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What About The Chefs? The Unfortunate Realities Of the Culinary Sector that I had Never Thought About Before

05/09/2017 11:51 BST | Updated 05/09/2017 11:51 BST

"No! Don't tip!"

"What? But isn't it fair to tip 10%?"

"No, you don't understand."

This sudden exclamation from my friend quickly paved the way for a passionate monologue on her part about something that I had never really previously considered. She went on to highlight how, while waiters have a chance of being rewarded for their hard work through gratuity, those who actually make your food are never tipped for what they do.

It is understandable that my friend was particularly emotional about this issue, as she herself is a chef in a particularly fancy restaurant. She works long, hard hours and I barely get to see her as she is rarely free from work. My friend explained to me that "most restaurants make you sign an opt out contract which means you agree to work more than 48 hours per week, that means Monday to Saturday. You can easily end up working 10 days in a row."

The customer simply cannot see what is going on behind closed kitchen doors. If you were to witness the chefs labouring hard, and meticulously preparing food, that is in many ways considered to be an art form - particularly in the finer restaurants, you might start to consider how well they are treated in more depth. This is not to suggest that waiters in restaurants are never exploited either, however, but my friend made the point that at least waiters can be rewarded for their time; that option is available to the customer. If the chefs are lucky they might be given a good word every now and then, but this doesn't translate financially.

I then pointed out to my friend that if chefs are working so much harder than waiters then, surely, they must be paid more? Also, don't chefs have more of a chance of upwards mobility through their roles, that come alongside promotions? My friend states in response that cooks, in reality, are paid a similar amount to waiters, despite their additional efforts. She also highlights that while chefs can eventually be promoted, so can waiters - going on to list a variety of positions waiters can hope to ascend to. Consequently, unless a chef makes it to one of the top ranks, there is a strong chance that they're not being paid that much more than the waiters at all.

Again, this is not to suggest that waiters don't work hard. Their job is demanding and should not be undermined in contrast to a chef's. However, it is still important to fully consider the demanding nature of a chef's job, and to assess this in relation to how much they are being paid. My friend initially highlights that the kitchen is not as glamorous as working in the dining room. It has harsher, dry, often uncomfortably hot conditions. "The kitchen is not a safe place to work, that's why you need health and safety training/qualifications", she clarifies. She is constantly "having to lift heavy objects" and she has showed me many "burns and cuts" over the time that she has been working in restaurants.

I was surprised by her response when asking whether she gets to prepare food for herself in the day. Unfortunately not, the chefs in her kitchen are expected to prepare meals for the waiters but if they are seen tasting their own food, even in order to assess the quality with the customer's interests in mind, they are penalised.

Furthermore, my friend contended that many waiters either work part-time or start off their careers in a restaurant, but for a chef this is their life-long career. Once you start off in these conditions, and are willing to work these long, arduous hours to exhibit and develop the talent of cooking, it is hard to back out of it. This thought makes it even more pitiable that chefs are rarely rewarded for their hard work, and that they are often paid the bare minimum for their efforts. My friend reiterated that cheffing is an art. It is not simply a series of tasks that someone completes, each chef must put a sense of love into everything they do, and always strive to improve their abilities in order to produce something that will encourage the customer to return, and that will boost the restaurant's image. Consequently, it is not surprising that my friend complained about when a lack of appreciation is shown for her creations. "The times I am carefully plating something for a runner to pick it up and ruin the plating and just serve it to the customer! That is not a good reflection of my work." This statement further affirmed that cooking is everything for her, and it is so much more than merely putting ingredients together and heating them up. It is truly sad that people like my friend are not given more appreciation for what they do.

It could be argued that my friend chose this life, and that consequently she has no right to complain after knowing what she was getting herself into. However, if you were to take this view, does this justify not giving chefs the full appreciation, and a satisfactory salary, that they deserve for their efforts? My friend points out that, while a waiter can easily go out of their way to ensure a satisfactory customer experience, it is ultimately the chef that makes and provides the food for the customer that they enjoy. Customers ultimately go to restaurants for the quality of the food at the end of the day. My friend conveys her hope to me that by working tirelessly eventually she will ascend through the ranks and finally being able "to change this industry. Honestly, it's one of my dreams to eventually be part of the change."