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The line cooks are abused

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JuniorBalloon Jan 4, 2013 10:53 AM

This won't be news to any regular reader of CH, but I thought it was a good article.

http://thenewinquiry.com/essays/line-...

Not sure there is an easy answer other than dining out should simply be more expensive. If you care about pigs in gestation crates you should care that the line cook at least gets to take a break to pee.

jb

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  1. tcamp Jan 4, 2013 11:34 AM

    I hope Mr. Cooke learns that the word he wanted was machismo, not machoness, before he goes much further in his writing career.

    He should also read Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London for a historical view of this situation.

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    1. re: tcamp
      p
      Puffin3 Jan 4, 2013 11:53 PM

      Excellent book.
      So is AB's 'KC'.

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      1. re: Puffin3
        k
        KailuaGirl Jan 10, 2013 05:44 PM

        Love both books!

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      chileheadmike Jan 4, 2013 01:19 PM

      Every word rings true. That's why I got out after 20 years.

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      1. babette feasts Jan 4, 2013 05:53 PM

        Pee on your own time!

        Yeah, it is all pretty much true, restaurants are run on too few people scrambling to get it all done, there is a cycle of abuse (usually verbal more than physical) and definitely an ethic of suck it up or get out. Still, this guy comes off as a whiner. I'd like to see him run a restaurant where he can afford to pay line cooks $18-20 an hour. Getting 'most of the prep list' done isn't good enough, and no, of course your employer doesn't want to pay for your workers comp claim. It is what it is, I wish it would change but I doubt it will. Meanwhile, those of us who choose to continue cooking have our reasons, if the writer would rather make more money and work fewer hours, he can always wait tables.

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        1. re: babette feasts
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          plasticanimal Jan 7, 2013 11:39 AM

          Are you perhaps a seafood chef?

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crab_men...

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          1. re: plasticanimal
            babette feasts Jan 7, 2013 01:31 PM

            No.

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        2. meatn3 Jan 5, 2013 12:09 PM

          The article would be a good wake up call for the hordes getting into serious dept going to culinary school.

          I meet so many people who assume they will have a very different work environment than this upon graduation. What he describes is the reality for the majority as far as pay/conditions/benefits goes.

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          1. f
            foodieX2 Jan 5, 2013 03:36 PM

            Is there any field where the entry level position *doesn't* suck? Seriously think about entry level retail, medical residents, nursing, oil rigs, office pools….

            You could write this article about any entry level job.

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            1. re: foodieX2
              mrsfury Jan 5, 2013 03:49 PM

              I would have to agree with you foodieX2. There are jobs that are physically harder in the beginning and others mentally more challenging but once you realize what the hell you are doing things get better. This guy makes it sound like once you enter the restaurant business you stay in a crap position forever, which is just not true. I think he'd rather collect food stamps than work. Is there no sense of pride in working anymore?

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              1. re: mrsfury
                twyst Jan 5, 2013 04:46 PM

                "This guy makes it sound like once you enter the restaurant business you stay in a crap position forever, which is just not true"

                Actually it IS true for the huge majority of cooks. There is no money in cooking unless you own a restaurant or are one of the few celebrity chefs.

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                1. re: twyst
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                  foodieX2 Jan 5, 2013 04:54 PM

                  My family full of "cooks" would disagree. My cousin, the head chef of a small, local tapas place comfortably supports his family of four. To say there is "no money" is disingenuous at best.

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                  1. re: foodieX2
                    twyst Jan 5, 2013 05:04 PM

                    Well he is very lucky that his wife doesnt have to work to help support the family, but I promise you its an outlier if he doesnt own a portion of his restaurant. Also, an overwhelming majority of cooks are never going to be chefs despite the amount of money spent on culinary education.

                    I dont have to ask family about what it's like to be a cook, I AM a cook. Im very fortunate in the fact that before my $60,000 culinary education (which is why comparing a cooks job to a job at the gap is ridiculous) I went to college, became an architect and am able to supplement my income with consulting work. Had I not had another profession before Id have to be working 90 hours a week just to stay afloat. The first 10-15 years of a cooks life are going to be spent making <$10 an hour, and for most people, its just not a livable wage in a major city.

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                    1. re: twyst
                      babette feasts Jan 5, 2013 06:12 PM

                      There is not a lot of money, and anyone who thinks they are going to get rich being a line cook is in for a surprise. However, less than $10 an hour for 10-15 years? It's not THAT bad. There is not a direct correlation of years of experience to wages (unless maybe you work at a unionized hotel), but someone skilled and motivated should be able to go from prep cook to line cook to lead line to sous chef. No, not everyone is going to be chef de cuisine or executive chef, but there is usually enough turnover to be able to move up a notch every few years. In WA, minimum wage is about to be $9.19 an hour. I think our line cooks make around $12-15.

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                      1. re: babette feasts
                        twyst Jan 5, 2013 06:18 PM

                        "minimum wage is about to be $9.19 an hour. I think our line cooks make around $12-15."

                        Jeez. $7.25 in texas for minimum wage, and its 7.25 in places like NYC etc. A sous here makes about 14 an hour.

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                        1. re: twyst
                          babette feasts Jan 5, 2013 06:39 PM

                          "Here" is Texas? Markets and cost of living are going to differ, for sure. I'm in Seattle, which is going to be more expensive than a lot of smaller cities and towns. In 2005 or so, I moved to San Francisco for the much-hyped restaurant scene. I went from making $13 an hour to a $40k salary (they asked me what I wanted and I had totally lowballed them, they almost laughed, I had no idea what the market would bear). It seemed like a ton of money, but my rent also went from $600 to $900/mo so that took care of that.

                          Lots of other variables too... cooking in fine dining doesn't necessarily pay more (my salary at my last fine dining job was laughable and the hours were ridiculous but the chef was a gem). Some places are generous enough to tip out to the kitchen (though legally it can't be required, only suggested). In my current job the kitchen gets tips, usually ends up adding about 75cent to $1 an hour, just enough to make us not hate the waitstaff :)

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                          1. re: babette feasts
                            twyst Jan 5, 2013 06:43 PM

                            ""Here" is Texas? Markets and cost of living are going to differ, for sure."

                            Unfortunately, the cost of living is skyrocketing in Austin as everyone seems to want to move here and we are having a huge invasion of people from silicon valley (another issue altogether but its CRAZY). Ive been here less than a year and spent my first couple of years as a cook coming up in NYC after I graduated CIA and the pay was not much better there sadly.

                            Im very lucky in the fact that I don't have to worry about money as much as the people I work with, but all of them are having to work multiple jobs and still cant stay afloat. Many of the immigrants I work with are never going to be sous chefs or chef de cuisines no matter how hard they work and the system is set up to take advantage of them :(

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                          2. re: twyst
                            TraderJoe Jan 5, 2013 07:12 PM

                            You must have lousy wages in Austin. The biggest reason so many young people are getting stuck so long with lousy wages in this field is because they keep listening to people who are clueless about this field telling them that going to school is a waste of $$$. Before they realize it ten years slip by and then their stuck, unable to go to school because they have to work and unable to progress because they didn't go to school.
                            The uneducated ones might spend ten years on the line moving up but if you went to the CIA and it takes you ten years to get to the top ( I seriously doubt that's the case) you really need to re-evaluate what your doing wrong because wages are not that low in all cities. I was paying my leads $15 an hour years ago in a midwest city with one of the lowest cost of living factors in the US.

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                        2. re: twyst
                          f
                          foodieX2 Jan 5, 2013 06:24 PM

                          Trust me, many of my employees went to college and paid dearly for their education. It is not ridiculous to compare a culinary education to say one at FIT. Not everyone who graduates from FIT starts out as a designer, buyer or production manager. They have to suffer thru years of measly entry level jobs and are treated very badly, all while having to pay off a very expensive educations.

                          The culinary word is not unique to sucky jobs that don't pay, In fact it is estimated that it takes a top graduate of harvard business school something like 30 years to pay of their loans if their employers/firms don't subsidize/pay them off for them. Off to try and find the article about just this fact…

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                          1. re: foodieX2
                            j
                            julesrules Jan 8, 2013 09:29 AM

                            That doesn't speak very well to the cost/benefit analysis skills of Harvard MBA candidates ;)
                            I'd be curious to see the article. I'm in Canada so I don't know the American loan system, but I imagine if the student loans are low-interest, grads may choose to spend their income on the lifestyle they had assumed came with the degree, and pay off the loans slowly. This might even be smart if the interest is lower than for mortgages, etc.

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                            1. re: julesrules
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                              Custardly Jan 9, 2013 02:23 AM

                              Yeah, most financial experts recommend not paying tuition loans off early because of the usually lower interest rate, the article likely won't account for that unless well researched. It's the same advice for low-interest rate mortgages—cheap money.

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                      2. re: twyst
                        Bill Hunt Jan 9, 2013 07:39 PM

                        Or, they could be asking, "do you want fries with that?"

                        Hunt

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                    2. re: foodieX2
                      tcamp Jan 5, 2013 07:15 PM

                      I thought the same thing upon reading his tale. And the resto business is hardly the only one in which owners/shareholders are hyper-focused on the bottom line.

                      I once had the the owner of a company shriek at me on a weekly basis that I'd be fired if I didn't reduce his workers comp rates by eliminating injuries (repetitive motion, mostly) in my division. Not a food business either.

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                      1. re: foodieX2
                        Josh Jan 10, 2013 10:41 PM

                        Not true. Entry level technical jobs like engineering or software development are much, much better than this. I've worked in both industries and there is no comparison.

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                        1. re: foodieX2
                          PotatoHouse Jan 11, 2013 03:36 AM

                          Exactly. My first job as a truck driver paid .19 cents a mile split between two team drivers in a cabover truck with only one bunk (if we were stopped waiting for a load, one of us had to sleep on the dog house).

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                        2. Will Owen Jan 5, 2013 04:37 PM

                          I'm not seeing all the self-pity and whining that many of us accuse this writer of. What he's documenting is a system that breeds abuse from top to bottom because restaurants would rather out-cheap each other than pay a living wage. Twice I've been to see and hear Tony Bourdain at a book-signing here in Pasadena, and twice I've seen him go off in a rage against the ungodly low wages in Los Angeles-area restaurants, at the impossibility of any line cook's being able to live on the income from just one job. Those wonderful $10-per-head meals we get at the San Gabriel Valley Chinese restaurants come at a steep price for those who feed us, but if any one of those places broke ranks and started paying decent money they'd be out of business in no time.

                          This is not sustainable, as the man says. We're going to run out of compliant immigrants one of these days, and those who are here are going to run out of patience.

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                          1. re: Will Owen
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                            foodieX2 Jan 5, 2013 04:49 PM

                            Bit you know what? The Gap Inc doesn't pay a living wage to their sales associates, never mind the stock associates. And if you calculated the hourly rate of their entry level store managers based on the hours they actually work you will find it is well below min. wage. Nursing moms are told stop nursing and "lunch" breaks are often 6 hours into a shift. Full time sales associate positions have basically been eliminated because they require the pay out of benefits and have been replaced with part time B associates who get virtually none.

                            Take a look at wages of the overnight crew in most grocery and convenient stores and you will find more of the same. You can practically read a new article every day about how Target and Walmart associates are complaining/suing/picketing about changes in pay and benefits.

                            None of this makes it right but I still say this article could be written by almost any entry level employee.

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                            1. re: Will Owen
                              babette feasts Jan 5, 2013 06:25 PM

                              It's not sustainable, and I am frequently amazed at the BS we just accept as part of the industry. But we do more or less have a choice what profession we choose, so comparing line cooks to farm animals who have no personal choice is stretching it.

                              I think what needs to happen is to shift to a model where both servers and cooks are paid a base wage based on position and experience, tips are not allowed, and a service charge is divided evenly among employees based on hours worked. Or no service charge, just higher prices. Enough money comes into the restaurant, it just doesn't make its way into the kitchen. I believe Thomas Keller has some policies that attempt to even out the disparities between FOH and BOH wages. Here: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/15/nyr...

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                              1. re: babette feasts
                                twyst Jan 5, 2013 06:31 PM

                                "Enough money comes into the restaurant, it just doesn't make its way into the kitchen."

                                This is very true. I worked my way through college the first time working as a bartender in fine dining restaurants. I made a pretty insane living for a 20 year old, and going to work as an architect was actually a pay cut from being a bartender in a fine dining atmosphere.

                                Id say I now probably make about 30% of what I made as a bartender now that Im a cook, and I work more hours now ><

                                Its a good thing Im doing this for the love and not for the money, thats for sure,

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                                1. re: twyst
                                  babette feasts Jan 5, 2013 06:48 PM

                                  Yup, love is key. Insanity helps too ;)

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                                2. re: babette feasts
                                  Will Owen Jan 6, 2013 03:19 PM

                                  I'm going to respond to both foodie and babette here by saying that the non-living wage in any field is a crime against both humanity and sound economics. Henry Ford was not exactly an enlightened humanitarian, but he understood that last part well enough to pay his workers $5 per day - the wage of a middle-class office worker at the time - so that they could afford to buy the cars they were making. That is I think a sound benchmark: can my employees afford a meal here? Or if not here - like French Laundry! - at least somewhere?

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                                  1. re: Will Owen
                                    Bill Hunt Jan 9, 2013 07:54 PM

                                    Now, a favorite nephew started as a line cook. He moved up to become the pastry chef, and then to a sous-chef role. While I never looked at his 1099's, he seemed very happy with his expanding roles.

                                    Hunt

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                                    1. re: Bill Hunt
                                      Shrinkrap Jan 10, 2013 09:17 PM

                                      Interesting.

                                      Meanwhile i hear some physicians are telling there kids "don't go there".

                                      Personally, I would not push my kids to choose either. At least not for the cost-benefit analysis.

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                              2. ipsedixit Jan 5, 2013 07:14 PM

                                I don't see the abuse.

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                                1. re: ipsedixit
                                  JuniorBalloon Jan 7, 2013 10:46 AM

                                  Guess it depends on how you define "abuse". Being yelled at, no breaks, being required to work hours you aren't being paid for. I think of these as abuse.

                                  jb

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                                  1. re: JuniorBalloon
                                    ipsedixit Jan 9, 2013 07:48 AM

                                    The workers are choosing to work there, at their own volition.

                                    I still fail to see the abuse.

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                                    1. re: ipsedixit
                                      JuniorBalloon Jan 9, 2013 09:13 AM

                                      Just because he chooses to put up with the abuse doesn't mean there is no abuse.

                                      jb

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                                      1. re: JuniorBalloon
                                        ipsedixit Jan 9, 2013 06:50 PM

                                        By that logic, every single employee out there is in some form of "abusive" relationship.

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                                        1. re: ipsedixit
                                          JuniorBalloon Jan 10, 2013 07:55 AM

                                          Not every, only the ones that are being asked to work hours they are not being paid for (and being asked as a condition of employment), those that are yelled and cursed at and those that are denied a break to take a pee.

                                          Not really sure why you have such an issue with acknowleding these are abusive tactics.

                                          jb

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                                          1. re: JuniorBalloon
                                            ipsedixit Jan 10, 2013 08:03 AM

                                            Lots of people are asked for work hours they are not being paid for, and do so as a condition of employment -- it's called be an exempt employee (or colloquially, management).

                                            Take flight attendants for example. They have to show up at the airport, board the plane, prep it, greet the passengers as they board, etc., but they do not start getting paid until the plane leaves the gate (or when the wheels are off the ground).

                                            Many types of workers do not routinely get to take breaks just to pee. Lifeguards, security guards, pro football players, 911 dispatchers, grocery store cash register clerks, live TV camera operators, postal workers, just to name a few.

                                            Are those people "abused" too?

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                                            1. re: ipsedixit
                                              JuniorBalloon Jan 10, 2013 08:37 AM

                                              I wouldn't include exempt employees. I am one and work whatever is neccesary to get the job done. I am paid a salary and that is a clear condition. If you ask an hourly employee to work for you and you do not pay him or her you are stealing from them. Do you condone theft? Just being common doesn't make it ok.

                                              Most of those jobs that you list as not getting breaks do indeed get breaks. Usually every 2 hours. Football Players? Really?

                                              jb

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                                              1. re: JuniorBalloon
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                                                latindancer Jan 10, 2013 09:33 AM

                                                <Do you condone theft?>

                                                Given your logic, I have a question for you. I pay my gardener a monthly salary. He comes twice a week and this last month, given Christmas and New Year's were both on a Tuesday (the day he works for me) he didn't come. As a rule, gardeners do not make up the day. Is he, by your logic, stealing from me?

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                                                1. re: latindancer
                                                  JuniorBalloon Jan 10, 2013 10:45 AM

                                                  Depends on what your agreement is with your gardener.

                                                  jb

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                                                  1. re: JuniorBalloon
                                                    l
                                                    latindancer Jan 10, 2013 11:11 AM

                                                    It's stealing. He gets paid but doesn't do the work.
                                                    There's no 'agreement'...I take it or leave it knowing the next one does the exact same thing.
                                                    It's all what we get used to and are willing to tolerate. An employer weighs the odds and lets things pass because sometimes it's just too hard, too time consuming and not cost productive, to start all over again with someone else. Employees know this and try and get away with as much as they can.

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                                                    1. re: latindancer
                                                      JuniorBalloon Jan 10, 2013 11:23 AM

                                                      I have a very clear agreement with my employer about holiday days. There is never a question about which days of the year those are. If there's no agreement, and you don't speak up you don't really have any reason to complain. In all of my work years I have never had such a grey area with an employer and think it must be very rare where the employee gets to set what days are holidays.

                                                      jb

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                                                      1. re: JuniorBalloon
                                                        l
                                                        latindancer Jan 10, 2013 08:41 PM

                                                        Eventually I'll write a book about what goes on with this particular workforce in the area where I live....
                                                        It's fascinating.

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                                                  2. re: latindancer
                                                    Shrinkrap Jan 10, 2013 09:23 PM

                                                    I would pay a lot for what I consider a "good gardener". I am pretty sure "gardener" ( or "blow and go") is not the title/credential I am looking for.

                                                    I also know there is not a great market in my community for what I am looking for.

                                                    But the cost of living is part of why I live here.

                                                    Sigh.

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                                                    1. re: Shrinkrap
                                                      ipsedixit Jan 10, 2013 09:35 PM

                                                      I would pay a lot for what I consider a "good gardener". I am pretty sure "gardener" ( or "blow and go") is not the title/credential I am looking for.
                                                      _________________

                                                      I believe the term is "horticultural stylist".

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                                                      1. re: ipsedixit
                                                        Shrinkrap Jan 10, 2013 10:07 PM

                                                        That sounds like someone who will tell me what to do. That's good. But what I sometimes need is somebody one who will actually DO it.

                                                        Please don't weed wack my grape vines and fig tree. Please don't prune my Meyer lemon. No; those sugar snaps are not weeds.

                                                        N E way, that's for another thread.

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                                                        1. re: Shrinkrap
                                                          ipsedixit Jan 10, 2013 10:13 PM

                                                          Do what? A "blow and go"?

                                                          (Sorry. Couldn't resist.)

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                                                        2. re: ipsedixit
                                                          Shrinkrap Jan 10, 2013 10:38 PM

                                                          But I need so one who will actually DO it.

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                                                    2. re: JuniorBalloon
                                                      ipsedixit Jan 10, 2013 09:55 AM

                                                      If you ask an hourly employee to work for you and you do not pay him or her you are stealing from them. Do you condone theft? Just being common doesn't make it ok.
                                                      _______________________

                                                      Yeah, I actually do call it theft. Theft by the employee.

                                                      When a restaurant employee is asked, as you put, work without getting paid, it's because they've fucked up and need to redo the work.

                                                      If I have a prep guy - paid hourly - doing the next morning's prep work, and he jacks it up, you fucking bet I'm going make him stay over (sans pay) and make sure it's right. And that's if he's lucky. If he's not, he's fired.

                                                      I'll give you an example - a personal one. I used to be a baker at a chain restaurant. When I "closed baked" which meant I had the last shift before the restaurant closed, I was required to prep the batter mixes, doughs, etc. for the next mornings "opening bake" shift. If I fucked up those preps, I had to stay behind and do it right -- without being on the clock. And, if I was fortunate, my manager didn't deduct the cost of ingredients from my paycheck.

                                                      It's par for the course. It's called doing your job. Strike that. It's called doing your job, right. It's not abuse.

                                                      Get over it.

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                                                      1. re: ipsedixit
                                                        JuniorBalloon Jan 10, 2013 10:43 AM

                                                        I'll have to re-read the article, but I don't recall that he was asked to work extra to make for his mistake. Just to do the prep that was normal for his station. If you fuck up you have to make it right, but that is not what we were talking about.

                                                        jb

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                                                        1. re: JuniorBalloon
                                                          ipsedixit Jan 10, 2013 10:59 AM

                                                          You get there early to do the prep, so to minimize the chances of fucking up when you're on the clock.

                                                          That's what responsible workers do, and it's what an employer expects out of a responsible employee. Especially in the restaurant business, or really any service-related industry.

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                                                          1. re: ipsedixit
                                                            JuniorBalloon Jan 10, 2013 11:11 AM

                                                            15-20 minutes maybe, but not 1 1/2 hours.

                                                            jb

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                                                            1. re: ipsedixit
                                                              t
                                                              Tom34 Jan 10, 2013 07:25 PM

                                                              That's what they used to do. Its an upside down world today my friend.

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                                                          2. re: ipsedixit
                                                            p
                                                            plasticanimal Jan 10, 2013 10:53 AM

                                                            You seem a little too bitter to be advising others to "get over it". You get that, right?

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                                                            1. re: plasticanimal
                                                              ipsedixit Jan 10, 2013 10:56 AM

                                                              No, not bitter (at least not about this issue).

                                                              Rather, I am just "realistic".

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                                                            2. re: ipsedixit
                                                              b
                                                              bobbert Jan 10, 2013 11:08 AM

                                                              Can't let this one go... if an hourly employee is working for you regardless of the reason (I.e. fixing a fuck up), by law, he gets paid. To not pay him is not only abusive, it's illegal. In your example, if you did a particularly stellar job that day and got everything done early did your boss say "take the next hour off, I'll punch you out on the clock later"? Or did he "cut you" early to save the extra hour of labor costs and help the employer's bottom line? I'll bet on the later.
                                                              As for whether or not the line cooks are abused, I'd say yes with a caveat. No one is holding a gun to their head. They're free to move on. Yeah, they don't get breaks in the middle of a rush and they can't always count on 40 hours a week during slow periods but in the end, it's their choice. Under paid? Probably. Overworked? Probably. Under appreciated? Again, yes BUT no one is forcing you to do that job. It's basic economics. The market sets your pay.

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                                                              1. re: bobbert
                                                                ipsedixit Jan 10, 2013 11:11 AM

                                                                Can't let this one go... if an hourly employee is working for you regardless of the reason (I.e. fixing a fuck up), by law, he gets paid. To not pay him is not only abusive, it's illegal.
                                                                ______________________

                                                                Agreed. It's illegal.

                                                                But it's also legal for the employer to fire your ass for fucking up.

                                                                So, I guess, the choice is yours, and like you said with your caveat ... no one is holding a gun to their heads.

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                                                                1. re: ipsedixit
                                                                  linguafood Jan 10, 2013 11:41 AM

                                                                  Yet.

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                                                                  1. re: ipsedixit
                                                                    b
                                                                    bobbert Jan 10, 2013 07:30 PM

                                                                    "But it's also legal for the employer to fire your ass for fucking up"
                                                                    I have a kid who's a sous chef. Puts in at least 65 hours per week. Little money. No life. No complaints. He would never let one of his line cooks work off the clock. Also, he's always watching labor costs and will cut someone asap. Does he fire people who fu? He has but it has to be consistent, regular, repeated fu's or else he'd be the only one working. Everyone fu's occasionally. Try feeding 300 people a night and have everthing be perfect every time. Ain't gonna happen. Good line cooks are hard to come by, great ones even harder. They all screw up now and then. If you show up on time, work hard, do a good job and keep the mistakes to a minimum, your job is pretty safe. There's not a huge line of quality people lining up for that cushy $10 per hour job and the last thing anyone wants is to train a new guy.

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                                                                    1. re: bobbert
                                                                      ipsedixit Jan 10, 2013 08:03 PM

                                                                      You're now talking and discussing a different issue.

                                                                      Just because there is one example (your child cum sous chef) who treats his staff differently than what the author describes in the OP linked article does not, ipso facto, make what's described in the article synonymous with abuse.

                                                                      It just simply means that not all restaurant staffers experience the same type of working environment as that described in the OP linked article.

                                                                      But again, that by itself does not make a normatively descriptive case of what people are here calling "abuse".

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                                                                      1. re: ipsedixit
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                                                                        bobbert Jan 10, 2013 08:26 PM

                                                                        Actually I think my son falls into the norm in the business. He's worked in probably 10 places in 4 states over the years on the line and in management and there's little difference.
                                                                        One thing I will say is that what is considered "normal" in a kitchen would totally freak out your average white collar worker. Have your typical HR director spend some time in a kitchen and he/she wouldn't know where to start. The language. The sexism. The threats of physical violence. No breaks. It's a pretty crass world that defies most people's ideas of normal and may appear to many as abusive but it's just another Saturday night in the kitchen.
                                                                        It's also another one of those jobs like landscaper or farm worker that is just plain physically demanding which keeps many of our entitled youth out of the business. Ever wonder why there are so many South and Central Americans working in kitchens on the line? They're the only ones willing to put up with all the so called "abuse" for $10 per hour.

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                                                                        1. re: bobbert
                                                                          ipsedixit Jan 10, 2013 08:39 PM

                                                                          Having grown up in restaurant kitchens, I know exactly what the environment is like.

                                                                          No one set of standards can apply to all working environments.

                                                                          What's appropriate in the executive suite is not in the shipyard and what's appropriate for a longshoreman is most definitely not suitable for a schoolteacher.

                                                                          This is why it's so silly to describe any working environment as abusive when the lens we are using to judge is one what we are most comfortable with.

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                                                              2. re: JuniorBalloon
                                                                TraderJoe Jan 11, 2013 04:21 AM

                                                                "I wouldn't include exempt employees"

                                                                Hmmm That seems like a rather odd stance. Theft is theft. Exempt employee or not. IMO exempt employees in this industry get abused just as much as hourly workers. I've seen a lot of places working exempt employees to the point where they were making less than minimum wage. Worse yet employers capitalize on that because so few exempt employees realize that they are still entitled to OT. It's been some time since I looked at that but IIR the Federal calculation is 1/2 time for over 44 hours in a week.

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                                                              3. re: ipsedixit
                                                                monfrancisco Jan 10, 2013 05:18 PM

                                                                Many types of workers also are members of unions that have bargained the pee-break out in favor of other dispensations or perks (several of your examples as well as crane operators come to mind). No particular dog in this fight, but I work in an industry where Management By Yelling and Screaming is the norm, and I don't much like that part of it.

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                                                    mojoeater Jan 5, 2013 07:45 PM

                                                    I've got to agree with foodieX2. Entry level positions suck and it is up to the individual to get the experience/education to move up the ladder. Restaurant work is tough. So is retail, construction, shop work, and anything else that keeps you on your feet. Teachers often have a higher education yet are paid crap and have both a physically and emotionally demanding job. At least as a line cook you leave work at work.

                                                    My husband used to be faculty in biology labs at the university level. Starting pay for someone with lab experience was about $26k plus benefits and he worked way more than 40 hours/week. Considering that adds up to less than $12.50/hour, isn't it fair that staff with no experience/education got the minimum wage of $7?

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                                                    1. re: mojoeater
                                                      JonParker Jan 6, 2013 01:15 AM

                                                      I don't think it's ever fair that someone earns $7 hour.

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                                                        mojoeater Jan 6, 2013 09:30 AM

                                                        If you increase pay for unskilled labor, don't you have to increase wages for everyone else accordingly? Many businesses could not sustain that. The other option would be to employ fewer people and distribute the additional work amongst them. Not a good situation either.

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                                                        1. re: mojoeater
                                                          Will Owen Jan 6, 2013 03:28 PM

                                                          If you increase pay to a living wage your employees will spend that money into the economy, and that will continue to circulate and grow the tax base and prosperity in general. Money simply accumulating has zero effect on the economy; circulation is what makes it happen. This is why austerity programs are stifling the economies of those Eurozone countries.

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                                                          1. re: Will Owen
                                                            JonParker Jan 7, 2013 06:10 PM

                                                            Will, exactly.

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                                                              mojoeater Jan 7, 2013 07:41 PM

                                                              I fully understand the concept of how circulating money stimulates the economy. But what I'm addressing is this: if I own a restaurant and have 2 Minimum wage workers, let's say a dishwasher and a busboy, at $7.25/hour and 3 more experienced workers (let's say line cooks) at $12/hour, that is $404 for an 8 hour shift. If I increase the minimum wage to what is considered a living wage of $13/hour, I have to increase pay for the more experienced workers too. Let's say my line cooks are now getting $17/hour. That means the same 8 hour shift now costs me $616. That is a 52% increase in my cost for the same amount of work. And that's only for the 5 lowest paid workers. I'd have to increase other staff pay as well. It's hard to look at the big picture that is the economy when trying to balance my own books. And I say this as someone who lived on minimum wage when it was about $4/hour.

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                                                              1. re: mojoeater
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                                                                plasticanimal Jan 8, 2013 01:16 PM

                                                                So in this scenario you need three line cooks, a dishwasher and a bus boy, but you're not selling any food?

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                                                                1. re: mojoeater
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                                                                  Tom34 Jan 10, 2013 07:28 PM

                                                                  Your dealing with reality!!!!!! Not everyone else is!!!!!!

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                                                                2. re: Will Owen
                                                                  BiscuitBoy Jan 8, 2013 06:24 AM

                                                                  Money is like muck, not good except it be spread...Mmmm Bacon

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                                                                    Tom34 Jan 10, 2013 07:32 PM

                                                                    $$$$$, not good if not earned!!!!!! Maybe I am an idiot or a fool, but that's how I understand it. Certainly not an idiot so I must be a fool!

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                                                                    1. re: Tom34
                                                                      melpy Jan 11, 2013 04:35 AM

                                                                      This is what I tried to tell my class and they said they don't mind taking something that someone else earned, it is still the same item. I asked if they felt pride if they earned it and they said no. Apparently there is no pride or value to "doing the job right" anymore.

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                                                                  2. re: Will Owen
                                                                    Bill Hunt Jan 9, 2013 07:58 PM

                                                                    No, the Euro-zone economies are being stifled with the entitlements - retirement at age 48, full payment of the highest salary, full medical care, and many others.

                                                                    One option is to just close down the restaurant, and let the employees file for unemployment for 10 years, if they can.

                                                                    If we could only get 100% of the workforce on unemployment, with federal subsidies to pay for the latest iPhones, then all would be great - oh wait, who will pay for that?

                                                                    Hunt

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                                                                      Tom34 Jan 10, 2013 06:55 AM

                                                                      Between long term SSI, The big "W" & continuously extended Unemployment Benefits we are practically there. Has done wonders though for the cell phone industry, the manicure folks & Jerry Springer's ratings.

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                                                                      1. re: Bill Hunt
                                                                        linguafood Jan 10, 2013 11:37 AM

                                                                        Retirement age at 48? Pray tell what country in the EU you're referring to?

                                                                        The only people racking in entitlements are the ones who need it the least: banks, corporations, and the rich.

                                                                        Oh, wait. They all worked their ways up from the bottom.

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                                                                  3. re: JonParker
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                                                                    latindancer Jan 9, 2013 08:42 AM

                                                                    <I don't think it's ever fair that someone earns $7 hour>

                                                                    "Fair"? Isn't it *my* choice to decide what is 'fair' for me and decide how or if I want to make a change?
                                                                    Nobody's twisting anyone's arm to stay in a job that doesn't seem 'fair' unless there's obvious abuse.
                                                                    Earning 50 cents an hour babysitting, as a 10 year old, years ago....it never entered my mind it wasn't 'fair'. It's just what the going rate was and I accepted it. I worked harder, cleaning the house and babysitting together, and they paid me 75. Eventually I wanted more and went out and found another type of job. It's how it works in a capitalist society.

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                                                                    1. re: latindancer
                                                                      Bill Hunt Jan 9, 2013 08:02 PM

                                                                      No, "fair" will be decided by a bunch of bureaucrats, who earn $ 500K per year, and have unlimited healthcare, a golden retirement plan, all paid by those who actually do work.

                                                                      Some need to watch out for which they wish. It will come back to bite them.

                                                                      Hunt

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                                                                      1. re: latindancer
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                                                                        Tom34 Jan 10, 2013 07:07 PM

                                                                        Yeah, I have similar memories....Paper route at 12, then moved up to restaurant labor. Was just glad to have a job. The only time "fair" entered the picture was who got the job, not how much it paid. I'm really not that old but sometimes I wonder if I am an old fart because I just don't understand this whole entitlement attitude.

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                                                                        1. re: Tom34
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                                                                          latindancer Jan 10, 2013 08:56 PM

                                                                          <just don't understand this whole entitlement attitude>

                                                                          It's rationalized by those who truly believe that the ones that work hard and excel are the enemies....

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                                                                          1. re: Tom34
                                                                            Josh Jan 10, 2013 10:50 PM

                                                                            I think it's astounding how the right-wing have managed to make the request for fair pay for a day's work into "entitlement".

                                                                            Entitlement is getting money for nothing, you know, like the big corporations and banks that get bailed out when they blow up the economy. Workers expecting decent pay for physically demanding work that can't realistically be maintained into retirement is a far cry from "entitlement".

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                                                                              latindancer Jan 11, 2013 12:00 AM

                                                                              <Entitlement is getting money for nothing>

                                                                              Correct. The idea of being paid money for work that is not completed. Our present system is loaded with entitlements for people who don't necessarily need/care to work. Just because a person has a job, they're not entitled to pay if the job is not completed or meets the employer's standard.

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                                                                              1. re: latindancer
                                                                                Josh Jan 11, 2013 12:30 AM

                                                                                You should probably learn something about labor laws before opining so confidently, though I don't doubt that the GOP would love to make payment for labor optional. Entitlements are only for rich people.

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                                                                                1. re: latindancer
                                                                                  Josh Jan 11, 2013 12:33 AM

                                                                                  http://www.dol.gov/opa/aboutdol/lawsp...

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                                                                                2. re: Josh
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                                                                                  Tom34 Jan 11, 2013 03:15 AM

                                                                                  Easy with the right wing stuff. The bailouts the financial institutions got were the end result of politicians on BOTH sides of the isle relaxing long term regulations.

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                                                                                  1. re: Tom34
                                                                                    Josh Jan 11, 2013 03:34 AM

                                                                                    I see no reason why I should take it easy. The anti-labor propaganda machine is working overtime to persuade the gullible that Americans are lazy, unwilling to work, and seeking handouts. Why on earth would you say that someone asking for a living wage when busting their hump by working long hours is feeling entitled?

                                                                                    It's astounding how this picture is painted of poor people, who often have to work multiple jobs to try to pay their bills, are somehow lazy and deserving of contempt while the children of millionaires, born into privilege and influence, are the hard-working champions of our economy.

                                                                                    Ignorance of history is all that this is.

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                                                                                    Tom34 Jan 11, 2013 03:25 AM

                                                                                    I have a friend who owns a masonry company. Unskilled labor gets $12.00 p/hr, skilled labor gets $30.00. Increasingly, his workforce is made up of foreigners because he just can't get young Americans to work. When he does get an American, they never want to start at the bottom and work their way up. That is but one example of what I am talking about. Pay them on a Thursday & you won't see them on Friday is another.

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                                                                            cresyd Jan 7, 2013 05:35 AM

                                                                            I wonder if the presence of these articles is partially tied to the fact that there is a growing spotlight on the profession of cooking and celebrity chefs. With the greater attention put on the industry, these issues are going to have a greater likilihood of gaining more attention than say the working conditions of field hands or fishermen.

                                                                            The way that Heather behaved on Top Chef Season 9, made a lot of viewers uncomfortable. It may be representative of an actual kitchen, it may not be - but it was an insight that definitely generated a whole lot of discussion on the CH boards in a heavily negative tone to her behavior and people actively not supporting her restaurant (or at least claiming to - if you don't live in the Chicago area then saying "I'd never eat there" is far different than if you lived next door).

                                                                            If you relate it to something like politics that has always had a lot of exposure, but now with the internet/24 hour tv news/etc has even greater visibility - stuff that wasn't as visible before, now is and thus makes behavior more scrutinized. I don't think there's going to be a major OSHA crack down on the restaurant industry or wide sweeping HR changes, but I think that articles like this are largely emblamatic of more general attention to cooking.

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                                                                            1. re: cresyd
                                                                              JuniorBalloon Jan 7, 2013 10:47 AM

                                                                              I would say yes. Nowadays anything you do can end on YouTube for everyone to see. More like living in a small town.

                                                                              jb

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                                                                            2. JuniorBalloon Jan 7, 2013 10:51 AM

                                                                              I didn't think of this fellow as being in an entry level position. He's worked for 11years. Are all line cook positions entrylevel? And even if they are don't/shouldn't you get paid more for having more skills?

                                                                              It is a stretch to directly compare a line cook to an animal, I only meant to highlight that some are more concerened about the animals welfare and haven't considered the people. I fall into that category. It makes me uncomfortable to know the person making my meal is being treated poorly.

                                                                              I also realize that this kind of behavior is not limited to this industry, but this is CHand the article is about restaurant workers.

                                                                              jb

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                                                                              1. re: JuniorBalloon
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                                                                                plasticanimal Jan 7, 2013 11:21 AM

                                                                                "It makes me uncomfortable to know the person making my meal is being treated poorly."

                                                                                I think some people love it, and wouldn't have it any other way. They have a running list in the back of their minds of every time they ever suffered or were made to feel small, and their only comfort is in knowing someone else is suffering because of them. It reenforces their position in their imaginary hierarchy, and makes all of their suffering worthwhile.

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                                                                              2. mrbigshotno.1 Jan 7, 2013 05:57 PM

                                                                                Great investigative reporting Willoughby, is your journalism stab paying you enough?, or do you not have to earn you lumps there? Nature of the biz my man, it's easy to bitch when you don't have to take any monetary risk that goes with ownership. They pay them plenty in Vegas and they still walk off the job and complain "nobody appreciates my skills".
                                                                                If you can't stand te heat..........

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                                                                                  Custardly Jan 7, 2013 09:41 PM

                                                                                  While I understand the point of his article, I kept thinking he needs to get his head out of the hole because this is emblematic of other industries too, which he finally acknowledged at the end.

                                                                                  I know far too many people in other industries that only earn $10-12/hour. In my top-ten major city, as of 2010, 34% of households had a maximum income of $33k. That's household income, not individual.

                                                                                  Sure more needs to be done about sustenance wages, but this seemed too much like just another generation y'er valuing themself too highly. Seriously what more can be expected if you persist to "bro down" to participate in machismo behavior, and tolerate abuse. What ever happened to elevating yourself beyond the prevalent culture?

                                                                                  As long as line cooks remain dead-end careers for people who are unable to obtain other jobs, low wages will persist for those who consider their job a profession; and regardless of how much experience, it's considered entry-level because most anybody can learn it.

                                                                                  I'm compelled to point out that I was not surprised he is 26 since he already told us his culinary career started at 14 and spanned 11 years—hardly the schocker he thought it to be.

                                                                                  Lastly, how in the heck are wages supposed to improve if he, all his buddies, and every other restaurant worker, is stealing by giving one another "hook-ups"? Perhaps another example of his entitlement mentality.

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                                                                                  1. re: Custardly
                                                                                    babette feasts Jan 7, 2013 11:08 PM

                                                                                    I'm not saying the young author does not have an entitlement mentality, but you can't really give a hook-up on the sly. I suppose you could surreptitiously make something and give it directly to a server, or make a particular dish with a greater proportion of goodies, extra caviar or whatever. But extra courses for industry friends are common and accepted. If I see a friend's name on the reservation book, I might make a note to send them dessert on me, or if a line cook has friends coming in, he would talk with the chef de cuisine or whomever is expediting about an extra course to send them. The silver needs to be set and the course fit into the meal, so it works much better to do it on the up and up, we are not talking slipping steaks out the back door. A few places give an industry discount of 10% once they recognize you, or I often get comped a drink or dessert once the server or bartender learns where I work. Just tonight I was comped dessert, didn't know anyone at that restaurant, just a professional courtesy after chatting with the server about the dearth of good restaurants open on Monday, a typical chef's night off. Still, I don't dine out expecting discounts or freebies, and I think one should always accept them as a delightful surprise and not an entitlement.

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                                                                                    1. re: babette feasts
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                                                                                      Blueicus Jan 8, 2013 12:47 AM

                                                                                      Most owners understand the concept of the hook-up and have ways for accounting for it. Besides, things like that shouldn't be happening enough to make a dent on the bottom line.

                                                                                      Also, to spend 11 years in the Industry and not want to advance to a managerial position due to the burden of responsibility is a cop-out in my eyes; if you're not willing to climb the ladder you can expect a substantial payraise. Speaking from personal experience if I can become a sous chef within 6 years and chef after 7 with just a bit of luck and some hard work (and no culinary diploma to boot, though I did nab a couple university degrees on the way) then so should most people.

                                                                                      Despite this I won't deny that if some owners weren't so obsessed with squeezing money out of their restaurants then perhaps cooks could afford the finer things and have some time off to see their loved ones, but change like that must come from the new generation of restaurant owners

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                                                                                      1. re: Blueicus
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                                                                                        Custardly Jan 8, 2013 01:35 AM

                                                                                        Yeah, that sentence was intentionally over-dramatic to emphasize how out of touch he seems.

                                                                                        Also, in describing the workers I probably sound too harsh, while I should have said unable or 'unwilling', I definitely am not disparaging the profession.

                                                                                        While it'd be great if all worker levels earned more, I also can see how it's a cop-out. It's a given that if we want higher pay, then we have to make a greater commitment to our profession which usually includes greater responsibility, greater production, or both.

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                                                                                      2. re: babette feasts
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                                                                                        Custardly Jan 8, 2013 01:02 AM

                                                                                        Young author indeed, if he had explained in the manner you did I wouldn't have made the presumption.

                                                                                        Hook-up conveys other connotations to me, perhaps we "bro down" differently. I served for a very short time, it wasn't uncommon to see things left to server preparation to be given freely...sometimes to a friend, but mostly to generate a larger tip.

                                                                                        Thanks for sharing your informed perspective.

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                                                                                    2. Lillipop Jan 8, 2013 12:43 AM

                                                                                      If you can't take the heat then stay out of the kitchen:)

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                                                                                        terrynuz Jan 8, 2013 01:42 AM

                                                                                        i give line cooks a thumbs up. jobs well done. but everyone need more money ....with out you guys it would be a mess

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                                                                                        1. JuniorBalloon Jan 8, 2013 08:33 AM

                                                                                          I would also add that the money issue is not as big for me as being expected to work more hours than you're being paid, getting yelled and cursed at and not being able to take a break.

                                                                                          The pay issue is much more complicated and is very dependent on the owner, what type of restaurant it is and the food they serve. The owner is taking the risk yes, but we all know there are good owners and crappy owners. Crappy ones are willing to sacrifice people for profits instead of appreciating their workers and compensating them properly. This always leads to burnout, turnover and has to affect the quality of the food coming out of the kitchen.

                                                                                          jb

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                                                                                          1. re: JuniorBalloon
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                                                                                            Custardly Jan 8, 2013 09:09 AM

                                                                                            Yeah, unless it was somehow to my benefit (like bucking for a promotion), I refused free overtime. At one (non-restaurant) job, they tired of paying me overtime, so my position became salaried, a win for both employer and me.

                                                                                            It's too bad he wasn't interested in being management where he could effect some change that he advocates for, if not in wages, then at the least working conditions.

                                                                                            Although while complaining about poor management, he failed to indicate what he felt properly qualified someone for the position. It's convenient that he didn't want managerial responsibilities, because based on his own argument against working ones way up the ladder, he didn't qualify.

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                                                                                            1. re: Custardly
                                                                                              JuniorBalloon Jan 8, 2013 09:26 AM

                                                                                              I took his comments about mgt being that the higher up you went the more crap you had to deal with. More unpaid hours, more stress etc. And unless you're the owner or have the ear of the owner there is little chance of implimenting the changes I'm sure he'd like to see.

                                                                                              The whole macho culture of the kitchen, where if you cut off your finger you're supposed to sew it back on with fishing line all the while never slowing down at your station, is seriously messed up.

                                                                                              If only we could all work for Eric Ripert.

                                                                                              jb

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                                                                                              1. re: JuniorBalloon
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                                                                                                Blueicus Jan 9, 2013 12:18 AM

                                                                                                What job exists where there is less crap and less stress the higher up you go? I'm curious. Besides, using that as an excuse to not steer for changes in the system is pretty sad... basically said person just wants to complain but not do the hard work of enacting change... revolution is not a dinner party

                                                                                                Also I'm sure at le bernardin you'll find lots of stressed, underpaid, tired and overworked cooks and chefs, no matter how pleasant Mr. Ripert may be

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                                                                                                1. re: Blueicus
                                                                                                  TraderJoe Jan 9, 2013 05:49 AM

                                                                                                  "I'm sure at le bernardin you'll find lots of stressed, underpaid, tired and overworked cooks and chefs, no matter how pleasant Mr. Ripert may be"

                                                                                                  I'm sure that's true but that's the price you pay for working under a Chef that can make your career. IME the more popular the Chef you work for the lower the wage. It's been some time since I looked but IIR Keller actually charges people to stage or do an Internship @ the FL. Celeb Chef's know the value of their name. At least if you work for Chef Ripert you get to use awesome house knives (Nenox Corian) although Justo still uses goof ole Wusties.

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                                                                                                  1. re: Blueicus
                                                                                                    JuniorBalloon Jan 9, 2013 09:22 AM

                                                                                                    There is a train of thought in this thread that because some of the conditions the article points out exist in other trades they are not worth noting. While all managerial positions come with more responsibility, they don't all come with more crap. In any position it all comes down to is the crap I take worth the compensation. I think this article is about one persons take on that equation in his chosen profession and how he feels about it at this time in his life. Who knows where that will take him in the future.

                                                                                                    My thought on reading this, as a person who uses the services of the restaurant business, is I don't want to eat food made by workers that are abused. I feel that way about everyone in the food chain that leads to my mouth. I try to do what I can about that with and within the limited resources and knowledge that I have.

                                                                                                    jb

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                                                                                              Tom34 Jan 9, 2013 07:17 PM

                                                                                              In the 80'sit was Greeks & Turks. Now its Mexicans. Hopefully the Mexicans will learn from the Greeks & Turks, work hard, work every station in the kitchen, save your $$$ and open your own place.

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                                                                                                ahuva Jan 9, 2013 07:54 PM

                                                                                                Hard to be shocked...i read and believed bourdain's 'kitchen confidential'. food network would have us believe that every kitchen is clean, professional, and a joy to be in, but the truth is oftentimes very far from that vision.

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                                                                                                1. s
                                                                                                  susanl143 Jan 10, 2013 12:03 PM

                                                                                                  I'm learning some things here about some regulars on CH that I never wanted to know. If you think that paying a poverty level wage for hard work and adding rude and abusive behavior to that is an okay way to do business, you shouldn't be in business. I am reading some writers here saying that less than minimum wage is just necessary to do business. These are the same people who say if you can't afford to leave a decent tip, you can't afford to eat out. Well the same is true of the restaurant business. If you can't pay a decent wage for a decent days work, than you can't afford to be in business. Close. If you think you can get away with paying less than the law requires and far less than actual life requires because your workers aren't the best, then get rid of those incompetent workers (and what did you expect for the pittance you were paying anyhow?). pay more and get what you pay for. if the economics of your business won't support that, you are in the wrong business.

                                                                                                  People stay in bad jobs for all kinds of reasons. You can always find some to exploit and some of those will find a way to even or get ahead of you by sneaky ways. All in all, it is a recipe for a bad restaurant, with angry employees who feel rightfully abused and at odds with their employer. As a taxpayer, I also feel abused because those underpaid employees qualify for public assistance despite working day and night. Work out a business model that allows your employees to make a living or get out of the business and let the restaurants that treat employees fairly get your customers.

                                                                                                  2 Replies
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                                                                                                  1. re: susanl143
                                                                                                    Rodzilla Jan 11, 2013 12:30 AM

                                                                                                    agreed

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                                                                                                    1. re: susanl143
                                                                                                      Josh Jan 11, 2013 12:44 AM

                                                                                                      Well said.

                                                                                                      My first real restaurant job was for a place that was extremely busy on weekend evenings. It seemed we could never get everything we needed done before opening, so we started showing up anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour early to make sure we'd be ready for the opening crowds. Management put a stop to that, because it meant overtime pay. Meanwhile the a**hole owner would routinely bring in his friends and comp them all kinds of freebies to show off his greatness.

                                                                                                      This is a sick society.

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                                                                                                    2. Josh Jan 11, 2013 03:47 AM

                                                                                                      Probably the dumbest aspect of the responses here are the people who believe that their own personal examples of being unfairly exploited mean that everyone should be unfairly exploited.

                                                                                                      All this article really demonstrates is that unions need to return as a significant force - not only here in the USA but around the globe. The only reason unions lost so much power here is due to globalization and the resulting race to the bottom.

                                                                                                      Since cooking is part of the service industry, it seems that this is an ideal workforce to unionize since you can't outsource your kitchen staff.

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                                                                                                      1. The Chowhound Team Jan 11, 2013 06:42 AM

                                                                                                        Folks, the finer points of labor laws and compensation are really not topics we cover on Chowhound, so we're going to close this discussion now.

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