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The Staging Dangers

Image of a waiter typing an order into a POS system.

The concept of a "stagiaire,” or “stage” for short, has deep roots in the culinary industry originating as an unpaid internship in French restaurants as part of a culinary education.

A stagiaire in the modern restaurant industry serves a dual purpose. For the employer, it presents a unique opportunity to evaluate potential employees' skills and work ethic in a real-world setting, without the long-term commitment of a contractual agreement. It bypasses the traditional recruitment process, focusing instead on the individual's actual performance in the dynamic, high-pressure kitchen environment.

For the aspiring chef, doing a stage is a vital step in getting a job. It provides a firsthand experience of a professional kitchen's culture, rhythms, and demands. It allows them to learn new techniques, observe seasoned chefs, and understand the nuances of the culinary operation.

However, it's essential to acknowledge the challenges that come with the experience. The hours are often a full shift or two, the work is physically demanding, and monetary compensation is often non-existent. For the employer, the risk is even greater. As stages are typically done under the table, they run the risk of some serious labor violations and open a restaurant to legal trouble if done incorrectly.

These primarily revolve around labor laws and workplace safety regulations. (Note we are in no way shape or form providing legal advice. Laws and regulations can vary by jurisdiction and may be subject to interpretation, therefore, it is always advisable to seek legal counsel from a qualified attorney who can provide guidance based on your specific situation)

In Wisconsin, as in many other U.S. states, labor laws prohibit employers from having individuals perform work without pay except under certain limited circumstances. Below are some guidelines that must be met in order to move forward with a stage under federal law and Wisconsin state law:

  1. The extent to which the intern and the employer clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation. Any promise of compensation, express or implied, suggests that the intern is an employee—and vice versa.

  2. The extent to which the internship provides training that would be similar to that which would be given in an educational environment, including the clinical and other hands-on training provided by educational institutions.

  3. The extent to which the internship is tied to the intern’s formal education program by integrated coursework or the receipt of academic credit.

  4. The extent to which the internship accommodates the intern’s academic commitments by corresponding to the academic calendar.

  5. The extent to which the internship’s duration is limited to the period in which the internship provides the intern with beneficial learning.

  6. The extent to which the intern’s work complements, rather than displaces, the work of paid employees while providing significant educational benefits to the intern.

  7. The extent to which the intern and the employer understand that the internship is conducted without entitlement to a paid job at the conclusion of the internship.

If a restaurant does an unpaid stage and does not meet all seven of the above criteria, it could potentially be in violation of Wisconsin labor laws. For example, if the stage performs tasks that are essential to the operation of the restaurant, displaces regular paid employees, or provides work that benefits the restaurant, the stage may be considered an employee and entitled to minimum wage and overtime protections.


We here at Clock’d are all about culinary education, so here are four potential alternatives to staging that could keep you out of hot water.

1. Partner with culinary schools or training programs to provide students with practical experience in a supervised setting.

These programs often have partnerships with local restaurants and provide students with structured training and education in a controlled environment. By partnering with these programs, restaurants can ensure that they are following all legal requirements while also providing valuable experience to aspiring chefs all the while possibly finding a solid chef who will work with you upon graduation.

2. Offer paid internships or apprenticeships.

While this can be more expensive for the restaurant, it ensures that the intern is being compensated fairly for their work and can help avoid any legal issues. Paid internships also attract more serious candidates who are invested in the industry and are looking for a career rather than just a short-term experience.

3. Consider offering job-shadowing opportunities for those interested.

While these options do not provide the same level of hands-on experience or evaluation as a stage, they can still be valuable for individuals looking to explore your operations and can help restaurants avoid any legal risks associated with unpaid work.

4. Have Clock’d run your stage!

Working with our clients, we become the employer of record and will staff the potential hire for the length required. We will do all of the onboarding, paperwork, and most importantly ensure the potential hire is paid for their work. Through this system, our clients are able to cut through the HR red tape to be able to truly evaluate a candidate the way Escoffier intended!

By letting Clock’d handle your stages, you're not just ensuring legality but also making a smart financial move. Our service can potentially save you up to 20% in HR-related costs, thanks to efficient staffing and management.


So, whether you're an aspiring chef looking to learn the ropes, or a restaurant owner seeking fresh talent, remember the stage is a dance that requires the right partner. With Clock'd, you've got a partner who knows the steps and won't let you trip.

The stage is set, the kitchen's heated, and the knives are sharp. With the right knowledge, measures, and partners, the culinary journey awaits. So, turn on the burners, and let's cook up success together! 🍳🔪💼


Marc LaPierre is a 10-year veteran of the food and hospitality industry, Certified Staffing Professional, and CEO/Founder of Clock’d + SEEN. From cooking in James Beard award-winning kitchens to opening and managing a nightclub in Mexico, he worked every job in the industry. Today he connects professionals looking to advance their careers with clients eager to find an all-star team.


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