Are all restaruant kitchens hot and steamy?
August 24, 2014 8:44 AM   Subscribe

I am thinking about working in a restaurant kitchen. My only experience so far is with pizza places, which have hot pizza ovens and therefore get pretty durn hot on a hot day, or when more than one oven is turned on. The last place I worked had perfectly good air conditioning, but it became completely ineffective under the aforementioned circumstances.

So, what kind of restaurants, and what types of cuisine, are the least likely to have hot or steamy kitchens? What is your average restaurant kitchen temperature? (I am attempting to avoid both excessive heat and steam.)

If somebody could do a list in order (i.e., pizza places worst, Asian second worst because they steam everything (I'm guessing here), bakeries bad, casual dining OK, deli the best), that would be great. If my list is so far correct, then maybe someone could add to it.

Also, about the steam, I would want a place without a steamy electric dishwasher.
posted by serena15221 to Work & Money (44 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you want somewhere with absolutely no heat in the kitchen I suggest a raw foods restaurant. ANything else doesn't really apply to your scale of most hot to least hot, as all of them, aside from the pizza place which is obviously the worst, are about the same.
posted by elizardbits at 8:47 AM on August 24, 2014 [8 favorites]

Salad Bar joint like Sweet Tomatoes?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:00 AM on August 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Dishwashers are everywhere, and because time is money, they all are going to use nuclear heat dry to get the next cycle of glasses ready.
posted by wnissen at 9:00 AM on August 24, 2014 [8 favorites]

I've worked in quite a few restaurants. The kitchens are hot. More bearable if you're in the cold prep line and it's well separate from the hot line. You'd have to be in a place that does A LOT of salads to have the prep that far apart for it to be noticeable. And then you're still standing next to big machines, coolers, dishwashers, etv, which all generate a lot of ambient heat.
posted by tulip-socks at 9:20 AM on August 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Dishwashers are everywhere. In many places there are rules and regulations about how hot the water has to be for washing etc and as others have said, they work that way for efficiency as well, you do not want to have to hand wash that many dishes/glasses/pots/pans. Kitchens are pretty much always hot by nature.

I have 3 chefs in the family, all of them have become pretty much immune to it and will trot around happily in summer temps that kill us mere mortals. Seriously my Dad used to boast about how hot it would get and worked in the kitchens that would regularly get up to 45-50C/113-120F inside during Australian summers. He lived on Gatorade during the summer and lots of breaks for fresh air.

If you were to avoid restaurants per se Salad Bars, Raw food places & sandwich or deli places would probably be your best bet, though they may still have dishwashers.
posted by wwax at 9:26 AM on August 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

I... don't think what you are looking for, except in a salads-only place, is something that is realistic. Kitchens are hot. Yes, some have air conditioning. Modernist restaurants that mainly rely on induction cooking will be cooler. Beyond that.. kitchens are hot, sweaty places. One kitchen I worked in it hit over 50C one summer--the owner spent a small fortune to have AC installed overnight, but still on the hottest/busiest days it would be at least 30C in there.

Honestly, and I don't want to be rude here: if minimizing heat and steam is an important thing in your life, restaurant work is probably not for you. As mentioned, even in sandwich/deli/raw places there will be hot and steamy dishwashers, generally mandated by law. And since sandwich/deli/raw places tend to be very small, you'll be close to said dishwashers.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:29 AM on August 24, 2014 [7 favorites]

I've never worked in a restaurant kitchen without an industrial dishwasher, and suspect you're out of luck there. That's really basic, standard equipment.

In terms of cooking equipment adding heat, I would say that convection ovens are probably the worst offenders, then probably friers, then probably stoves. If you're FOH or expediting, the heat lamps that most larger kitchens have over the line are also pretty killer (and will actually burn you, so be careful!). I actually didn't find the kitchen especially hot in the Japanese/Korean place where I worked, because most of the steamed stuff was either cooked using enclosed pieces of equipment or was cooked on the stove. Kitchens are honestly always hot, though different areas of them might be warmer or cooler than others. The most consistently cool kitchen area I've experienced was this large prep area off of the walk-in in a very large restaurant/kitchen. The dishwasher was separated off into its own little hallway, so the only stuff going on in the prep area itself was slicing/dicing/etc, dry goods storage, and people accessing the walk-in. If you're looking to work BOH and want to avoid heat, I would look for prep cook jobs in restaurants where the kitchen is separated from the dishwasher and off the cooking/line area (though there's no way to know layout stuff like that without touring the specific restaurant/kitchen, I don't think).

I would expect virtually all kitchens to be warm, though, because there are tons of people running around in them all at once. And if you're working in one, *you're* running around and hauling stuff, too. So *you're* going to be hot even if the ambient temperature isn't incredibly high. Can't tell you what the average temp is likely to be exactly, because the kitchen's temperature depends on the specific kitchen's layout and how many people are working and how busy the shift is at that moment.

So to answer your question: after spending about a decade working in restaurants on and off, I would say that, yes, all restaurant kitchens are hot and steamy.
posted by rue72 at 9:30 AM on August 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

All "normal" (which is to say, not raw food or something like that) restaurant kitchens are hot and steamy. Think about how much thermal energy is coming out of the cooking appliances and how much moisture is being released into the air in the act of cooking. Sure, I suppose it's theoretically possible that some combination of extra-aggressive hood ventilation and powerful air conditioning could bring this down to a level you would find comfortable, but it's hard to imagine an owner willing to throw that kind of money at this issue. Restaurants have a hard enough time making money as it is.
posted by slkinsey at 9:42 AM on August 24, 2014

If you get a job working with meat the workplace will definitely be kept cold.
posted by dilaudid at 9:45 AM on August 24, 2014

Open kitchens tend to be not quite as bad as other places (since if they're super hot the dining room is gonna be super hot too), but they come with their own problems (namely feeling like you're working in a cage at the zoo).
posted by Itaxpica at 9:48 AM on August 24, 2014

Honestly, the saying "If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen," sums up this situation. Kitchens are hot, things are being heated, there's a lot of steam and what not. You should definitely think about why you want to work in kitchen before going any further with this.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:52 AM on August 24, 2014 [17 favorites]

I suppose it's theoretically possible that some combination of extra-aggressive hood ventilation and powerful air conditioning could bring this down to a level you would find comfortable

Also, any a/c system strong enough to make the kitchen feel cool is going to make the food cold before it gets to the table, and no restaurant owner is going to risk that kind of thing.
posted by elizardbits at 9:55 AM on August 24, 2014 [6 favorites]

Yes, all real restaurant kitchens are hot and/or steamy. I suppose you could work at a salad bar or raw food restaurant or something? But even then, there's going to be a big hot steamy dishwasher somewhere.
posted by erst at 10:10 AM on August 24, 2014

sushi bar? Only if you can stay at the bar, and avoid the section of the kitchen that makes soups, tempura, etc. Of course, if it really is all about the dishwasher, then even salad and raw-foods restaurants will have that.
posted by amtho at 10:17 AM on August 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

One of your previous questions indicates you cannot stand all day. I've never worked in a kitchen that wasn't hot and steamy (near the dishwasher at least) AND required standing/walking pretty much the whole shift.
posted by rtha at 10:39 AM on August 24, 2014 [11 favorites]

I've only done volunteer work at a kitchen serving the homeless, but even that gets pretty hot. We only work about four hours a day making, serving and cleaning up after breakfast, and our kitchen is open to the dining room, but even so it can get pretty miserable: the stove, the steamtables, and heck yes the dishwashers all contribute. I can only imagine how much hotter a full commercial kitchen, with their much longer daily shifts, can get!

I'm afraid the answer to finding a low-heat restaurant kitchen is that you're probably out of luck, although a salads-only operation would be best, and they'll still have those dishwashers.
posted by easily confused at 10:41 AM on August 24, 2014

Our chef actually turns off the swamp cooler in the kitchen during meal service, because it cools the food too quickly. The temp in there is usually 85-110 degrees depending on weather. As everyone said, I think this is standard.
posted by jenmakes at 10:51 AM on August 24, 2014

The pastry kitchen is always cooler, especially if you work somewhere like a bakery or grocery store where pastry has its own entire room. Can't have chocolate shavings, etc. melting in there.
posted by fiercecupcake at 11:14 AM on August 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Funny, I've worked in many different pizza joints and only one of them had an electric dishwasher. And there was frequently a "room-temperature" room in the back where you could prep stuff. Are pizza places a glaring exception? What about other places where the majority of food is take-out or delivery?

(Please disregard any previous questions I may have asked and focus on this question.)
posted by serena15221 at 11:28 AM on August 24, 2014

The only not sweltering kitchens I've been in have been ones during pastry prep as well as large hotel kitchens, which have cooler regions.
posted by quince at 11:39 AM on August 24, 2014

I work in a coffee shop and our back room (which has no oven, just a small dishwasher and lots of fridges) is generally close to 80 even with air conditioning on. The fridges generate heat.
posted by needs more cowbell at 11:55 AM on August 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ice cream shop, but it's still going to have a dishwasher.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:59 AM on August 24, 2014

(Please disregard any previous questions I may have asked and focus on this question.)

I'm sorry, but between what you have outlined here, and physical restrictions you have stated previously, and your age, restaurant kitchens are not for you. They are hot, they require long--very long--hours standing (chairs basically do not exist in restaurant kitchens), they are humid, virtually everywhere will have a steamy electric dishwasher because 1) speed and volume, and 2) fastest and most reliable way to ensure sterilization.

Any foodservice job is, at bare minimum, going to require extensive periods of standing. Almost any foodservice job is going to be hot and sweaty. I'm sorry if this is a dream being punctured for you, I truly am. It might be worthwhile to examine exactly why you want to work in a restaurant kitchen and what you would want to get out of such an experience.

The only thing that I can think of that might fit your bill is becoming a chocolatier. Very little heat most of the time, for obvious reasons... but still, one stands to work in a kitchen.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:03 PM on August 24, 2014 [8 favorites]

What about a sandwich shop or some place where you make the food in front of the customers?
posted by radioamy at 12:05 PM on August 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Were all the pizza places you worked at delivery kitchens? The delivery kitchen I worked at didn't have a dishwasher because we didn't have customer dishes to wash -- all the prep/cook dishes were washed by hand in a large three-basin sink with a spray nozzle hose. Which got the room plenty humid on its own, even without the dry cycle of a automatic dishwasher. At the eat-in restaurants of the same small chain, they had electric dishwashers.

But any place of sufficient size to be hiring outside the family and which has seated dining is probably going to have an automatic dishwasher. Maybe not a Subway; I don't know. I've never worked at a chain sandwich shop.
posted by hades at 12:25 PM on August 24, 2014

The popsicle shop near my house is always cold.
posted by oceanjesse at 1:20 PM on August 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

Any foodservice job is, at bare minimum, going to require extensive periods of standing.

FOR SRS. The only time I ever got to sit over an 8h shift (which is really more like 10-11h with prep time and cleanup for the next shift) was when peeing; the dominican line cooks used to make a big mock fuss over the extra break time I got by not standing to pee.
posted by elizardbits at 2:01 PM on August 24, 2014

posted by goethean at 2:46 PM on August 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Thinking back on it, I worked at Jack-in-the-Box in Phoenix. It wasn't all that hot. We did dishes by hand (what there were of them) and while there was a grill and fryers, the little hut we worked in was well air conditioned. If it was really hot we'd take turns hanging out in the walk-in.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:06 PM on August 24, 2014

I work at a small coffee shop and we don't have a dishwasher- however, that means lots of time standing over hot water while you wash dishes by hand. We also have a small oven that keeps the back room pretty warm when it's on. Plus, standing and running around from front to back keeps me pretty warm regardless of how cool the store is overall. And you know, coffee is hot.
posted by MadamM at 5:37 PM on August 24, 2014

Kitchens are hot.

The only exception I can think of is working pastry prep.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 6:01 PM on August 24, 2014

Most kitchens I've worked in had routine temps of 100+ degrees, if averaged over the seasons. The lone exception was a weird layout in a basement, where the entire room held a small cooking area, dish pit, storage, and office space. But it was a huge room, had great airflow, and was buried in the earth.

I think that if heat is a real concern (i.e. a genuine medical risk), you should forget this line of work. It's relatively rare that someone somewhat new to the field will get to pick their preferred position to start. Even more rare would be to land a (comparatively cool) pastry job; a lot of places only have one or two pastry people, and they are skilled. In fact, historically, people started in the hot, steamy bowels of the dish station.

Although things have changed a bit over time (the rise of celebrity cooking stuff, the increase in culinary school graduates), the general culture of a restaurant kitchen is one of paying dues and stoically absorbing suffering. Practically no one likes the extreme heat levels of the kitchen, but it's something that one deals with (just like burns, cuts, and brutal damage to one's legs/joints). You just kind of shrug, drink your gallons(!) of water per shift, and get on with churning out good food.
posted by credible hulk at 7:37 PM on August 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the input. I would just like to add that I never said anything about 8 or 10 hour days.
posted by serena15221 at 8:28 PM on August 24, 2014

Which is why people with experience working in restaurant kitchens are telling you that typically you will be expected to work 8-10 hour days.
posted by hades at 10:15 PM on August 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

A thought. Pastry.

Pastry chefs come into the restaurant very early in the morning. They bake stuff, which oven, but no grill is on, no sautee, no dishwasher. It's usually just the pastry chef, so no other people giving off body heat.

So pastry might be just the thing for you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:10 AM on August 25, 2014

So you don't want to be in the kitchen for eight hours either? Maybe you should be a health inspector.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:07 AM on August 25, 2014

typically you will be expected to work 8-10 hour days

First restaurant I worked in, more like 16-18 hour days. Second one, 12-14 hour days every day for over two months when I first started. Another depended on the day, but would vary from 8-14.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:45 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

How do you feel about hostessing? You can request a stool to keep at the podium (this request may or may not be granted).
posted by WeekendJen at 7:56 AM on August 25, 2014

The one time I worked in a restaurant I was in charge of filling up the salad bar. I mostly worked in the walk-in which was always cold. You occasionally had to go back to the kitchen where it was hot. But there aren't too many restaurants with big salad bars any more.
posted by interplanetjanet at 8:39 AM on August 25, 2014

You want a job for a food service company that runs a cafeteria and does a lot of catering. We have a particularly big kitchen, it is only hot right near the ovens. The dishwashers are in a separate room. We do lots of prep and cold items, so there is lots of space away from the ovens. This is probably the only type of kitchen that isn't super hot, and you'd still have to be lucky to have a good setup like we do, I doubt most similar operations have anything close to the size of kitchen we happen to.
posted by catatethebird at 8:53 AM on August 25, 2014

Once upon a time I worked doing sandwich prep - we made sandwiches for three different cafeterias in our building, and four or five smaller sites, and stuffed them into plastic boxes and sent them out in crates. We also made fancier things to order for one of the places in the same building. The hot kitchen was on the next floor up, and the scullery/dishwashing was on the other side of the building from us. That's the only time I've worked anywhere that fits your description. I started work at 8 in the morning and worked until either 2 or 4 in the afternoon, but this was a seasonal job and the hours might have been different in the normal (not August oh god everyone hates August) routine of the rest of the year.

We had a good laugh, it was a good team to work with, and it was usually busy. I don't know what attracts you to kitchen work but at this place, none of my team were chefs; they worked upstairs and sent us down the buckets of sandwich fillings they prepared, and the boxes of salad. About the only prep we did was grating cheese. And once a week I had to do a shift as assistant to the scary dishwashing lady, but that didn't bother me as the massive conveyor-belt dishwasher was really impressive.
posted by Lebannen at 1:40 PM on August 25, 2014

Keep in mind that refrigeration equipment also heats up kitchens.
posted by freezer cake at 1:48 PM on August 26, 2014

Ice cream and frozen yogurt places might fit the bill, depending on how the freezers are set up.
posted by yohko at 5:35 PM on August 29, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for your answers.

Well, the Asian restaurant where I now work is cooler than it is outside on a hot day, and I didn't have to do a long search to find it; it was the first job I answered on Craigslist. Nor is there steam everywhere, and it's a part time evening job like I wanted.

I'm not saying this to say "So there" (well, maybe a little bit). I'm just saying... Don't be so fatalistic about all restaurant kitchens being hot and steamy. Or about anything, I guess, for that matter.

Again, thanks to anyone who answered out of concern, but keep in mind that people's health and situations do change.
posted by serena15221 at 5:42 AM on September 4, 2014

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