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Pay me, baby!


Christopher Haatuft
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So, Im thinking, where can I work and get a decent wage as a cook? I know we're all supposed to do this for the love of good food, but in the end its a job. So I was wondering in what part of the world can one earn a normal paycheck as a cook? Here in Norway, the pay for a cook is the lowest of a all trades. In comparison, an electrician gets paid about one third more a year. My girlfriend just got a job at H&M and is paid about the same as a cook at souschef level. Even though its not a lot, compared to other countries I suspect its decent. Converted to dollars one can expect $40000 a year. This is after four years of school and apprenticeship.

How much can a cook hope to get paid where you're at and what place in the world is a cook really paid what he/she deserves?

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Here in the United States, cooks that are represented by the Hotel and Restaurant Union (HEREIU), especially those in Casino kitchens are among the highest paid in the country. When I started in Atlantic City I was making 13.40 an hour, leaving at 16.10. Figure in your 40 dollars a month (Union Dues, which gets you your complete family benefits) and you're talking over 20 bucks an hour. Working in a Union Kitchen is a completely different and "unique" (one word for it), but for pure cash/benefits and a 40 hour week, it's hard to top.

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Remember-you're eating at least one meal and possibly two per day for free-add that up plus taxes and you'll see you aren't doing too bad at all.

:hmmm: Well, I wouldnt call eating a sandwich whenever I can fin d the time a huge benefit. And I would think almost any line of work has its perks, food beeing a cooks.

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What would a cook that works, say in a two-three NYT star establishment make a month? And is there a huge difference in sous-chef (or the equivilent) wages and a regular cooks?

not 40,000 a year, thats for damn sure :biggrin:. In New York it's even worse, the positions are so competitive that people work nearly for free...think 9-12 dollars an hour.

Either stay in Norway where you are making a truckload for a cook...or I've heard very good things about cooking at ski resorts and beach clubs. :smile:

In all seriousness, in this world being a cook is practically an unpaid position, in some places you do it because you're uneducated, in others it's because you're overprivleged. There is very little room for a middle class expectation of "fair pay".

does this come in pork?

My name's Emma Feigenbaum.

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If there is a profession that needs to desperately be unionized it is the culinary profession. In an industry where it is acceptable to work for free for lengthy periods of time with no other reward than the experience of working in a 4-star restaurant is just wrong.

We choose to enter the culinary profession, because we love food and cuisine. In the end, however, we all need to get paid. Culinary school is not cheap by any means.

The stage needs to come to an end in this country. For restaurants to receive free labor is wrong.

I feel very passionate about this issue. Unionize the culinary industry!

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I might piss off a few chefs with these comments, but a couple here in DC know where I hang out Saturday nights so they can hunt me down and kick my ass if I deserve it.

Let me begin, though, by agreeing with Lactic Solar Dust (shouldn't that be intergaactic Solar Dust? :wink: ) that not only chefs but FOH people need to be unionized, as well. Health benefits, reasonable hours, grievance procedures -- every deserves those. And imagine how many people get sick every year because some waiter or line cook couldn't afford to lose the salary they's earn if they took a sick day or two.

But, really, there are a lot of people who are foolish enough follow some trade because they think it will lead to wealth and fame -- or better yet, because they love it and do it well -- and find that there is some serious dues paying to be done before you get your name in the papers or the cover of a magazaine.

How many pretty damn talented guitarists are there hauling their own amps out of grungy clubs at 3 AM so they can ride all night in the back of old Econoline that stinks of sweat and transmissin fluid to their next gig? How about those poor bastards who spent so much time playing baseball that they forgot how to get into college, and now they're looking at long months of pumping gas and hoping against hope that they get called down to Sarasota one last time, and that this time their curve ball really jumps?

My son -- God love him -- seems on the verge of following my early footsteps down the path of politics -- he made $500 for his first two months of work. And he was doing better than I did. I made $10 a day on my first gig, after volunteering almost full time for a year, except I didn't make it because all the money was going to the media consultants. And, have I mentioned how motherfucking cold it is in Iowa in the winter and how bad Grain Belt beer is? But, if you're smart and lucky and posessed of a degree from a prestigious school, you actually move to DC and work full time and make $22K.

There are probably certain blocks in Williamsburg that have more starving artists than starving homeless people, and they probably have fewer places to sleep if things get truly desparate for them.

On the other hand, according to this article, there are a few chefs here, and in Vegas, who are doing OK. They get to do work they like. They make more money than teachers and other porfessionals. Not a few get to work for themselevs (although that probably actually means more work and fewer benefits.)

And some interesting salary info here.

Not surprisingly, it appears that working corporate is the way to go. I couldn't find the state breakdowns (much less Norway) and I feel certain that it doesn't differentiate between a chef at a neighborhood red sauce joint and a well-regarded establishment in a larger city.

Oh, well, just some thoughts and best of luck to all you guys, whether you end up at the Sheraton making good money and big benefits, or being more modestly successful financially but better off artistically in your own place.

More interesting data.

(You know what would make this a really interesting conversation? Getting the pastry chefs in.)

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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My niece recently got fired from a job as a pastry cook at a well-known NYC restaurant because she asked if it might be possible to have one of either Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year's Day off like the new person got and that was already for a job for which she barely got paid a living wage. I seriously don't know how the industry does as well in performance as it does.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

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I accepted the fact long ago thats its going to be awhile before I make any money in this lifestyle. But I mean how much money do you need? Ive been fortunate to work for chefs all my life who work long hours and dont get paid as much as other professionals. The thing is they have been some of the happiest people that I know. the issue of money to them is a non issue. The bottom line is we do this because we love it. Its not like cooks and chefs live on the poverty line, its just that they dont normally move to suburbia. I was at a party last night with a whole bunch of newly graduated university professionals. Most of them work in govrnment, in offices, at desks with steady hours. Most of them spent their time complaining that they were already bored of their job, and that they only had 40 more years to go. This isnt something that I usually hear from cooks. ON the other hand the money jobs are there if you want them. You can always work in a unionized hotel, or be a chef in a cafeteria or work in a resort. These are all higher salary jobs, but I've heard that they are more tedious and boring. Being a cook or a chef is a lifestyle choice, one that I cant say im sorry for.

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Let me begin, though, by agreeing with Lactic Solar Dust (shouldn't that be intergaactic Solar Dust? :wink: ) that not only chefs but FOH people need to be unionized, as well.  Health benefits, reasonable hours, grievance procedures -- every deserves those. And imagine how many people get sick every year because some waiter or line cook couldn't afford to lose the salary they's earn if they took a sick day or two. 

I forgot to mention benefits. They are a multitude of reasons why the industry needs to be unionized.

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making a living wage and not being at the poverty line isn't necessarily a good thing. what about retirement? what about long term benefits? there are very few restaurants who offer 401K plans or decent health care at an affordable rate.

the only reason i continue to be a pastry chef (and i'm not working in restaurants any more) is because my husband's job supports my career choice. that isn't why i married him, but i'm lucky that i found someone who understands that my job doesn't offer much to to the pot. it's depressing to me because although i didn't have stars in my eyes when i entered the field, i thought i could at least support myself and live a decent life with my career choice (especially if i didn't find the mate of my dreams).

granted, i made some choices because of my relationship that narrowed my options and salary level...by that, i mean that i chose to have time to spend with my significant other. had i chosen to stay focused on career and not my life, i'd probably be making close to six figures but i'd also be working close to 24/7/365...it is up to you to decide what will make you happier.

but to answer the initial question posted by the thread starter:

a line cook in nyc can expect to make anywhere from $9-$13/hour which adds up to about $19,000-$25,000/year gross.

a sous chef can expect to make about $25,000-$45,000/year gross.

but remember, this is new york city. i'm not counting federal, state and city taxes, medical benefits (if any), meal deductions (yes, some restaurants do take money from paychecks for 'family' meals), and the biggie which is the cost of living in nyc. i was living in queens in a studio apartment which cost me $975/month plus utilities. that's a big chunk of change and it was undervalued. imagine trying to find an apartment in the city? i have friends who were living in studios in manhattan for $1300/month...more than 50% of their net monthly pay. who can live on that? sure, it's above the poverty line, but that's pretty relative.

Edited by alanamoana (log)
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Having been cooking for almost 10 years I feel that you get to a stage that you realise it is not going to pan out as you thought it would when you were 22,a love for what you do is vital for the job but cooking is a craft and we are craftsmen. So why do we not have a union or guild to represent us, protect our interests and promote the craft that we practice.

Out of a Professional Cookery class of 110 after 5 years only 34 were still working in kitchens(this is in Galway, Ireland),compare that to any other skill based trade and its frightening. I was lucky enough to love what i do and it really is a job you must love because whatever people might think its hard,the hardest thing I have ever done, but being masochists we get some perverse pleasure out of it and very little reward while the restaurant owner is laughing all the way to the bank.

I have had this argument many times with my father who is a union representitive and he laughs when I try to explain how hospitality is different and that you cant apply union practices to a restaurant enviroment,the creativity is sapped and the kitchen ceases to function as a progressive enviroment when work to rule practices come into play. I do believe a guild type structure would suit chefs a lot more and together you are stronger,but in the back of most chefs mind is the knowledge that they will want to run there own kitchen some day and labour cost are a killer.

On an income basis the best job i had was in a bar getting paid cash in hand and clearing €700 aweek for a 40 hour week. The worst working 70 hours a week in a 1* restaurant in London and getting paid £250 per week,were was I happier London naturally. Can Hear my father laughing now.

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-- have had this argument many times with my father who is a union representitive and he laughs when I try to explain how hospitality is different and that you cant apply union practices to a restaurant enviroment,the creativity is sapped and the kitchen ceases to function as a progressive enviroment when work to rule practices come into play.--

Absolutely 100 percent true. If kitchens were unionized, ultra fine dining would cease to exist in this country. There are so many unique dynamics and grey areas in the kitchen environment, and none of them fit into the classic union shop mold. I did it for 7 years in Atlantic City and refused promotion twice because I didn't want to deal with Local 54 and its idiotic rules. Half the cooks know that the rules hold restaurants back, but it's the other half that keep things the way they are...as long as they get their fat check with minimal work, everything is copacetic.

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-- have had this argument many times with my father who is a union representitive and he laughs when I try to explain how hospitality is different and that you cant apply union practices to a restaurant enviroment,the creativity is sapped and the kitchen ceases to function as a progressive enviroment when work to rule practices come into play.--

Absolutely 100 percent true.  If kitchens were unionized, ultra fine dining would cease to exist in this country.  There are so many unique dynamics and grey areas in the kitchen environment, and none of them fit into the classic union shop mold.  I did it for 7 years in Atlantic City and refused promotion twice because I didn't want to deal with Local 54 and its idiotic rules.  Half the cooks know that the rules hold restaurants back, but it's the other half that keep things the way they are...as long as they get their fat check with minimal work, everything is copacetic.

At the risk of sounding ignorant, I'd like to point out that a good number of French kitchens (in France) in were/are unionized and they seem to cook pretty good.

One could also suggest that Atlantic City -- for all its charms-- has never been abd is not likely to becomea fine dining destination.

Not that unions can't be a pain.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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--One could also suggest that Atlantic City -- for all its charms-- has never been abd is not likely to becomea fine dining destination. --

We had enough talent in our kitchen to take things up a few levels. Maybe not Ducasse/Keller level, but a lot better than things were. The weak links were the ones that always threw the "union" shit in everyone's faces because they knew they were protected.

Read Doug Psaltis' book "The Seasoning Of A Chef", there are a couple of parts talking about why Unions don't fit into kitchens.

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It's on my list, and as I read through it I will mourn the idea that somehow there isn't a good way to reconcile the legitimate complaints on so many kitchen people, and the possibility of making great food.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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My niece recently got fired from a job as a pastry cook at a well-known NYC restaurant because she asked if it might be possible to have one of either Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year's Day off...

I'm shocked and stunned and not a little amazed at this. Is it really possible to fire someone for asking for 1 day's leave? I knew that chefs had to work very hard under difficult conditions, but this is ridiculous!

Si

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If there is a profession that needs to desperately be unionized it is the culinary profession.  In an industry where it is acceptable to work for free for lengthy periods of time with no other reward than the experience of working in a 4-star restaurant is just wrong. 

We choose to enter the culinary profession, because we love food and cuisine.  In the end, however, we all need to get paid.  Culinary school is not cheap by any means. 

The stage needs to come to an end in this country.  For restaurants to receive free labor is wrong.

I feel very passionate about this issue.  Unionize the culinary industry!

Is the concept of staging so wrong that it should end only because the employer receives free labour? I look at it as the only way I can get "higher education" in a field where there are no schools that can give you the same qualifications. Ok, so I ll work for free, but I look at it as education. Down the line Ill be able to ask a employer for more salary based on my experience. So working a few months for free is investing in a higher future salary.

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Shit, I was hoping someone would say; "Hey Chris! Havent you heard? Down in (insert dream destination), a cook makes about $100000 a year and is treated like the last man alive by the local chicks!"

But alas, I guess Ill kepp burning my forarms for a lousy wage and a couple of tuesdays of forever... :biggrin:

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Hello. I haven't been here long, but I had to add my two cents' worth.

In New Zealand, where I was trained, the norm is for the hospitality industry to have a very high turnover of staff.

It is one of the least well paid jobs, possibly in part because it is seen as a job that requires less skill (I mean, women do it all the time for no pay! /snarky feminist comment)

The minimum wage for an adult is $10/hr and you are protected by statutory employment regulations, which are more reasonable than in many parts of the world.

However, as many of you have no doubt noticed, it is an industry which lends itself to stressed out staff, and as with many jobs, the higher the position you hold, and the more responsibility, the more you tend to get paid. (Notwithstanding cranky head chef/owner-operators.)

I have heard of executive chefs being paid very well for the ability to handle high-stress positions and reliably turn out many high quality plates of food at once. Specifically, the chief of catering arrangements for one of the national airlines at the time (10 years ago) was earning around $100 000. (So I was informed with a reasonable amount of reliability.)

Good luck having a social life at the same time though.

The hard bit is that your average, lowest-rung-on-the-ladder cook is easily replaceable and earns a wage to match.

I hope this helps. New Zealand is perhaps not representative of the rest of the world but I suppose provides another example to compare to your current samples.

Edited by Aussie in Training (log)
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If there is a profession that needs to desperately be unionized it is the culinary profession.  In an industry where it is acceptable to work for free for lengthy periods of time with no other reward than the experience of working in a 4-star restaurant is just wrong. 

We choose to enter the culinary profession, because we love food and cuisine.  In the end, however, we all need to get paid.  Culinary school is not cheap by any means. 

The stage needs to come to an end in this country.  For restaurants to receive free labor is wrong.

I feel very passionate about this issue.  Unionize the culinary industry!

Is the concept of staging so wrong that it should end only because the employer receives free labour? I look at it as the only way I can get "higher education" in a field where there are no schools that can give you the same qualifications. Ok, so I ll work for free, but I look at it as education. Down the line Ill be able to ask a employer for more salary based on my experience. So working a few months for free is investing in a higher future salary.

I think for a restaurant to incorporate staging into their work force is taking advantage of people who have spent so much money towards their culinary education. The United States is not a third world country. We can afford to pay our work force. I just think it is a matter of worker's rights. We should be able to make enough in this country to be able afford to support ourselves comfortably.

Basically, restaurants are taking advantage of people who desperately want to work at their restaurant for name recognition and knowledge so much so they are willing to come in for 14 hours a day to work for free.

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-- have had this argument many times with my father who is a union representitive and he laughs when I try to explain how hospitality is different and that you cant apply union practices to a restaurant enviroment,the creativity is sapped and the kitchen ceases to function as a progressive enviroment when work to rule practices come into play.--

Absolutely 100 percent true.  If kitchens were unionized, ultra fine dining would cease to exist in this country.  There are so many unique dynamics and grey areas in the kitchen environment, and none of them fit into the classic union shop mold.  I did it for 7 years in Atlantic City and refused promotion twice because I didn't want to deal with Local 54 and its idiotic rules.  Half the cooks know that the rules hold restaurants back, but it's the other half that keep things the way they are...as long as they get their fat check with minimal work, everything is copacetic.

I think it is a broad statement to make that if kitchens were unionized fine dining would cease to exist.

If a little bit of creativity is compromised so that cooks can call in sick without loosing pay or make enough money to be able to raise a family with benefits then I am all for it. Personally, I think we can have our cake and eat it, too. I do not believe compromise. I think creativity can just be as strong in a unionized kitchen as it is in our current kitchens.

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