This is Chef Frank. Shhh…Don’t wake him. He’s been working since 6am.
I took this photo in 2006 while working in Miami. Chef Frank was one of the two hardest working men I’ve ever met. The other guy was Jose.
Jose and I worked on a slamming pizza line in 2001. He was so fast at topping that I would throw crusts one after the other almost without pause. Jose would handle the topping, cooking, cutting, and boxing by himself. We worked great together and even had code words for when pretty girls walked in to make sure we both looked up. We were great work buddies.
When we closed each evening I clocked out and left. Jose also clocked out but stayed and worked as a contracted janitorial service so he could work 14-16 hours a day without earning overtime. On his days off he had a side job fixing cars. Jose worked virtually all waking hours and never seemed to do anything for himself.
Truth be told, I don’t know much about Chef Frank. I know that we worked in the best fine-dining restaurant in Miami. We were open dinner-only six days a week and he never took any extra days off. The basic schedule was to start work anytime we wanted but never past 1pm. The main cooks would all be in at about 12:45. I would arrive by noon; Chef Frank had already been there for about many hours. Each night I left with all the other cooks, usually about 11pm. Frank was usually still there.
He had an apartment somewhere within walking distance and never drove. One time he drove his Acura RSX to work so he could wash it behind the restaurant. Then he drove it home and walked back to work. He bought the car new about two years prior and had less than 700 miles on it. He was always at the restaurant except for a short, semi-regular afternoon workout.
Conservative estimate: (17 hours per day – 1 hour break) x 6 days per week = 96 hours per week
So much is said about chefs and their long hours. Insane hours are not only a rite of passage, but a badge of honor. One friend of mine will publicly shame any server for complaining about double shifts. Server doubles are only 8 to 10 hours.
A “double” is 16 hours or it ISN’T A DOUBLE!” – Chef Joel
Is this really something to be proud of? This life where you are constantly busy with work and have no down time? The last traditional restaurant job I had often required 12 hour shifts. So I guess I never worked doubles there.
While I admired Jose, Joel, and Frank for incredible work ethic and high food standards, I never wanted that to be my story. Would you?
Don’t settle for the old story
The hard life of mandatory long hours for a great restaurant chef or manager is overly-romanticized. Being busy is not a value. Effectiveness is a value, but effectiveness is not measured by hours worked. In fact it can be better measured by hours not required to work. 16 hour days are a sign that the system isn’t optimized.
Food service in any business is a series of systems; some simple, others complex. Systems can always be hacked, revised, and improved. Don’t settle for the old story that a manager must work insane hours…It’s a myth.
Instead, fix the system.