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A four-day work week is nothing new. The new working structure has been in and out of the media for some time, as big and small businesses trial the concept. So, what could the four-day working week look like for the hospitality industry? Could this finally be the answer to the current chef shortage in Australia?
Working four days and having three days off sounds like a dream come true for many. But in an industry where the hours are increasing rather than decreasing and consumer demands are at an all-time high, the concept seems to be nearly impossible.
According to the ABS, the average work week for a chef is estimated at 46 hours. But the reality tells a different story; those working within the industry have claimed to have worked weeks that have exceeded over 70 hours – 24 hours over the estimate.
The long hours in the hot, sweaty kitchen are leaving chefs often feeling tired, frustrated and over worked. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the chef shortage in Australia is at an all time high.
While chefs continue to work through the tough, demanding conditions, some are attempting to change the way operations are run to combat the staffing crisis. And the first angel of solution is changing the culture within the kitchen.
For years, chefs have been taught the head down and work mentality. The theory that there is no time to stop and eat (even drink) and to keep moving has been drilled into them from the beginning of their working career.
And while the traditional military style kitchens still exist today, not only in Australia but abroad, many chefs are trying to change that mentality for the better. With the rise in mental health conditions and the thousands of chef jobs that simply can’t be filled, there has never been a better time to introduce change.
As an attempt to fix the broken, high ranking chefs and venue owners across Australia are beginning to follow corporate businesses and introduce a four-day, 46-48 hours working week for staff members. By executing this format, there are hopes it will provide an attractiveness to the industry and pull in new recruits, while also retaining current staff with the reduction of burn-out and health problems.
“Cooks are humans, not machines” – Attica owner, Ben Shewry
Melbourne’s famous Attica restaurant was one of the first Australian restaurants to change its rostering format back in 2018 as they worked towards putting staff culture and health at the forefront of the business. “We took a major leap forward in the development of our culture by putting the young men and women who work in our kitchens on a 48 hour weekly roster. 4 days on, 3 days off,” Attica owner Ben Shewry explained.
“Are the old ways of flogging yourself and having no life outside of the kitchen, right? In my opinion no,” the renowned chef continued. He then expressed businesses needed to start thinking of “cooks as humans, not machines”.
Since the introduction of the new rostering style, Ben has witnessed a spike in productivity and happiness across his staff members. “We get an elite 48 hours out of each of them and all of our cooks can work on multiple sections at any given moment, becoming multi-skilled in the process,” he explained.
“While they [staff] are working at Attica it is also important for all of our staff to have a life with their partners, friends and family,” Ben continued. Melbourne’s Bistro Gitane’s owner Antoine Reymond echoed Ben’s comments, stating his staff have become happier since the introduction of the four-day week.
“Productivity is a lot better, the team gets on better. Everyone knows how hard it is to find good chefs – they’re loving this system,” he told Hospitality Magazine. “They [staff] were more switched on, they were getting more sleep and they were getting more time with their family and friends…It makes it a better work environment, everyone is a little bit happier and nicer and more energetic,” Antoine continued.
Melbourne’s Oter head chef, Jordan Clay explained the four-day week was a “more sustainable model” for those working within hospitality. “Our industry traditionally lacks any work-life balance. The industry is at breaking point,” he told Broadsheet. “These practices [reducing hours] will save you money [in the] long term. If you look after your staff, they look after you.”
“Our industry lacks any work-life balance. The industry is at breaking point” – Oter head chef, Jordan Clay
And while more venues across Australia begin to jump on board, so too are restaurants across the globe. In France, they have introduced a 35-hour working week, as well as 36 days of paid annual leave. The changes have since resulted in France to having one of the highest levels of per-hour productivity in the world.
In Copenhagen, Denmark, famous kitchens Noma and Relae have also shortened the working hours required from chefs. Maison Baume in California, US and Aizel in Edinburgh, Scotland have also followed the trend.
So, as more and more kitchens across the country, and the world, continue to trial the new concept, the benefits seem evident – shorter weeks equal happier, healthier staff. And that’s all we want for workers, right? Have we finally found the solution to the chef shortage in Australia?