It’s 11.30pm, you are just knocking off for the night… not so bad, the last two nights it’s been past midnight. And tomorrow morning you will be back at 9 to do it all again. Is this what you envisioned when you started out in your Chef career? Being a Chef is what you do, not who you are. You need to have a work-life balance.
Working in the catering industry is extremely demanding and it is notorious for long, unsociable hours. Part of the reason is the nature of the business – people like to eat out for dinner at dinner time, so of course in a restaurant work environment you have to expect to work late into the evening. However, when it is day in, day out it can start to take its toll.
When you start out in your Chef career, the thrill of working in a busy kitchen propels you through your shift. You want to put in the time and effort to learn and work your way up the kitchen brigade. So the pressure and the long shifts may all seem worth it for a while, but if you try to keep it up you will likely burn out long before you achieve the level you aspire to.
Being a successful Chef should not mean you have to work 80 hours a week. The key is to find a healthy work-life balance so that you can get the most out of your catering career while also enjoying time away from the kitchen. This becomes even more apparent as you get older, settle down and your home life and priorities change. Your Chef career is no longer the only thing that is important. You need to find that balance between work and life so that you can earn a living and enjoy your job but also be able to relax and spend time with your family.
What does work-life balance mean to you?
Depending on your own individual circumstances, and the stage of life you are at, the meaning of a work-life balance can vary. We put the question to our Blue Arrow catering community and received a range of responses
:“A working week with structured hours, straight shifts and a maximum of 40 hours work per week.”
“Being able to have a life outside of work and plan social activities in advance.”
“Working part-time around the kids schooling and my husband’s shift, so we can both work and enjoy time all together.”
“Quality time with friends and family.”
“Good money and less work.”
“Having enough time away from work to relax and socialise, maintain friendship and family relationships whilst earning enough money.”
“Combining work and study.”
Overall the feeling is that a work-life balance means being happy in what you are doing and not letting work take over so that you can enjoy a good quality of life with friends and family.
Is it possible to have a work-life balance if you want a catering career?
It is becoming increasingly clear that many Chefs cannot keep up with the fast pace and constant pressure of working in a busy kitchen and the long hours they are expected to work. According to a 2019 report from the Centre for London1, industry experts estimate that 10% of workers are leaving the Chef profession each year in the UK. This results in a vicious cycle; loss of staff means shifts need to be covered, so Chefs become overworked, more stressed, less productive and are left no longer enjoying the job.
Despite this statistic, a work-life balance is possible in the catering industry and interestingly, we found that among our Blue Arrow community, more were satisfied with their work-life status than not. This is perhaps an indication that working for an agency enables Chefs to have some control over their hours and when and where they work
.It has become a common theme that with the desire for a work-life balance, Chefs are moving away from the traditional realm of restaurants, pubs and hotels, instead preferring to work in institutions such as schools and colleges, hospitals and care homes or in staff canteens where they can have structured hours, evenings off and weekends free.
How could the work-life balance be improved in the hospitality and catering industry?
At the end of the day, it is down to individual employers to change working conditions to give Chefs the opportunity for a better work-life balance. More establishments are now offering a system of shifts with 4 days on, 3 days off, and a rota for weekend work. The 4 days may be 12 hour shifts, but following that with a 3 day break means you have quality time away from the job. This is the ideal compromise if you still want a Chef job in a restaurant environment while achieving a better work-life mix.
Top Tips for Chefs to achieve a better work-life balance.
- Work as a temporary agency Chef. You can find short term assignments with hours that suit you, enabling you to have more control over the jobs you do.
- Find a position as a Relief Chef. Work is varied and flexible and you can be in charge of your own hours.
- Find out more about the different working environments for hospitality and catering. It may be that a Chef job in a school, hospital or care home, where hours are more sociable and shifts are fixed, would be a better fit for you to achieve the work-life balance you need.
- Use your holiday entitlement – Don’t keep going till you burn out. Take a well-earned break, you need your time off.
And our final tip? Read Caree’s blog post for some more general advice on achieving a work-life balance.
1Bosetti, N. & Washington-Ihieme, M. (2019) Kitchen Talent: Training and retaining the chefs of the future. Available at Centre for London. [Accessed March 2020]