As a culinary student or current chef, you may have heard the term "staging" before. Staging—derived from the French term stagiaire, meaning trainee—is a typical requirement in culinary schools. Staging is an opportunity to gain valuable experience in a professional kitchen.
So let's talk about what staging is, its pros and cons, and its legality.
What is staging at a restaurant?
Staging is the practice of working for free in a restaurant's kitchen. It often involves prep work and assisting the established kitchen team with keeping the kitchen running smoothly.
A "stage" usually lasts from a few weeks to a few months. Staging provides the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in a professional kitchen, learn new techniques, and build industry relationships.
Staging is required for most culinary degrees, yet some established restaurant workers will offer to stage to gain new skills or experiences or switch cuisines.
Pros of staging at a restaurant
Because staging is unpaid and there are other opportunities to gain experience with entry-level positions that pay a living wage, staging is debated in the restaurant industry.
Those who are pro-staging point out several benefits:
Exposure to different kitchen environments
Staging lets you experience a variety of kitchen environments, from fast-paced high-end restaurants to more relaxed cafes. If you're a culinary student or chef learning a new skill, this can help you decide which kitchen environment suits you best.
Staging is more common in fine-dining establishments, so if you're interested in this environment, staging may be a way to get your foot in the door.
Opportunity to learn new techniques and cuisines
Staging allows you to learn new techniques and cuisines from experienced chefs. If you have the financial ability to stage, this can help you develop your style and expand your culinary knowledge.
Chance to network and build industry relationships
In an industry where who you know comes in handy, it’s never a bad idea to broaden your connections. Staging allows you to form relationships with chefs and other industry professionals, which can lead to future job opportunities, recommendations, and lasting friendships.
Possible job offers
If you work hard and make a good impression, you might be able to get a job offer out of your staging experience. If you show you're a good fit in the restaurant and there’s an open role, it’s likely that you’ll be moved to the top of the candidate list.
Job offer or not, staging can help you learn what type of cuisine and kitchen environment you thrive in, guiding you closer to your dream gig.
Cons of staging at a restaurant
While it has some positives, not everyone is a fan of the practice of staging. Here are the things critics of staging often point to:
Staging is unpaid, making it difficult to sustain long-term without another income source. Though many consider the time spent staging part of their overall educational costs, it's simply impossible for many to take on staging instead of paid entry-level positions.
Long hours and taxing physical and mental demands
Staging often means working long hours and performing physically demanding tasks like chopping vegetables, picking herbs, carrying heavy pots, and standing for long periods without a break. It can also be mentally challenging working in high-pressure kitchens.
Lack of job security
Staging doesn't guarantee a job offer or security, and you may need to continue staging to gain more experience. One way to gauge whether a staging position may lead to something more permanent is to ask current employees if they started staging or through another method. Understanding others’ career paths can help you to chart your own with your goals in mind.
The legality of staging at a restaurant
The United States has laws surrounding unpaid labor and minimum wage. Staging falls into a legal grey area because it's considered an unpaid internship and, therefore, only permitted when an individual is enrolled in an educational program in conjunction with the internship.
The US Department of Labor has specific guidelines for unpaid internships, such as ensuring the intern receives training similar to what they would receive in an educational environment and that the intern doesn't displace paid employees. Because of this, staging when not enrolled in a culinary school program is not a common practice in the US.
Differences between staging and internships
While staging and internships are both unpaid opportunities to gain experience, some differences exist.
The purpose of staging is to gain hands-on experience in a professional kitchen, making it specific to the restaurant industry. The purpose of an internship is to gain experience in a broader range of fields/industries.
Internships are often paid, even if nominally, while staging is typically unpaid.
Internships are typically a set period, such as a semester, and are often only a few hours of committed time per week. Staging ranges from a few weeks to several months of full-time work following the hours of the particular restaurant.
Pick up kitchen shifts with Qwick
Restaurant staging can be valuable for gaining experience and expanding your culinary knowledge. If you have one or more years of experience, an alternative to staging or internships is picking up kitchen shifts through Qwick.
The Qwick platform connects restaurants and other hospitality businesses with skilled F+B professionals eager to fill shifts and experience the adventure of working in different kitchens. Joining the Qwick crew can provide a flexible and paid opportunity to gain experience and build industry connections.
What are you waiting for? Sign up for free and get matched with shifts near you today.