In a perfect world, people working in a food service operation (FSO), such as restaurants and cafeterias, follow the companies’ guidelines and policy on taking sick days as laid out by the local health department.


This means that employees are expected to refrain from being involved in food preparation while sick.  

I believe every business owner or manager of commercial kitchens has good intentions of creating a balance between profit and their people. 

However, this is sadly different from the picture that reality presents. Chefs and cooks (and the rest of the kitchen staff) coming to work even when sick is an unfortunate reality of our industry.

Why is this commonplace?


The Reasons:


Misplaced Badge of Honor


Not calling out sick has always been a badge of honour for chefs.

People who work in the kitchen are used to crazy chaos and take pride when they get through it!  Typically, working kitchen culture dictates that chefs and cooks should feel proud to push through their discomfort. 


No work, no pay


For companies that cannot provide sick benefits to employees, this is a massive reason for sick kitchen staff to still report to work. No work can mean no pay. 


Refusal to bring the team down


When a working team has forged a good camaraderie, it is easy to think you will let the team down if you fail to report for work. 

A typical commercial kitchen staffing does not have “spare” employees to call in when someone is unavailable. Typically, a chef or a cook takes on the other role besides their own to cope with the food preparation demands. At times the more senior chefs and even management staff step in. Everybody tries to make things work efficiently when a healthy working culture exists. 


Being met with judgements and scepticism 


Because commercial kitchens are often busy, having one kitchen team member absent quickly upsets the working balance. Not only does it add to the stress of the operation, but it stresses the remaining staff as well, 

This is why when someone calls in sick, it is almost always met with scepticism. 


The Result 


If the management needs a strategy to maintain order in the staffing and staff calls in sick, it can easily upset the operation. One or two staff has to take over additional roles, stay beyond their regular hours or get called in on their day off. After all, a kitchen’s unwritten rule is that “the show must go on”. 

Eventually, an ineffective staffing system can take a toll on the mental health of each staff. 

In addition to it, illness in itself can be a cause of a mental health crisis. And someone going through a particularly trying time who feels the need to show up for work can be too much. 

Our industry understands the need to prioritise mental health, but meeting it is still challenging. 


RELATED READ: Why Chefs Should Speak Up About Their Mental Health


Some suggestions:


  • Cross-train your staff to handle other operational areas so everyone, including your managers and supervisors, can pitch in during the rush. 
  • Contact reputable chef staffing agencies like Anytime Staff to hire short-term chefs for specific hours. Short-term hiring of chefs can be a business-saving solution as you only need to orient them with your kitchen operation quickly, and most can hit the ground running. And when you call Anytime Chefs, they will team you up with a skilled professional chef that will fit your needs so that staffing will be less of your concern for the day.
  • Ensure you have enough staff to handle the number of orders. Review your staffing schedule and be prepared for unexpected absences. Understaffing can result in missed orders, confusion, and poor service – the perfect ingredients to destroy your business reputation and lose potential sales.
  • Ensure you have a record of staff availabilities and contact numbers to quickly contact them to see if they can take over a shift.


In Summary:


Most chefs and cooks are familiar with working even when sick. Sadly, it is an unwritten rule of the food-serving operation industry that even well-meaning business owners find challenging to resolve. 

Preparedness can go a long way in avoiding potential staffing crises so that the kitchen operation goes on as efficiently as possible, 

And for times and events that you require rapid support in hiring a chef/kitchen staff, give us a call at Anytime Staff

We are a Perth-based Hospitality Talent agency with a roster of professional chefs and kitchen staff that are available as short-term hires for :

  • peak periods
  • events/private parties and celebrations/pizza chefs
  • fill in for an emergency or annual leaves
  • start-up team for opening venues  
  • FIFO resorts/venues

Anytime Staff specialise in temporary hospitality staffing, but we can also assist you in looking for permanent hires by facilitating your recruitment process.

We also offer a Consulting Service to assist you in opening or running the cafe or restaurant of your dreams. We handle the hassle, so you won’t have to.


That’s it for this week.

As always, professional chefs are on call at Anytime Staff!

Ciao for now,


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