A Stage, gone corporate (and toxic)

Photo by Tim Gouw on Pexels.com

From the Michelin Guide:

Simply put, a stage is an unpaid internship a cook takes to expose him- or herself to new techniques. Before the advent of culinary schools, this was the most common form of education.

Kitchen Language: What Is a Stage?

As most in our industry know, it is relatively common for cooks to stage at a restaurant before they are hired so they may decide to take a cooking position there, if one is offered by the restaurant. Its current standing is perceived in a negative light given the abuses the system enables— but I digress, and we’ll leave that for another time. Same goes for staging for a Front of House job.

What I am seeing more often now is corporate jobs requiring applicants to perform labor as a requirement of obtaining interviews for potential employment. While a kitchen will often have one or two stagiaires at a time, many white-collar employers will just post a job on a board and then expect all applicants to submit work the company can benefit from, again, as a condition of obtaining an interview or advancing the interview process.

Case in point:

To work in a kitchen most people will stage for a couple days, and then be on their way, or be offered the job; with a tacit understanding at the beginning of the stage whether you are there for a job and or if you’re there to check out the culture and methods of that kitchen in particular.

But now we’re seeing a lot of employers blindly follow in the footsteps of FAANG, with 4 interviews or more whether the position warrants it or not, without regard to the compensation or the benefits the position affords. I have even heard of small law practices attempt this! All because rich companies are doing it.

Such a waste of time for everyone. The HR person (or whomever is performing this task) now has to worry about hiring someone over a period of weeks, potentially months. The hiring team now has to spend time with multiple applicants taking away from useful work. The applicant now has to worry about a process taking weeks (or months!) while there are bills to be paid and food to be put on the table.


So now we have an equivalent of staging but now with more negativity and and abuse built into the process. If your interview process as a company takes longer than three weeks (mind you, not three months) tells me the following about your company:

  • Your internal processes are glacially slow. If you’re this slow to hire me, you will also be slow to approve any potential vacation time.
  • There are people who relish the sense of power making the process slow gives them. I do not want to interact with people like this for everyday work.
  • You will be lightning fast to fire me. It happens in kitchens, it happens in corporate!

I personally will not wait a month for a company to decide to hire me while it also takes ownership of any unpaid work all applicants performed as part of the hiring process, whether it led to employment or not.

Without mincing words, that is theft. And companies that want you to steal your labor in this manner deserve to fail.

Fodder: Scab Salt

Source: Salt Bae’s Meat Empire Is Rife With Labor Problems – VICE

Apparently this is something Salt Bae has dragged along with him from before he even his the meme big leagues in addition to accusations of sexism, racism, willfully ignoring health violations, etc etc etc. That’s before the most substantial accusation of them all: That his food is just bad.

The industry is already notorious for intensely disliking union and those that would push a union agenda in a restaurant and what unionizing would do to a business, whether the fears that are real or imagined. There are multiple pros and cons for each and we are not going to go into those in this post.

The choice quote of the Vice article:

Kucur talked about Gökçe’s obsession with Scarface: “He was so influenced by the movie. He thinks he is like Tony Montana. He said to me, ‘What’s the name on the restaurant? Nusr-Et. What’s my name? Nusret. What I say, goes.'”

We should all be so fortunate if the fireworks are even a smidgen like in the finale of the movie.

Hope springs eternal

The current winter season in my city has been absolutely brutal. As of right now we have had 12 restaurants close down since the middle of December and I am hearing rumblings of a few other places that are between a rock and a hard place.

Very Very Very Closed (2)
Very very very CLOSED, via Flickr

A few have done the absolute worst by their employees and let them go without any notice whatsoever. Others just a week of warning. Few are those that do right by their people and give them proper warning so they can start looking for employment elsewhere.

This does lead to the specific problem I am thinking about as I write this. There is now a glut of skilled restaurant people looking for work in this town and no one will, or can, hire them. In the summer months restaurants are absolutely desperate to hire skilled labor, but the situation reverses during the winter months.

This year has also been much, much worse in terms of closures. If memory serves the average was three or four restaurants permanently closing for business. I am not about to go down an internet rabbit hole looking for data so it is likely the average is higher, yet no one really talked about it. In this industry places can and will come and go in the blink of an eye.

So, what happens to those newly unemployed hands? A lot of them probably have other jobs they can rely on to pay the bills. Others will find employment, maybe in this area, or by moving to another part of the country. But a few will quit— and will not come back to the industry. This applies particularly to the cooks. Cannot sell food if there is no one in the kitchen to cook it.

There is some hope with some new restaurants already open and others that will be opening in the coming weeks and months, but it might not be soon enough for people in trouble now. When spring arrives the employment cycle will, without fail, start over.

Some people are blaming local government for raising the minimum wage or for general hostility to small businesses. Others are blaming the state for favoring Big Business. Let us please not talk about the federal government. Everyone is kinda sorta joking about blaming Millennials, even though they’re the labor pool most restaurants depend on much to their own detriment— when is the last time you saw a server over the age of 50 working somewhere other than a diner?

I don’t have a solution or even the idea for a solution. I just noticed this fact and consider myself fortunate to have a career in a different sector, with enough time to turn my thoughts to this industry that has taught me so much and I hope will keep doing so.

I hope that most find jobs quickly at good places. For now hoping is all I can do.