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Compensation for Camp Cooks

 
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Trapper



Joined: 27 Jul 2013
Posts: 307
Location: Montana

PostPosted: Tuesday 2-13-2018 8:38 am    Post subject: Compensation for Camp Cooks Reply with quote

I've had a few people ask me how much Camp Cooks make. There are so many variables:

1. Your gear or theirs?
2. Are you acting as chef? ie making the menu, shopping the grocery list, ordering resupply, keeping inventory.
3. Are there other duties? Camp Jack, wrangler, packer? Gear boat driver or rower.
4. One outfitter side tasked me with running his 50' boat which I really loved doing but when you're performing a side task, you're not getting your other work done.

Many outfitters want to pay camp cooks minimum wage or even less. I'm not real familiar with labor laws, but I think in the food service industry they can get away with it.

The hours are typically very long; 10-15 hours per day. In many cases you may not get more than 1 day off every 10 days or so. If someone is offering $1200/month, which isn't all that uncommon, even with great tips, you're working for minimum wage.

Alaska outfitters pay more on average. And yeah, a good cook can bring those hard earned clients back year after year. But a sloppy or dirty or unsanitary cook can get an Outfitter sued with food poisoning. A drunk and/or beligerant cook can send your clients off to your competition. Salmonella or Ecoli poisoning can ruin someone’s hard earned and expensive vacation. Then all of a sudden an inexperienced and cheap help cook is VERY expensive.

All that is a given.

I got one Alaska job because a previous cook was not good.

My phone rings.

“Hello,”I say noting an Alaska area code on the ID.

“Are you Trapper?”

“Yup. Who are you?”

“I’m Bill Outfitter. I run an outfit in Alaska. Last year I had two guys in camp. One said to me, ‘Bill, you run a great hunt and camp, but your food is mediocre at best. Hell, we did a wilderness elk hunt in Montana for a fourth of the money and the cook was 100 times better than what we’re getting here.’”

Bill asked them what my name was. They didn’t know my last name; just Trapper. They told him how without electricity or running water I baked bread every day, soughdough pancakes, lasagnas, ciabatta bread, prime rib, quesadillas, homemade pasta, pies, cobblers, cookies, au grautin potatos, french toast stuffed with mangos and glazed with strawberries, etc.

The outfitter spent a bunch of time trying to find me. He finally found a friend of mine and thus I got the call.

My point. Sometimes an outfitter thinks he’s making more money by hiring someone who is inexperienced but is really losing money without ever knowing it.

If you decide to do what you love (Cast Iron Cook/Chef work) don't sell yourself short.

Trapper
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SeabeeCook



Joined: 02 Dec 2007
Posts: 602
Location: Diamond Springs, Calif.

PostPosted: Tuesday 2-13-2018 10:53 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Like Trapper, I am retired. That helps to make a camp cook venture work out. The "problem" I see with a career as a camp cook is it isn't steady work The fall deer/elk hunting season is eight weeks at best (I work six weeks for my current outfitter). One must be continually on the lookout for additional cooking gigs. Many are short, only one or two weeks. Others extend into a two- or three-month-long gigs, like the summer camp that I work at from May to August. It's difficult to make a career of being a camp cook.

You have to be constantly on the search for work to fill in the blanks between your main gigs. While I fortunate to be able to take my wife along for both my jobs, many don't allow a spouse or simply don't have room for her. I've seen dude ranches that bunk two in the same room, so there's no consideration for a non-working spouse. (I always broach the question during the interview as I prefer not to spend long periods of time away from my wife.) And unless you're an expert at marketing yourself, it take a lot of work locating potential cooking gigs. Plus, as Trapper alluded to, some are looking for you to provide the camp kitchen outfit (tent, stove, pots, utensils, etc.).

Now to Trapper's question regarding pay. My summer job, calculated based on six 12-hour days per week, pays a couple dollars per hour under California minimum wage (it looks much better based on an eight-hour day; but then that's not reality). I'm the food service manager/chef for the camp, so I'm the highest paid employee in the kitchen. Without revealing my daily wage for the hunting camp, in six weeks, I exceed my summer salary with my wage plus tips!

The downside at my hunting camp is there are no days off for the cook for the first 27 days of the season. Then we have a week off and return for 12 days. My pay is based on day-for-day. So, I'm not working unpaid days.

One question to ask a perspective outfitter is whether you'll be paid via 1099 or W-2. With Form 1099-MISC, you're responsible for paying all of your own taxes, Social Security, etc. The outfitter withholds nothing and pays you the gross amount due. You need to set money aside (or file quarterly estimated taxes) for tax time. The upside is in filing Schedule C with your 1040, you can deduct your business expenses associated with the gig. (This is the point where I advise you that I'm not a tax expert. Please consult the right experts (CPA, etc.) before proceeding.) On the upside, my tax bite wasn't too bad since I only had one 1099 gig.

Any questions? Check my Instagram page for photos of the hunting camp. The tag #starvalleyoutfitters[/ will bring up photos of the camp from me and others.


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Steven
Chef & camp cook, Star Valley Outfitters, Alpine, WY
Executive chef, Oakland Feather River Camp, Quincy, CA
SeabeeCook on Instagram
'Round the Chuckbox on Facebook
'Round the Chuckbox blog


Last edited by SeabeeCook on Wednesday 2-14-2018 9:02 am; edited 1 time in total
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Trapper



Joined: 27 Jul 2013
Posts: 307
Location: Montana

PostPosted: Wednesday 2-14-2018 7:16 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:

One question to ask a perspective outfitter is whether you'll be paid via 1099 or W-2. With Form 1099-MISC, you're responsible for paying all of your own taxes, Social Security, etc.


15%. That’s what you’ll pay right off the top before deductions. Of course you’ll have to pay additional taxes unless you have enough deductions. Keep in mind if you have I think three years of paying no taxes the IRS could declare it’s a hobby and not a business. You can’t take deductions for hobbies.

Steven is correct; consult your tax guy to figure out what makes the most sense for you.
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cphubert



Joined: 01 Jun 2016
Posts: 71
Location: CT

PostPosted: Wednesday 2-14-2018 6:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Always tipped well in fishing camps and made sure I included the cook staff not just the guides. While I love camping and sharing a fire and meals with others I think it takes a special person with a much better personality than I to do what both of you do. Shipmate you and Trapper earn my respect. God Bless.
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Trapper



Joined: 27 Jul 2013
Posts: 307
Location: Montana

PostPosted: Thursday 2-15-2018 4:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

cphubert.

The Navy taught me how to tie knots, but the only cooking I did was heating C-Rats in various ways.

Laughing

I enjoy the work because I feel very comfortable in the backcountry. It beats the heck out of plopping my butt down on the couch and watching Oprah.
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