Should your Line Cooks Smoke?

What are your thoughts and/or policies regarding smoke breaks for your Line Cooks?

I’ve been in restaurant kitchens for over 30 years and in that time it seems like line cooks, chefs, and cigarettes are always found together. Watch Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and you will see the stereotypical professional cook who always has either a cigarette or alcohol in his hand. I love Bourdain because he gives an un-adulterated view of the psyche of the kitchen culture.

But what effect does all these smokers have upon the hospitality industry in general, and upon your kitchen specifically? It’s generally known that smokers take more breaks than non-smokers. And in some establishments this causes resentment and/or animosity for obvious reasons… the non-smokers do more work. Several other issues come into play as well. For instance, if your saucier has just finished his cigarette and is now putting the finishing touches on sauces for service, is his ability to finesse a sauce compromised by the cigarette he just inhaled? I think that smoking a cigarette during work compromises one’s ability to taste accurately. So much so that in one kitchen I oversaw no one was allowed to smoke during service. We did lots of pan sauces and I expected the cooks to taste each sauce before it hit the plate.

Do Smokers get Special Treatment?

image source

Smokers are also difficult to regulate. On the one hand you need them in the kitchen prepping for service or slamming out food during the dinner rush. On the other hand, the worst smokers need a cigarette on a regular basis otherwise they become frustrated and lose focus. So you’re left with either trying to accommodate smokers, and therefore show special consideration for them which you don’t show for non-smokers. Or you hold everybody to the same bar regarding breaks and start documenting your smokers who cannot perform their jobs correctly without having a cigarette every hour.

One possible solution to this mess is the way in which breaks are taken. Many states suggest or require two fifteen minute breaks and one thirty minute break for every eight hour shift. One possible solution is to break the two fifteen minute breaks into four 7 1/2 minute breaks or six five-minute breaks for smokers. This allows the same amount of time for breaks but just divides them up into more frequent segments. The difficulty with this is tracking it and making sure that again the smokers aren’t stretching their breaks and ending up with an hour and a half worth of breaks while your non-smokers are only getting the standard hour.

So what are your thoughts and experiences on this topic? What solutions have you implemented in your kitchen?  Is there conflict in your kitchen between smokers and non-smokers?  Do you believe that smoking during service impairs a cook’s ability to taste?  Do smokers deserve more breaks than the rest of the staff? Follow the discussion at Chef’s Resources on LinkedIn.


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Suggested Reading