Do Chefs Work Unpaid Hours?

It probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone reading this blog to learn that chefs work long hours!

In every country in the world, the industry standard is long hours and little breaks. But do chefs get paid for all those hours they work?, Is being a chef actually a great way to earn a lot of money if you’re willing to put the hours in?

This post will go into detail below covering the major topics around how much, if any, free work chefs are expected to do. However if you just came here for a quick answer then;

Chefs are normally salary paid. This means that their wages do not change regardless of how many hours they work. A typical working week for a chef is around 50-60 hours, even though most contracts state a working week of around 40 hours. Therefor, chefs tend to work around 10-20 hours per week unpaid.

This is the basic answer to the question. However, it’s not quite as straightforward as this and is worth looking into the different areas below.

Normal Working Hours for Chefs

This topic deserves a whole post in itself (how many hours do chefs workOpens in a new tab.) so I will be quite brief with the answer here. As stated above; in my experience and talking to all my friends in the industry the averaging working day for a chef is 10-12 hours.

During a 5 day week this equates to 50-60 hours.

I have heard plenty of stories of chefs working more than this, but I haven’t heard many stories (nor experienced) working less than this. There for, for the purposes of this post, I think this is a fair unbiased average to take.

Why Do Chefs Work So Many Hours?

As a chef, the bulk of your day is spent preparing the food for the evening service.

This preparation can take many forms and the more complex the dish the more time required to prepare all the elements. Another large factor to time spent preparing, is how many customers (or ‘covers’ as it’s known) are expected that evening. More covers equals more food needing to be prepared and there for a longer time being taken.

Preparation is the key to a smooth lunch or dinner service. What keeps chefs in workOpens in a new tab. and prepping is the knowledge that the more they can get done in the day the easier their life will be during the rush of service. There’s no one telling chefs they can’t take breaks or have to be in work early, but they themselves know they will be in for a tough service later on if they don’t put the work in now.

Are Chefs On Salary Pay?

Most chefs in professional kitchens are on salary pay. This means that they receive the same amount of money each week/month, regardless of how many hours they do.

This is the industry standard in all higher end kitchens. Being a chef is a job that requires passion and most don’t tend to worry about the pay too much (at the start at least!)

When being offered a chef position the contract will usually state the working week as 40 hours. I have a whole article dedicated to how much chefs earn, linked here.Opens in a new tab.

My advice is that it’s really important to take the offer that they are presenting and divide the salary by 50 or 60 to get a true representation of your hourly wage for that job.


  • £400 per week ÷ 40 hours = £10 per hour
  • £400 per week ÷ 50 hours = £8 per hour
  • £400 per week ÷ 60 hours = £6.67 per hour

As you can see the more hours you do, your true hourly rate gets less and less. It’s this working above the contracted hours that leads a lot of chefs to feel like they are effectively working hours for free.

Can Chefs be Hourly Payed?

There are places Chefs can work that are hourly payed. They have a set hourly rate that does not change, and they are not expected to work any hours for free. As chefs do a large amount of hours, the size of the pay at the end of the week can increase pretty quickly.

Here is a small list of the places you can work if hourly pay seems like the route you would like to go down;

  • Agency Chefs – These are chefs that are basically freelance. When a kitchen has a need for short term staff they contact the agency who then send a chef to work there for a short amount of time.
  • Chain pub/restaurants or cafes – These type of chef are typically hourly payed. The negative to this is that they are typically viewed as cooks by the industry so the hourly rate can be quite low.
  • Self Employed – I have known self-employed chefs who charge a large amount per hour for their services. These are typically highly trained and experienced chefs that are able to go into any level of kitchen and perform. This is not a path typically open to any chefs just starting out.

There are also other, less obvious available ways for chefs to boost the amount they earn.Opens in a new tab.

Can Chefs Complain About Having To Work Unpaid Hours?

This is a tricky area and I’m going to be as honest as possible. As a chef you can have a chat with the Head Chef to try and get more staff to help to reduce your hours, or alternatively get a pay rise to reduce the hours you are effectively working for free.

In my experience both these options lead to limited success. The cooking industry has a culture around working long hours and not great pay.Opens in a new tab. Any promotion up through the kitchen ranks though does tend to come with a salary increase.

Being a chef is seen as a passion and a vocation rather than a job that is done to earn the most money possible.

To Sum Up

Chefs typically work lots of hours and are not compensated for any additional hours worked above what is stated on their contracts.

This leads some to feel like they are working hours for free. However, others chefs take the view that you can almost guarantee you will need to work more than your contracted hours each week, and there for accept it as part of the job. They are just happy to be able to do what they are passionate about for a career.

I’ll end on the fact that lots of chefs have their eye on an end goal. Maybe they would like to open their own place one day. They know that if they work in a place putting in extra hours for free, the experience they are gaining will make up for it later on in their careers.

I hope this post has been helpful at giving a fair insight into the truth about a career as a chef. I have documented my own experiences around the working hours in this article.Opens in a new tab.

There are lots of other great articles on this site so please take some time to look around!

With over 10 years experience as a chef, my mission is to provide fair impartial advice about life as a chef

Dave Nicholas

Having spent around 10 years working as a qualified chef in high end restaurants, my mission is to use this experience to help others as they begin their career in catering!

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