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Are cooks underpaid?


Fat Guy
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National Restaurant Association publishes an annual survey report of all kinds of fascinating restaurant statistics including wages and salaries for various restaurant employees. You can probably buy it through their website.

For that matter, if you are curious about what private club chefs, F&B managers, and catering managers earn and what benefits they generally get you can purchase National Club Association's Compensation and Benefits Report. It ain't cheap, but it's hard work putting these things together after all. Click here to look for more info.

These surveys will break down by region, but may not provide solid numbers for specific municipal areas. For that I'd try to check out metropolitan restaurant associations, many of which survey their members on these sorts of questions.

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here in quebec the government covers everyone concerning healthcare ..

Yeah but the government isn't this magical entity that provides health care coverage for free. Canadians pay taxes in order to support that system. In the US we don't pay taxes for our personal health care coverage (though there is a massive government health care budget that is taxpayer funded, from which a young employed person doesn't really benefit) and so we have to buy it privately, someone (an employer) has to buy it on our behalf, or we have to share that cost with an employer. So in New York, for example, an individual would have to pay $255.18 per month for HIP coverage. Or an employer can do a group plan and deduct that amount (probably less, more like $100 per paycheck for an individual, on account of the group structure) for health care. Without getting into the right and wrong of the systems, I'd be interested to see some real adjusted comparisons: what similarly situated restaurant workers in the US and Canada take home before taxes, after taxes, and after adjusting for whatever benefits derive from taxes in Canada versus private contributions or fees here.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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The US Bureau of Labor statistics has a wealth of info on the growth prospects for various businesses. I pulled up a few statistics and time series projections from www.bls.gov

For chefs and head cooks nationally, the BLS projects a growth of 17% or 17,000 jobs from 2000 to 2010. For cooks and food preparers, BLS projects growth of 27% over the same period, or 160,000 net jobs. These are pre-adjustments for terrorism influenced events and may be subject to interim modification.

For bakers, the news is less happy. Bakers in eating and dining places are expected to grow by 9.6%, dwarfed by a 2% drop in the much larger group of bakers working in commercial bakeries.

I'll see what their income projections look like next...

Apparently it's easier still to dictate the conversation and in effect, kill the conversation.

rancho gordo

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Here in British Columbia I pay a health care premium of about 140.00/mnth for a family. It is lower I belive in some Provinces.

Taxes,unemployement ,pension and workers compensation come to about 35% of my gross earnings. The real fun is paying 14.5% sales tax on just about all goods and services as well.

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In the US we don't pay taxes for our personal health care coverage (though there is a massive government health care budget that is taxpayer funded, from which a young employed person doesn't really benefit) and so we have to buy it privately, someone (an employer) has to buy it on our behalf, or we have to share that cost with an employer. So in New York, for example, an individual would have to pay $255.18 per month for HIP coverage.

The health insurance thing is especially troublesome. For a variety of reasons, New York health insurance is often triple of what it is in other states. I personally do not have a single colleague (self-employed musicians) who can afford health insurance. I know there is no way I have an extra $250 burning a hole in my pocket every month (not to mention that HIP completely sucks, if the experiences of my friends are any indication). As a result, I have been without medical insurance for over 10 years.

One of the big problems is that it isn't really insurance, the way I understand it. Purchasing insurance should be to protect yourself against something really bad happening. Let's say $50 monthly payments and a $5,000 deductible. This way, you would pay all your regular medical expenses out of your pocket, but would be protected from the big bills you would rack up in the event that you came down with cancer or broke your hip. AFAIK, this was the way insurance used to work. Nowadays, they have this $250/month insurance and people actually think they're getting a deal because it "pays for everything." But, of course, one does not usually get 250 bucks worth of medical care every month and so the insurance companies make out like the bandits they are. Now, AFAIK, this is the only kind of medical insurance one can buy... and don't even get me started on buying medical insurance that you don't get through your employer or professional organization.

Sorry... I know it's a little OT, but the medical insurance situation is getting totally out of hand. And that has got to be a problem for restaurant workers and owners alike. I'm sure many restaurants would kick in to help insure their workers if it was a reasonably priced, high-dedictible major medical plan.

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I suspect the worker's comp costs for restaurant employees are quite high, as well. Typically, these costs are driven by on the job injuries and minor disability, and tend to be set by industry classification.

These costs are usually absorbed by the employers but go into the cost of labor

Apparently it's easier still to dictate the conversation and in effect, kill the conversation.

rancho gordo

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Steven, your quote:

“………I'd be interested to see some real adjusted comparisons: what similarly situated restaurant workers in the US and Canada take home before taxes, after taxes, and after adjusting……..”

Let me try to comment in my limited writing experience.

Do we not need to be more relative about this?

“Take home”, in Dollar amounts (or for that matter, in any currency of the world) does not mean anything, if there is no comparison possible. Unless one is able to cite the buying power of this amount. Cost(s) of living in various areas in the US or other countries must play a role in this equation if reality matters.

What I mean is, if I (not married) work as a cook, say with about 5/8 years work experience in at least 3/4 places of different types of cuisine, in Manhattan and also live there in a ‘flat’ or whatever, what will my ‘take-home pay’ allow me to do.

While we are in the ‘food’ area of life, let’s mention food to buy for home use. What does a loaf of bread cost, how much is a pound of bananas, a cup of coffee over the counter.

NOW, translate that into “minutes to work for it” and compare the same cook’s pay in the same work environment (type of establishment) but living in Omaha NE or Divide CO, with how many minutes he has to work to get the same things as mentioned.

I always get upset reading news print or other media, when mention is made about how a worker in Algeria or Swaziland is making only $ 0.078 (that’s not quite 8 cents US !!) an hour and no mention is made that a loaf of bread also costs only about 5 cents US. No mention of buying power of wages earned. I know I am most likely exaggerating, and do not try to downplay these people’s dilemmas. But please everyone, put everything in the right perspective.

These same ‘comparisons’ or ‘half-news’ are made by the media constantly.

“XYZ Company” ‘lost’ four Million Dollars during the first quarter” !

No one tells me, that they did not loose 4 mill., they just did not have the expected or forecasted or budgeted volume of business !! Right?

When I loose five dollars in the street, they are “lost”, gone, perdu, futsch, weg.

But if I do not earn through wages or salary 5 thousand dollars this year I can not say “I lost” five grand. I never earned them.

Will some of you, economists – journalists – and people with more wisdom then I, out there enlighten me. That’s right, ain’t got nothing to do with no cooking, Sorry (S in Caps and ‘good’ English)

Peter
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Peter: Yes, it's always helpful to have additional points of comparison. But as between the US and Canada, we can learn a lot just from looking at raw dollar amounts. What I'd be interested in learning, for example, is what the real cost of medical insurance is to every Canadian restaurant worker. Is is lower or higher than it would cost to buy HIP here (which as I understand it is more expensive than what you can get in some other states), and is the standard of care under the Canadian system better or worse than what HIP provides?

Slk: I'll be the first to agree that restaurants should offer insurance plans to their employees, and that it's messed up for them not to. But it's not free, ever. Somebody has to pay for it. The money has to come from somewhere. And that somewhere is most likely a deduction from wages or higher taxes (or, in most countries with national health care, cost-savings achieved through rationing of care). Also, I can't help thinking when I read discussions like this that, were I a European or a space alien listening in, I'd envision a nation where everybody is walking around with untreated growths sticking out of the sides of their necks and where if you get hit by a car and don't have insurance the hospitals dump you in the gutter and leave you to bleed to death. But to get back to the point, what I'm trying to figure out is, assuming you were a restaurant worker instead of whatever you are now, and assuming you took the position that "there is no way I have an extra $250 burning a hole in my pocket every month," and assuming you were transplanted to Toronto and were doing the same work, would your real endgame income be reduced by $250 anyway, in order to pay for your free health care? In other words, the question is are cooks underpaid -- and the answer has to take account of insurance. But getting into a debate about national health care won't make a difference to the question: what will help us here are the facts regarding what people are paid, what kind of health care options they have (not should; do), and how that compares to the situation in other lines of work, other comparable Western industrialized nations, etc.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Also, I disagree that anyone can learn to cook.  I've been "practicing" for 8 years now and am still lacking in so many areas.

don't you think that after 8 years you'd be a competent line cook? i'm guessing that it wouldn't take even 1/4 of that time for someone to become competent enough to work a grill in a busy kitchen. and i'll reiterate that most anyone can handle a good number of the tasks associated with restaurant cooking.

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FG, what I'm saying is that employers and employees should at least have the option of purchasing high deductible major medical insurance... a kind of insurance that has all but vanished.

For example, $50/month with a $5k deductible. Basically the employee would pay all his routine medical expenses (doctor visits, etc.) out of his own pocket and the insurance company would only pay out if the employee had major medical expenses (surgery, cancer, etc.). In any given year, most people would have zero insurance claims! The insurance company would pay out nothing for these people, and that's where they would make their money.

So, let's say that someone on my plan had a bad year and racked up $1000 in medical expenses. His medical expenses would be 1600 bucks. The insurance company would make 1000 bucks in pure profit. The way things are set up now, if the same guy was on one of those $250/month plans, his medical expenses for the year would be 3000 bucks, and the insurance company makes 2000 bucks in profit. But, of course, most healthy people only rack up 100-200 bucks a year in medical expenses. And this is where those "$250/month pays for everything" plans fail to be real insurance in my book. From the insurance company's standpoint, if you get two guys on the $50/month plan, you're making just as much money. And I have to believe that there are segments where they could do a lot of business with a plan like this. But maybe I'm wrong, because they sure aren't doing it. Personally, I think it should be federally mandated that any company in the medical insurance business must offer low monthly payment, high dedictible major medical insurance. Then we'd see the number of uninsureds in this country dramatically reduced.

You're not insuring yourself with today's plans, you're prepaying for medical care just like you prepay for minutes on your cellphone. Can you imagine auto insurance that cost $250/month and paid the mechanic every time you got your oil changed? Can you imagine homeowners insurance that cost $250/month and paid everytime you repainted the living room? Why should we pay for medical care like this?

If high dedictible major medical insurance were available at, let's say, $50/month, it would be quite easy for restaurants to pay half and emmployees to pay half without burning a hole in anyone's pocket. And, given the disturbingly large number of Americans with no medical insurance at all who wold avail themselves of such coverage, I cannot but imagine but that the insurance companies would coutinue to make plenty of money.

Edited by slkinsey (log)

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don't you think that after 8 years you'd be a competent line cook?  i'm guessing that it wouldn't take even 1/4 of that time for someone to become competent enough to work a grill in a busy kitchen.  and i'll reiterate that most anyone can handle a good number of the tasks associated with restaurant cooking.

Well, in my experience, after a year you could train just about anybody to do the kind of programming I did when I was in the IT field (5 years), but the pay is much higher there, not even including benefits in the equation.

Anyway, restaurant profit margins at independent places are, from what I understand, fairly low - so what can be done about the wages at any rate? Personally I wish I could make what I was earning before, but I'm willing at this point to take five times less and do something I like, having decided money isn't the most important thing in life. Health insurance would surely be nice, though. And it wouldn't (la de da political debate possible here but I just wanted to bring it up in response to other points that have been made) necessarily mean an increase in taxes, particularly not equal to what is paid for private health insurance.

Jennie

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Well, in my experience, after a year you could train just about anybody to do the kind of programming I did when I was in the IT field (5 years), but the pay is much higher there, not even including benefits in the equation.

What is the IT field?

Internet technology?

2317/5000

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Some restaurants pay good others pay bad,

I left a job as a pastry sous chef in a restaurant in midtown It paid terrible and i did 12 -15 hour days six days a week ( it was a salaried position)

for a job as a pantry cook at a restaurant on long island

i work 9 to 5 mon - fri with saturday/sunday off

and even without the 3 to 5 hours of OT i get each week its still a Alot more than i made before , a matter of fact in the 4 years ive worked in pastry I have never made this much money in a job.......

I bake there for I am....

Make food ... not war

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FG, what I'm saying is that employers and employees should at least have the option of purchasing high deductible major medical insurance...  a kind of insurance that has all but vanished.

Are you actively pursuing such insurance? There are several avenues you can investigate. These plans are typically called "catastrophic" plans and are as far as I know still sold, though their popularity is limited because insurance companies don't want to insure people against catastrophies when those people aren't necessarily taking care of their basic health needs, and because public hospitals treat so many of the uninsured in catastrophic situations anyway. In addition, there are several low-cost options for health insurance through, for example, the NY State "Healthy NY" program (around $150 per month if you qualify based on income) and the MetroPlus plan through the HHC -- nothing fancy, but an acceptable standard of care. The other thing to bear in mind is that the HHC provides medical care to the uninsured. It's important to remember, especially for those outside the US reading this discussion, that uninsured does not mean you will be refused medical care in the US. Any hospital serving the public, at least where I live, is required to provide emergency treatment to anyone who comes in the doors, regardless of ability to pay. In New York, everyone is eligible for treatment from the HHC regardless of ability to pay. But yes, once again, I agree that restaurants should get with the program and get all their employees -- full and part time -- insured. There's no good reason to have 14% of the US population uninsured, and getting the food-service industry on board would no doubt take a nice chunk out of that number. With that, however, can we try not to keep going OT into general discussions of health care and such? Obviously, the nature of this discussion is that it will touch on a range of non-food issues, but there's a point at which we should just post some links to outside reading and keep the discussion here focused on what's within the site's mission.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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It's a very relative question, money that is. I earned twice as much as I do now in my old job, and that was a catering job. I did well financially out of that job, but the hours, the shifts, the crew turn over, the inflationary demands of the customers and the 'boss'- all that just burnt me out after a 15 year tour of duty.

If we wonder if cooks are underpaid then all we have to do is look at the local jobs market. If in your area there are loads of cooks hammering on restaurant doors then it's a well paid job in all probability. If this is your experience, can you tell me where you live?

My experience is that the 'hospitality' industry are always moaning that they can't get the staff...

Work it out for yourselves

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FG, what I'm saying is that employers and employees should at least have the option of purchasing high deductible major medical insurance...  a kind of insurance that has all but vanished.

Are you actively pursuing such insurance? There are several avenues you can investigate.

Believe me, I've looked. As has just about every other classical singer in NYC I know. The affordable options are just not out there. It's worth your life to get any medical insurance of any kind whatsoever when you are self employed in the arts and living in New York State. Most of us make enough on gigs and day jobs to put us over the hump for things like the "Healthy New York" program (not that $150/month is all that great anyway), but we have to spend a very high percentage of our income on continuing training. There is something special about New York State that makes the medical insurance rates so high. Singers I know in other states pay nowhere near the rates that are offered in NY. Every professional organization I know that offers reasonably-priced medical insurance to self employed people (like the National Association for the Self-Employed) offers such insurance in 49 states... all but New York.

You are correct, of course, in saying that medical care won't be denied in the US. But, that doesn't mean that uninsureds don't still get stuck with huge medical bills. I have a friend who stepped in a pothole in the crosswalk and broke her hip in a one-in-a-million kind of fall. She had to have surgery and is carrying a lot of debt because of it. Of course, she is suing the crap out of the City for not fixing the (very deep and almost impossible to see from the direction she was traveling) hole... but still, until Bloomberg cuts her a check, she's staring down a mountain of medical debt.

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California:

http://www.calmis.ca.gov/file/occup$/...ion_code=650350

$8-10 is the median for short order cooks and $8-14 is the median for regular cooks

And I knew temp workers in San Francisco ten years ago who were getting reception and admin assistant gigs and pulling in $15/hr. Production typist temp gigs were running around $20/hr. And that was 10 years ago - i.e. before the whole dot-com thing so fiscally responsible wages.

fanatic...

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FG, what I'm saying is that with that, however, can we try not to keep going OT into general discussions of health care and such? Obviously, the nature of this discussion is that it will touch on a range of non-food issues, but there's a point at which we should just post some links to outside reading and keep the discussion here focused on what's within the site's mission.

It's really hard NOT to veer off topic when you start talking about this, because everything outside of our jobs effects whether or not it will ever happen on a mass scale.

2317/5000

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So it's hard. So what? Try. We have a ton of experience indicating that if we go totally off topic and get into a full-on political debate about national healthcare, the Iraq war, or anti-semitism, it will end in disaster. This is a food site. It so happens that food-related issues often impact politics. But this isn't a site for political discussion. So we do our best to separate the two and we ask for -- no, we insist on -- cooperation from our users. Those are the rules. Anybody who has a problem with them, convince us we're wrong by making your case in the Site Talk forum, but keep it off the food boards. There are plenty of sites where you can go yell and scream about political issues, and people will yell and scream back at you. We come here to escape that sort of thing. So keep the political stuff as narrowly tailored to the topic as possible. Do you think restaurant workers are underpaid? Let us know what you think. Do you think we need national healthcare? Go talk about it somewhere else. Do you think we should allow discussion of national healthcare on eGullet? Go convince us on the Site Talk board, but keep it off this thread.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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FG, I must have skipped over your comments of Jul 6 2003, 06:24 PM about not going OT more into health care before responding at 7:54. My apologies. It is difficult to keep a topic such as this on-topic, which I agree it should be if it is to havea meaning and focus appropriate to these boards.

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