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Brutal kitchen conditions spur new effort to improve employees’ lives

One out of every four kitchen employees has been physically abused on the job, and close to two-thirds of chefs have struggled with depression because of their work, according to research from a new initiative aiming to humanize the cultures of professional kitchens.

The research conducted for FairKitchens also reveals that about three out of four chefs (74%) lose sleep to the point of exhaustion because of their jobs, more than half (53%) feel pushed to their breaking points and one out of three (34%) feel underappreciated on a daily basis. 

The findings illustrate why kitchen turnover is so high and why many young people are forsaking foodservice careers to pursue jobs in other fields, according to FairKitchens, which was officially launched at last week’s Global Restaurant Leadership Conference in Dubai. The global initiative, a coalition of chefs and suppliers led by Unilever Food Solutions, intends to replace the bruising, confrontational natures of commercial kitchens with a respectful, collaborative approach.

The guiding principle is what FairKitchens calls The Code, a statement of best practices summarized in the acronym TEAMS: Talk openly, Excite passion, Act as one, Make time for rest and recharging, and Say “good job.” 

The endeavor is intended to be simple and adaptable at no cost. To build momentum, FairKitchens is encouraging the leaders of restaurant kitchens to bring their staffs together for an hour to discuss the underlying principles of The Code. The program is also offering a free starter kit via its website. 

Other participants in FairKitchens include Chefwear, a uniform supplier; Chef’s Roll, an organization of professional chefs; the American Culinary Federation, a leading chefs’ organization; and Chefs with Issues, an organization formed by food writer Kat Kinsman to improve the lives of chefs.  Participating operators include Legal Sea Foods, a Boston-based polished-casual concept; Cilantro, a 92-unit bakery-cafe operation in Egypt; and Hog’s, the Australian steakhouse chain.

The Global Restaurant Leadership Conference is presented annually by Winsight, the parent company of FoodService Director.

Photograph: Shutterstock

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