the end of the night when they were no longer using sharp objects. And it was not infrequent that the drinking continued until the sun came up.

            12 Replies
            1. re: mojoeater

              I just think of the pressure of delivering what could be someone's dream meal to them and doing it night after night at one of the higher end places. The pressure to not screw it up. I need a drink thinking about it.

              1. re: Chinon00

                Hardly the same stress as any number of other occupations or situations. Delivering a bad meal is hardly important in the scheme of things. LOL.

                1. re: tommy

                  It's like any endeavor where you are performing in front of a large audience and are up to public ridicule if you fail. And I don't think it's as urgent as the work of a cop or doctor but it is pressure none the less.

                  1. re: tommy

                    errrrm, restaurant jobs are among the most stressful jobs around. Other than air traffic controllers and surgeons I dont think many occupations offer the level of stress that a busy restaurant does.

                      1. re: tommy

                        Well, its a pretty commonly held opinion, and I can vouch for it as well. Im an architect now, and it's definitely less stressful than the restaurant work I did in college. Have you ever worked as a server?

                        Here is Health Magazines top 10 list of the most stressful jobs in the US, and being a restaurantserver made the list.

                        1. Inner City High School Teacher
                        2. Police Officer
                        3. Miner
                        4. Air Traffic Controller
                        5. Medical Intern
                        6. Stockbroker
                        7. Journalist
                        8. Administrative Assistant
                        9. Customer Service Worker
                        10. Restaurant Server

                        1. re: twyst

                          Good thing being an attorney, Judge, mental health professional, corrections officer, EMT, emergency room worker, etc. etc. etc. are such relaxing jobs in comparison to restaurant workers! LOL.

                          1. re: sedimental

                            Have you ever worked as a server in a busy restaurant? There is a reason why its always on the list of the most stressful jobs. Its not just one study that returned these results, its lots of them, and its for good reason. Hordes of demanding customers all wanting something different and wanting it NOW leads to an exceptionally high level of stress.


                            etc etc etc

                            1. re: twyst

                              I understand that restaurant service and line-cookdom is stressful. I won't argue that otherwise.

                              "Hordes of demanding customers all wanting something different and wanting it NOW leads to an exceptionally high level of stress."

                              ...as an RN in a busy level 1 trauma unit who's sort of baffled that my job never gets a shout out on these lists, I'll point out that the demanding public doesn't get any milder mannered or more patient when they or their family members are injured, in pain, or dying. Quite the opposite. I've heard more than one nurse (and many nurse aides) state aloud they they were quitting and going back to waiting tables. That is all.

                              1. re: cowboyardee

                                I believe, being a Pre-medical student, that training and intelligence is what makes the difference. Having worked in the business since I was young, I can say that even within fine dining, intelligence is not a common denominator amongst many. I don't mean it as an insult but I believe that many people who work as a server/waitress are more susceptible to the stress than others, be it their life's situation or financial woes.

                            2. re: sedimental

                              All these occupations surely have stress (I dunno about the judge thing - I've seen judges fall asleep in the courtroom {;-/) ) to varying degrees. In fact the very nature of the work obviously involves stress.

                              Thats the thing, the general public can associate high stress with jobs like that. Restaurant jobs, well, not so much.

                              Most people I know figure how stressful can it be, flip an egg? carry a plate of food? pour a draft? etc.

                              I'm not saying the EMT worker has more or less stress. I'm saying in general, unless you've actually worked in one, people don't associate restaurant work with stress.

                              I'm currently working as a field engineer. Very often it involves coordinating multiple subcontractors, machinery, lab work, foremen, and several work crews. Plus its usually 100 feet up and lifting devices are in use, so I'm always concerned about the safety aspect. Awhile back, the project manager asked if I was doing OK, how was I handling the pressure, etc. I simply said I ran a kitchen for 15 years (he knew this) and this was a snap. Its true, but like many people, he cannot fathom it, nor actually believes it.

                            3. re: twyst

                              After college I taught school for a year in the inner city. Unable to handle the stress, I became an air traffic controller for 26 years so, at least those two rankings make sense to me. I think my son who has done most BOH restaurant jobs has a lot of stress. When the restaurant is packed on a Saturday night it actually has the feel - barely controlled chaos - of an air traffic control room during a rush. We always said, "give me a good short order cook and we can make a controller out of him". Of course I didn't drink on the job, though we could party with the best of them when not on duty. Chefs are known for hard drinking but if on the job while it's busy? If it's a quality restaurant, it won't be for long. Drinking and working just doesn't work in the long run. Maybe one at the end of the night is OK otherwise clean up and head over to the bar down the street.

                  2. Obviously depends on the restaurant. Booze, blow, weed, sex, none would be surprising in kitchens.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: tommy

                      My experience is similar to yours, Tommy. Marijuana across the board, since the 70's and continuing today. For whatever reason, open drinking during service was/is a bigger offense than smoking weed.

                      1. re: jeanmarieok

                        Yeah, those massive hoods make sneaking a one-hitter no problem at all. Exhaust right out the exhaust.

                    2. Executive chefs, head chefs, expediting chefs - probably not drinking too much. Line cooks, waiters, bussers - probably drinking a little to get through the night. Managers - definitely drinking. At the end of the night, though - all bets are off!

                      1. any place I've worked its either only acceptable during the last hour of service or after you've finished your shift if you aren't finishing the service.

                        1. It happens, but even the high functioning alcoholics tend to F things up. Chef had a few too many 'red coffees' (red wine in a coffee cup) losing his place expediting, yells at line cooks & gets them flustered, cooks make mistakes/get confused because Chef was wrong in the 1st place, situation goes downhill from there. Or the chef de cuisine hitting the Jack Daniels that is always kept in the kitchen 'for sauce making' once the rush is over but far from the end of the night. But problem drinkers aside, the beers don't get cracked until cleanup time. There may be a few orders yet to go out, but service is mostly done. After hours...well...do you really want to know where your cash tips go?

                          One drink per person per shift from the bar or from the 12 pack in the walk-in is allowed everywhere I've been, and those who want more usually get it. When I worked for a French chef any reason to celebrate was met with a few bottles of champagne and a toast after service. Most of us laugh at corporate places (usually only hotels) that drug test for kitchen jobs. Drug use or being drunk on the job is not generally tolerated, but what you do on your own time is up to you.

                          1. I'm thinking it's the whole "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" idea.

                            1. I worked in two casual (bar and grill, local crowd, family owned) bar/restaurants and moderate drinking during our shifts was common at both. By moderate, I mean a constantly refilled pitcher of beer that we all poured from all night long. We were taking a sip or two at a time. After we closed, the staff was allowed to drink as much as we wanted. This was more than 15 years ago so standards may have changed.

                              I know the waitresses at our local bar and grill keep cups of "juice" at their station. I have seen this "juice" mixed and it is mostly vodka with enough grapefruit juice to give it color. I also know in my state it is illegal for staff serving alcohol to consume alcohol.

                              At our local favorite white table place, the chef often comes out to visit the tables and has drinks with the customers when he has a moment of downtime.

                              1. When I was behind the sushi bar, I would drink from time to time. If I was back in the kitchen, no drinking until after closing and cleanup were done and dusted. Ya see, this was a family-owned restaurant, and my partner in the sushi bar was the husband, and when regular customers would buy us drinks, we drank. His wife ran the kitchen, however, and nobody was buying drinks for BOH staff and she wasn't about to allow us to get our own.

                                1. this varies enormously, and indie places and corporate places are very different. i've worked at places where there was a plate with lines of coke on it kept in the microwave-- hey, at least that was the only thing the microwave was used for ! ;-P

                                  dh worked at one place where the staff was not allowed to drink-- not after their shift, not ever, not even if they came in on their day off and laid a crisp benjamin on the bar.

                                  i would say that 1-2 "shift drinks" after clocking out, or the pitcher of beer for the boh crew after service is over but cleanup is going on, is extremely common. it is also very common for the chef or the management team to "buy" alcoholic drinks for staff as a "thank you" gesture after a very busy service or where there were difficult circumstances, for the whole foh or boh to do a round of shots together or something like that on a saturday night. it is more common, in the places where it goes on, for the foh staff to be drinking on the job (esp bar staff), rather than the boh.

                                  very general statements: 1) it is less and less common. this isn't the eighties anymore, liability is more of a concern, etc. 2) however there are some big time partyers in hospitality! the industry just is, for obvious reasons, attractive to folks who lean toward substance use/abuse. the "batali syndrome" is certainly more reality than myth. however there is just as much presence from the other end of things. there are many moderate people working in restaurants. not to be dismissed either is the "andrew zimmern effect:" hospitality worker flies, crashes, burns, hits the recovery circuit, re-enters the industry dead sober. or they get too old/unhealthy to be able to maintain "the lifestyle" and turn over a new, healthier leaf. there are also a lot of life-long industry people who just gradually mellow out, like folks in any other field.

                                  as other people have stated, it's a stressful job. not saving people's lives or anything, but there are a host of expectations laid on a hospitality worker that are not tangibly related to the job at hand, but that can drive a person crazy-- like, batshit, throwing hot pans, screaming "donkeys!" at folks who are your friends, sobbing in the walk-in crazy. some of the stress has to do with compensation (the lack of it) and personal resources available to the individual. while those in other stressful professions often have unions or liability rules that dictate the limits of personal loads they are expected to carry. . . in hospitality, not so much. there is also issues of personal control over workplace situations, and real fears related to being abused to some degree by others, or not being seen as a person of worth/personal dignity by some customers... some of the stress felt by hospitality workers is very similar, and over time manifests very similarly, to the stress felt by sex workers. i wonder why this is not something that someone smarter than me would consider studying.

                                  there is also just the pragmatic, tangible and physical. you work 12-16 hours and run up and down stairs carrying fifty pound cases of food and full stockpots, and you hurt. your back and your feet, trapezius. there is a knot in your left glute that has developed over fifteen years of standing bending just slightly over a work station, lifting light weights, plates, pint glasses, quart containers of mise. you have premature arthritis in your wrists and hands. physical laborers have historically drank for lots of reasons, and a very real one is that after the second drink you don't hurt so bad anymore.

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: soupkitten

                                    "after the second drink you don't hurt so bad anymore"
                                    well said

                                      1. re: soupkitten

                                        soupkitten, do you write for a living (or to add to your living)?

                                        If not, you should -- I'd be the first one to buy your book.

                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                          oh that is *super* nice of you to say! if i ever finish our cookbook (please read that as: #1 if anyone ever wants to publish it, and #2 if i can ever buckle down and finish it) i will find a way to let you know! i sure could use a way to stay in the biz, going in a new direction, as i'm getting a little long in the tooth to keep this up forever. but i have a fine arts degree in creative writing, and it would be fun to write a "kitchen confedential" -type work of fiction or nonfiction too. i just need to summon the discipline to apply myself and follow through, you know? :)

                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                            any time you make a point here, you very clearly and unequivocally state your case, and the reasoning that supports your opinion...in a cogent, thoughtful manner that whispers rather than roars.

                                            And your training shows -- that last paragraph makes me ache to read it!

                                      2. There's probably a huge variation as to what is tolerated depending on the restaurant. I really don't care what they do as long as it doesn't affect their job -- though I wouldn't be too thrilled if the fugu chef was high or drunk. If their behavior is starting to creep into their work, yes, I'll be pissed. I remember giving my name to a stoned FOH person at a restaurant that had a no reservation policy. I had a nagging feeling that she would space out but didn't say anything because I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt. Half an hour later, I asked her what the status was. In a spacey tone she said, "I never saw you before," and abruptly wandered away from me without taking my name. Didn't want to deal with her incompetence anymore and just sat myself at the bar to eat.

                                        1. When I was in college I had a job at a small family camp (the kind of place where families would bring their young children and enjoy a week in the woods). My job was a combination of lifeguard, sailing instructor, and assistant cook. (With limited staff, everyone took several jobs). I had little cooking experience, and certainly not in producing meals for 75 people. However, the head cook took it on himself to train me. He was at least three times my age, and a great cook. He was also a drunk, and wasn't afraid to admit it. He told me the first day that there would be times when he simply wouldn't get up at 6am, and it would be my job to have breakfast ready at 8. He taught me his wonderful biscuit recipe (haven't made those biscuits in years; maybe its time:-) and how to be a successful short order cook (since folks could order their eggs as they preferred). Some of the simple cooking tips he gave me I use to this day. I think of him sometimes (I'm sure given his age at the time and his habits that he is long gone), and I wonder how he might have fared in the world if he could have kept off the booze a little more. I am convinced that he would have been cooking someplace far nicer than that little camp up in the hills.....

                                          5 Replies
                                          1. re: janetofreno

                                            This is amongst the longest of long shots, but did you by any chance work at that camp with the future mayor of a State Capital city?

                                            1. re: ricepad

                                              If I did, I certainly don't remember .... but then again, I don't remember the names of any of the folks I worked with.....this was around 1972 or 1973, so it was a looonnnnggg time ago.....

                                              1. re: janetofreno

                                                The time frame is right....Silver Lake?

                                                1. re: ricepad

                                                  no.....Ice House Reservoir. Edge of Desolation Wilderness in CA. Where's Silver Lake?

                                                  1. re: janetofreno

                                                    In Amador County on Highway 88, just downhill from Kirkwood. I've fished at Ice House a lot, but I didn't know there was a family campground there.

                                          2. "Oyster knives and cans of Stroh's beer in hand, four chefs sneak out the back door of Poole's Diner, the funky, acclaimed 75-seat restaurant on Raleigh's McDowell Street. It's 6:50 p.m. on a Sunday night in January, almost showtime. In the dark parking lot, the chefs glow in their white jackets and aprons. They stab holes in the bottom of the cans, tilt their heads back and down the beers in one long swig.

                                            "Wow! That is ice cold," says Ashley Christensen, Poole's executive chef and owner.

                                            "Brain freeze!" cries chef Tandy Wilson.

                                            "Smooth!" adds chef Tyler Brown.

                                            "Once the ritual, borrowed from Wilson's Nashville restaurant kitchen, is complete, the chefs are ready to crank out dinner for almost 50 people who have paid $150 each for the privilege. On this weekend, Christensen and friends will raise $8,000 for the Southern Foodways Alliance, one of the handful of causes she supports."


                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: AreBe

                                              shotgun. the technical term is "shotgunning" a beer.

                                              1. re: AreBe

                                                Thats more a ritual than drinking on the job, me thinks.

                                                1. It was very common in the big New Orleans restaurants in the 1960's/70's/80's. although I never saw a waiter sloppy drunk. Often I saw them grab a quick nip, though. Most places allowed a free drink at the end of the shift but some guys got a jump on the gun. One waiter told me "There are two kinds of waiters: drunk waiters and crazy waiters. I'm both."

                                                  Then, too, there were the bar crawls of staff at night. The Commanders gang used to show up at a nearby bar, already somewhat hammered, and lose their cash tips on poker dice. I have seen bar patrons give the dough back to the losing waiter the next day..but not that night or he'd lose it again.