Chef Hours Continue to Tumble as Crisis Shortage Bites

It started slowly but the move to reduce chef hours is becoming a reality. More and more establishments have come to accept and realise that the only future they have is a happy one. Fewer chefs are prepared to work the hours they did before for the same money.  

And, as a result, smart operators have realised that the best way to keep their staff is to keep them happy and motivated. Sat Bains reduced the number of services before the pandemic. Michel Roux stopped lunch at Le Gavroche once it was over. Simon Wood is planning to cut output to five good services a week and now Mike Robinson will stop serving lunch during the week at his restaurants The Harwood Arms, The Elder and The Woodsman. 

There are few who would disagree. The move has been coming for a long time and the old-school attitude of working every hour just for the badge was never going to last. In the 1990’s/ 2000’s there were a generation of chefs schooled in the Marco Pierre White way – exhausted, bedraggled, passionate, brilliant. The mark of a young chef in those days was his or her ambition to master the craft no matter the hours. Back then it was the only way to succeed. 

However,  times change and with them attitudes and ambitions. American kitchens have known for a long time that the work/life balance is important for motivation and lower staff turnover. Now it’s our turn to come to the same conclusion. 

Robinson told The Daily Telegraph’s William Sitwell: “If you are working lunch and dinner 5 days a week then you are exhausted on your two days off.” And this seems to be the nub of it. But, in reality it’s more than that. The exhaustion that chefs are experiencing is not only from the physical work they do but also the mental side of cooking. There is simply too much to learn in too short a time.  

Robinson continued: “We want to put the focus on quality and effort in the evening and have longer evening services. Customer satisfaction is higher, our staff are so happy and you’re only ever as good as the people you work with. If we want to get the restaurant industry booming again the one thing we have to do is look after our staff.” 

What that means in reality are weeks consisting of 45-55 hours – not 70. That has to be a good thing. Harness that with achievable artisan skills and the restaurant industry will be diverse, happy and strong.