The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Do Bakers usually get breaks? At all?

cor's picture

Do Bakers usually get breaks? At all?

Hi all,


Just started working in a small professional bakery after a long stint in a grocery store bakery.  Question is, do bakers expect to get breaks in their profession?  Or is it the rule that you work long, exhausting days without more than a bathroom break?


I've been working 9 to 10 hour days with no breaks.  My old job I got a 15, then a 30, then a 15.  Not trying to complain, just seeing if I'm choosing the wrong occupation.  Any comments such as "pick a new career" are just fine!  I don't mind baking bread on the side.

PaddyL's picture

If not, you should be.

jcking's picture

Some state laws require employers to give employee a break every 4 hours.


PastryPaul's picture

My system for breaks is both fixed and loose. Let me explain.

Every employee gets a half hour for lunch and two 15 minute breaks. They cannot combine breaks with lunch, or leave early if they take no breaks or lunch. Lunch is usually about half way through a shift while breaks are (about) at the  1/4 and 3/4 points. Everything is subject to management discretion (i.e. time-permitting). Not once has lunch ever been cancelled, but sometimes breaks become a quick smoke outside then back to the grind. BTW: We supply lunch right in the lab so work keeps right on going, albeit at a reduced pace.

That having been said, one does not take a break when something is in process (like leaving something in an oven while he/she takes a break). Common sense takes precedence, from management side as well as from the employees' side.

I have often cut shifts short to allow employees to avoid severe weather. I have also stretched shifts out when production needs warranted. (Don't get me wrong, my poor planning is not my employees' emergency, but sometimes, poop just happens.) .

During a recent heat wave, our AC fizzled and died. Temperatures climbed to 50 celius in the lab. We took a quick vote and everyone wanted to finish the day's schedule, even though I suggested that given the conditions, we should just close production. So we worked, 15 minutes on, 10 minutes off, 5 minutes in the walk-in or the chocolate room. Everything got done (well, croissants, puff dough, and mousses were completely out of the question at those temperatures).

When management and staff both keep an eye on each other's interests, rather than an Us vs. Them mentality, unions are not needed.


fancypantalons's picture

"When management and staff both keep an eye on each other's interests, rather than an Us vs. Them mentality, unions are not needed."

Of course.  But then, if I had a flying unicorn, I wouldn't need a car. :)

PastryPaul's picture

Baking / Pastry is hard work. Often what product requires is at odds with what we humans require. Dough can't adjust, so we have to. Sometimes the hours are long, sometimes conditions are crappy. Many things we can't control, but some we can.

It's one thing to work a long, hard day. It's something else entirely to work a long, hard day with people who drive you nuts, annoy you, take adavantage of you, etc. Every time I have ever changed jobs it was because of one of those reasons. There's a lot of lip service about "building a team," but how many real teams exist?

This post is directed at owners/managers. You are the only ones who can build a team. The following are my observations as to what worked in building my team. The list is not exhaustive. I just hit the high points. They are presented in no particular order. I don't know how these points can fit into a larger organization, but I assume it would be vastly more difficult. With a new shop opening next summer, I'm sweating bullets worrying about how it will be staffed (ideas welcomed).

  • New hires must fit the team. I once hired a Pastry Chef from a major hotel. Her stuff was beautiful, yummy works of art. She was also condescending and abusive. She lasted 3 days.
    • Our hiring process: 
      • I review CV's and make the primary selection. Employee references take precedence.
      • Candidates are interviewed by a member of the team they are being considered for, but not the team lead.
      • If that interview passes, there is a second interview with the team lead
      • If that interview passes, there is a third interview with me.
      • The three interviewers meet to discuss the candidate and compare notes.
      • If hired, they work under a six month probation where they can be terminated without notice. (Obviously, check if that can fly under your jurisdiction).
  • Cross-train
    • Although everyone has something they do best, most people dislike doing the same thing day in and day out. Train everyone to do everything. Helps a lot with the inevitable sick days and vacation issues too.
    • Have bakers train in front of house and front staff in the lab. When people understand the issues others have, they are less likely to focus tightly on their own issues and feel resentful when pressed.
  • Actively seek out suggestions
    • Every production meeting ends with a call for suggestions. A suggestion box alone won't do the trick. Suggestions can be anything from ideas on how to streamline a process, a new recipe idea, a training opportunity, etc. A few of our best-selling products came from employees, and 1 from an intern. At the beginning, some of those suggestions will be jokes (hot tub in the lab, immediate 100% raises, etc) others will be weird. Laugh off the jokes. All other ones, at least at first, should be taken seriously and, if possible, tested. Never, ever, knock one down immediately or suggestions will dry up. For product suggestions, if adopted, I pay out a bonus based on profit earned from the product. 
  • Off-site training / conventions /continuing education etc
    • We're fortunate in that we have a huge chocolate distributer a little to the south of us, and two major universites close by. We also get invites to various workshops, etc. We handle them in two ways.
      • If we feel that an employee will benefit from the training, we suggest he/she takes it, on our dime. The employee will then conduct his/her own workshop with the rest of us.
      • If an empoyee wishes to take a course, the process is somewhat different. If we do not feel it is of benefit to us, but the employee feels strongly about it, we usually allow an unpaid leave. If we do feel it is of benefit to us, it is treated like the first situation.
  • Consider supplying lunch and snacks for free.
    • Snacks: Any employee can help themselves to croissants, pastries, etc at no cost. You would think taht people would tank up on free goodies but no one has ever abused the privilege. If fact, they usually just grab one of the inevitable "less than beautiful" ones that we wouldn't put up for sale anyway.
    • Lunch: We're in the food business. How much bread do you toss out or donate to soup kitchens? How many cakes or pastries are approaching stale right now, but are still good? How much can it cost to make pizza or sandwiches for 10-15 people? Peanuts! Compare that to the benefit of having your staff on site during lunch, where they can get up, take a peak at the ovens, adjust dough hydration, or whatever, and pop back into their seat. Three rules: Everyone eats together. Everyone cleans up. Everyone, myself included, take turns cooking. Lunches range from spaghetti, to pizza, to sandwiches, to store-bought roasted chickens, and always with a salad and baguette.
  • Mentoring / Internships
    • If there is a pastry school or community college etc that regularly needs places for their students to do internships, get to know them and offer your place. Get to know the teachers as well as the admin staff.
    • Treat interns exactly like employees.
    • Have the intern work with as many employees as possible doing as many things as possible. It's better for their eductaton and allows you to see how they work with your team. It also shows your employees that they are trusted to teach. Recogintion of skill is nearly as valuable as a raise.
    • Expect the interns to make mistakes... they're there to learn.
    • Always de-brief whomever the intern worked with on a daily basis. I think of it this way... I'm furthering their education, they are giving me a free glimpse into a potential future hire.

OK, I think I've blathered on long enuff and may just have hijacked this thread. Sorry about that.




copyu's picture

You wouldn't mind if I copied this into an MS-Word document for my own, personal delectation, would you? [It's almost too late to object, anyway!]

This is great company and management training 'in a nutshell'! Thank you very much for posting your thoughts here. I won't abuse the advice here, but I'll pinch a few snippets out for some of my students, OK? I promise I'll give credit to 'PastryPaul' unless you want to PM me and give further personal details...experience, qualifications, full-name, publications, etc...some of my students really NEED advice like this.

Please let me know if you have any objections and I'll respect your wishes.



hanseata's picture

I wish everybody had so much common sense that is good business sense at the same time. Though I never worked in a bakery (other than my home kitchen), but in hospitals, these rules should apply for every workplace.

Happy employees are loyal, have less sick days, and deliver better quality. That should be a no brainer!

Karin (physician, psychotherapist - and baker)

cranbo's picture

I agree, a really professional, respectful, and beautifully written description of basic management & operation skills for running a related business. Thanks for sharing!

BakerBen's picture

A description of the type place you are working would help - is it a chain or a "one man show"?  Have you raised your concern with your supervisor - sometimes folks figure if you need a break you will ask for it.   There is always something else to do in a bakery but everyone needs a break - to take care of personal business and fuel up a bit too.  We all will be interested to hear more.


cor's picture

It's a small operation; *an independent private owned company that is attached to a restaurant (not a chain)*. 4 full time bakers and one part time at the moment, with 1 or 2 cashiers at any time during opening hours. It is a busy season since our state relies a lot on tourism. Usually during the day there is one baker and one pastry chef, though there may be a third person helping as needed. Well, the break thing was discussed during my interview. They said that we are technically given 30 minutes of lunch per day but "we usually grab something to eat and work while eating, still standing." Everyone at the bakery follows this unsaid rule, to the point that breaks are never discussed and any amount of standing idle means not being on task.

fancypantalons's picture

Sounds illegal to me.  I'd check the laws in your area, but I know where I live (granted, it's communist Canada), that's most definitely illegal, and an employer would not be allowed to use your taking a break as grounds for dismissal.

Regardless, sounds like a sweatshop to me, and if you can find another position, you should.

Dcn Marty's picture
Dcn Marty

Check with the National Labor Relations Board and it's state equivilent. This practice violate federal and probably state laws.

mimifix's picture

Geez Cor, you're in a small operation where all the workers are complicit in sweatshop conditions. I'd say you get with the program or find another job. If you care about your health, another job may be the best choice.

Bakery work is not easy. Some workplaces are worse than others. I was the only baker/pastrychef in a Hyatt hotel. There were numerous line and grill cooks, all of whom got a half hour lunch and two 15 minute breaks. Not me. "The baker is special," Chef Ray replied whenever I said that I wanted a lunch break, too. He assumed that was enough of an answer. Unfortunately, this line of work is not easy.

Crider's picture

Many state laws are different. Your employer is an idiot, by the way. I'm self employed and it is common for me to work through my lunch time, but it is very stupid to expect employees to have that kind of crazy self-motivation. 

cor's picture

I live in Vermont... I really have a passion for bread, but wondering if I should try making this a career anymore. I know baking is a tough line of work, and I'm willing to work hard to bake.

Franko's picture

Hi Cor,

I work in a Union shop and could easily do without the 30 minute unpaid meal break, but my employer adamantly insists I take it. Apparently the company lawyers have determined they're vulnerable to legislated worker health regulations if they don't adhere to and apply the regs to the letter. Our contract doesn't provide for anything more than the basic rights provided to all workers, Union or not, in our Province of British Columbia, Canada.

Until our elected governments start rigoursly enforcing all job sites for worker health and safety, and sanctioning employers such as yours with hefty fines for non-compliance, it's a matter of looking for an enlightened employer that tries for a balance of respect for the worker, and operational common sense, much as  PastryPaul describes his shop situation. I sometimes wonder if the term 'Journeyman Baker' wasn't meant to mean a baker in search of work that could sustain his family and give him or her a decent working life.

There are lots of sweat-shops in the baking trade, and it's relatively easy to find work in one, but it's not worth the time, energy, and ultimately your piece of mind to contribute your hard work to an employer that runs this type of business.

Spend your passion wisely cor,

Best Wishes,


arlo's picture

At my bakery, the owner encourages me to take a break each day and even pays for part of my meal. Though the time of the break ranges from 5 minutes to 15 minutes.

During the holidays I am lucky if I get a chance to stop moving for a second though it seems. As far as time off goes? Don't get me started...

yozzause's picture

Thank goodness i have only worked in places where the worker is respected and breaks are mandatory by law i have worked in large bakeries and in a two man operations and although there was never a hard and fast set time for those breaks there was always  a break taken. It has to come down to the basic respect for the worker  to see that they are not only provided with the opportunity to take a break but that they  actually do take it. Productivity will improve  and accidents averted if these breaks are observed.

We used to do a double shift and there was always someone that would take over to give you a spell , they came in after a few hours and made tea for the whole crew that was taken on the job and then they would start to relieve all the bakers  in turn. and a later break taken toward the end of production as soon as staff became free of their make up chores.

I dont think much of the idea that the workers are  afraid to speak up for a basic rights, thats why we have legislation in place here to protect the workers basic rights. 

A decent boss will have both my respect and my loyalty if he looks after me and treats me as i would look after anyone that i asked to work for me.

regards Yozza


JustinB's picture

This is how it goes at my job. Everyone is required two 15min breaks and a 30min lunch on an 8 hour shift. As far as our bakery goes, it usually never happens unfortunately. I have a similar background as you, but both are grocery bakeries. The main difference was  at one everything came in frozen, the other all bread from scratch. So, because dough waits for no one, my breaks usually vary from none to 5min (completely my choice). It is extremely difficult work, but very rewarding. Holidays usually end up 12+ hours.

That said, I absolutely love what I do. Not trying to justify that not taking breaks is OK, I try to when I can, but just that you aren't the only one!

varda's picture

the thought of being on my feet for 10 hours at a stretch without a break for lunch sounds like torture to me.   My knees and back hurt just thinking about it.   How can you think straight when you don't have a lunch break?   Maybe it's common but a lot of people simply couldn't do it.   So a lot of great bakers would be weeded out just because of stupid work processes like this.   If you ask me, it doesn't make any sense and it's worth it to look around until you find something more reasonable.  -Varda

EvaB's picture

this is the way to guarntee that your life becomes a hell on earth. You need those breaks, even if its 5 mintues and 10 minutes and a smaller lunch break, but if you were an undiagnosed diabetic (and there are lots out there) its the way to have you collapse, to work and not have a break, you need to eat and rest. And bakeries and other places that think you don't need to have a worker's compensation visit.

This is plain not safe, I don't think nurses working 12 hour shifts is safe either, and certainly not working double shifts.

People don't go for hours and hours without a rest and something to eat, grab a smoke break (bad for you and much better to grab a lunch break) and in the food industry eating while making food is a no no! You need that break, and the times given of 2 15 and one 30 minute break is a minimum, and to work with out breaks, even in holiday times etc, is slave labour in the worst sense!

G-man's picture

I don't know how similar baking and restaurants are in terms of the hours and conditions you work, but since the bakery you work in is attached to a restaurant, I have to assume that the conditions are fairly similar in terms of expectations.

From my experience and the experience of all of my friends and family who have ever worked in this industry, breaks are few and far between. You work until you don't have any more work to do, then you find work to do until you have to work more. If you have time to grab a cigarette break, good on you. If you don't smoke, you don't need a break. You eat when you get told to eat. In my experience this can happen any time between the beginning of your shift and a few hours after your scheduled shift has ended.

Food service is a hard industry. The hours suck, the pay sucks, and the people who are drawn to it are difficult to get along with at best.

I'm not saying it's legal or right and I'm not trying to make excuses, but in my experience that's the way it is. Good bosses in the industry will accommodate you until you become too much trouble to accommodate, and that usually comes down to you impacting their bottom line. It isn't from a lack of humanity but simple survival, because profit margins are razor thin and if you're needed for work you are genuinely needed, because there's no room for extra hands or idle hands. If you don't like the working conditions, the industry isn't for you. It isn't a reflection on you, the industry is only great for a very specific sort of person that doesn't fit anywhere else. For everyone else, it sucks.

Yerffej's picture

The conditions described in the original post are simply unacceptable.  The solution could be many different avenues but the real question is whether or not it is worth fighting against this setup or simply looking for a better situation.  That is a decision only you can make. 


cor's picture

Hi Everyone,


Thanks for the input! Wow, lots to think about. Well, things are actually getting a bit better. The busy season is getting a little less busy lately, and we have a bit of time to actually stop and take a breather (well, while still standing, but it's something). I think what I'll just start doing is sneaking 5 or 10 minutes here and there in the adjacent lounge whenever I go to the bathroom. They'll never know. And if they do, so what? I'll tell them I'm tying my shoes or something.


In any case, everyone is right, this probably isn't a job I will stay in long term, in part for the fact that the break policy is so terrible. Among other things. But for now, I'm getting the experience and hopefully a foot in the door for something better down the line! So to that, cheers! Thanks everyone.



gerhard's picture

Lots of work places have different cultures, but a no break policy seems counter productive and even unsafe.  After four hours of work you deserve at least half an hour of personal time to eat and chill out and you will come back as a more productive employee.  One difficult problem is employees bathroom breaks and texting on their phones, there is no good way to approach this subject.


Emelye's picture

During my (mis)adventure last summer working in a hotel bakery I faced pretty much the same conditions.  While I did take breaks they were usually toward the end of the shift (or past the end), while waiting for things to finish in the oven.  That plus the cramped conditions in the bakery, a relatively small room off the main kitchen actually, way too small for what they wanted us to do in there, damaged my right knee so badly that I had to quit.  They refused to give me anyone to help.  New York State has a rule about giving people ½ hour breaks after 6 hours of work.  That was never enforced and, because of my workload, was inevitably impractical.  I had to use a cane for a few days after I resigned. Fortunately the major pain has gone away.

It was fun and a learning experience.  Unfortunately, one of the things I learned was that this old body just doesn't have the stamina anymore to do those kinds of jobs.

RebelWithoutASauce's picture

I worked at a bakery in Massachusetts, USA for about 7 months and I got one 30 minute break in a twelve hour shift. Occasionally something would be timed a bit of and I would have 4 minutes where I could go to the bathroom. However, I had an overbearing coworker (yes, not even my boss in any way) who would complain if I didn't immediately start washing the floors etc. if I had  spare minute. Weird attitude, since there was a guy whose specific job it was to wash floors etc. He had to do it over again even if we did it.


So I don't know if it is common, or legal, or what, but that is what it was like for me. Very exhausting work. I essentially spent the rest of my life sleeping and attempting to mitigate the health issues caused by constant physical exhaustion, but I also had to walk 2 miles to work, and two miles back, so that just added onto the stress from the labor.


BrickAndMortarBaker's picture

I don't take breaks and very often work 10-12 hours a shift. We eat as we work if we can (being very careful to keep hands clean and food seperate from our work areas. The fact is we have many different doughs being divided/formed/retarted/mixed/folded at different times you have something to do every 2 minutes. A half hour break could be the difference between lovely dough and overproofed. I really don't find it that hard and it is at times satisfying at the end of a long day to see everything you have made.

gerhard's picture

I would think that an employer that doesn't allow breaks is taking a short term view of his business.  You can only work employees so long and expect loyalty, commitment to quality and a safe work place.


BrickAndMortarBaker's picture

I think people are putting images in their mind of an overlord employer standing over employees with a whip demanding that they don't take breaks. This is not the case. I have a workload to do in a day. I can work as fast as I can, or at my own pace. If people call in large orders, I can decide whether or not to make them. I dictate how long I am at work, and how strenuous it is when I'm there. This may not be the case with other bakeries but it is where I work. We don't have people quitting left right and centre and it is a team. I think if I was forced to only work 8 hours with designated breaks, it would feel like a pre-school instead of a place where people come together to make a quality food, and get a task done.