"I was a chef/kitchen manager at a restaurant in the Ballard neighborhood in Seattle and got paid a salary of $29,000 a year.
In exchange, I worked 60-90 hours every single week.
They wanted me to do a ton of administrative work: budgeting, ordering, recipe creation/costing/pricing, designing menus, sourcing foods including picking up supplies. AND 40 hours a week running the line. They wanted me there at 10am every day for receiving and ordering, and through our busiest kitchen hours which lasted right up until closing at 1am, and they didn’t want me off-site or popping in and out once I was there for the day—including picking up supplies. They wanted every single conversation about anything to be emailed with all details included, but they wanted every email to be 1 paragraph long and would then call exasperated asking more information without ever reading the emails. But I was supposed to limit my emailing to 10 minutes a day AND send screenshots showing that I had read and responded to all emails in my inbox by 3pm every day… when the single computer was in use 8-5, and I wasn’t supposed to use my own laptop.
After 9 months at that job, my body completely rebelled and I had a full-on nervous breakdown. But it was 4 years between three different jobs with similar expectations before I broke. One of them even said I was to be on call 24/7 and within 30 minutes of work at all times.
The final straw was when my bosses didn’t want me to take a few days to go home for a sudden death in the family. There were no events happening and all the shifts were covered but the idea of me only working 50 hours that week was so abhorrent to them that they tried to keep me from going.
I went anyway.
I finally put in my notice after that. No way I could go back, especially with how much damage it was doing to my body. I’m 34 and I have the joints of an 80 year old!
While I was gone I realized how self-destructive I was becoming, and what a danger I was to myself. I’d have a cocktail every day before I drove home and another when I walked in the door. Binge drinking any chance I had time off. Serious considerations of self harm, refusing or forgetting to eat for days at a time. Drinking coffee to stay awake even between shifts for days at a time, just to enjoy a little time to myself, even if half of it was spent blackout drunk and the other half spent exercising supposedly to “de-stress” but really to justify how much I was letting myself drink.
It was the day I realized I understood why the chef before me got caught drinking from the keg lines in the walk-in that I started to question whether it was me or the job that was the problem, but it took two more months to say enough was enough.
I completely understand why so many chefs turn to alcoholism. And I didn’t want that for myself."
—Heather McGraine, Chef & Kitchen Manager, Seattle