Behind each exquisite dish that leaves the pass is you, the chef. You stand for hours on end, chopping, cooking, and creating. You may have even maneuvered around a loud call for "hot behind" to avoid a collision with a teammate carrying scalding liquid. Maybe you stopped right in your tracks for a grease spill on the floor. The spills may not happen every day, but standing for hours on hard concrete floors is a chef’s everyday life.
"Working substrates in commercial kitchens are often tiles or concrete with mats. However, mats may not always be used in certain areas. Concrete is a killer for your feet, knees, and back," says Vahé Mekhitarian, owner of Menu for You, reflecting on decades of working in professional kitchens.
Standing and walking on hard surfaces for hours on end fatigues the feet and can cause issues like backaches and sprains. Wearing the right kind of shoes to properly support your body is as important as having your favorite knife with you on the job. So, we asked seasoned chefs what shoes they liked to wear to decrease fatigue, increase safety, and navigate safely through a busy kitchen.
Birkenstock Profi-Birki Polyurethane Clogs
Shoe molds to the foot
Even distribution of body weight
Toe box is too large for some people
Footbed insert wears off fast
Birkis, as these are lovingly called, have a huge fan following in professional kitchens. Made of polyurethane, most chefs recommended these oil- and grease-resistant clogs.
"What really hooked me was the cork insoles you can get with them. They form to the shape of your foot after a week or so, and in that respect become personalized," says Zachary Patz, former chef de cuisine at Il Posto in Denver. "They have a high back to keep my foot inside while still being slip-on shoes."
The Birkenstock has a wide insertion point and is roomy in the box, which allows the foot to move freely. The removable polyurethane footbed can be washed and disinfected.
Price at time of publish: $90
Material: Polyurethane | Color Options: Black, blue, brown | Style: Slip-on
Best for Flat Feet
Dansko Women's Professional Clog
Available in fun colors
Takes time to break into
Prone to ankle rolling
The Dansko Professional Leather Clog delivers a high level of comfort and support to the feet for long hours of standing. The memory foam footbed provides great arch support, which is especially useful for those with flat feet.
"Dankos help alleviate back and foot pain when you put them on for extended standing in the kitchen," says Denis Zvekic, executive chef at Kachina Cantina in Denver. He recommends replacing them every 12 months or so if you wear them all day, every day.
Price at time of publish: $140
Material: Box Leather, polyethylene | Color Options: Multiple | Style: Slip-on
Crocs On The Clock Work Clog
Half-size increments don’t work well
May not work for tall arches
Crocs are known for being incredibly lightweight, breathable shoes and are also water-friendly. These are the same lightweight, relaxed-fit shoes, but with an enclosed toe and heel that meet professional kitchen standards. The shoe is nonslip and easy to clean with just soap and water. The slip-resistant treads make it safe to wear in the kitchen while providing ample support.
Chef Jason Maybee, who is a member of the Denver Chefs Collaborative and has over 25 years in the industry, likes the Crocs for their fit. "There’s no break-in time, whereas you sometimes need to break in other clogs. The spongy comfort is awesome, and I can wear these for a 12-hour shift," he says.
Price at time of publish: $45
Material: Croslite (closed cell resin) | Color Options: Black, white, navy, tie-dye | Style: Slip-on
SAS Patriot Nonslip Shoe
Professional fitting options
Narrow toe box
Not as easy to clean
Madhoo Seth, owner of Roots restaurant and The Gourmet Kitchen Catering in Colorado, is partial to SAS Patriot shoes. "SAS is the best shoe for me as I have very long days, and in addition to being in the kitchen, I have to be at events for weddings," she says. "My SAS shoe is in its 10th year of use, which shows that the shoes are long-lasting even with regular use."
SAS recommends getting professionally fitted for a shoe at one of its stores before buying to get the best fit and comfort. Its cool footbed technology helps keep your feet dry all day long with a moisture-wicking layer and an anti-friction lining. There are also removable and odor-resistant cushions.
Price at time of publish: $185
Material: Leather | Color Options: Black | Style: Slip-on
New Balance 626v2 Industrial Sneakers
Moderate arch support
Cushioning in heel
Sometimes you want an athletic-looking shoe made for working in the kitchen environment. The sporty profile of this New Balance work shoe offers a comfy fit for all-day wear. The 626v2 sneaker has an all-leather upper for durability and a good combination of cushioning and compression resistance to help you stay comfortable.
The shoes also have a slip-resistant outsole for traction, making them safe shoes to wear in the kitchen environment. For those who might find traditional chef shoes heavy, these provide the familiarity of a sports shoe with the safety of a kitchen shoe.
Price at time of publish: $95
Material: Leather, rubber | Color Options: Black, gray | Style: Lace-up, athletic
Blundstone 990 Leather Work Boot
Generous toe box
"The Blundstone is the tough, total coverage shoe [that protects] against all the hazards of the kitchen," says Chef Justin Ryan Fulton, an industry veteran and freelance consultant with past positions that include executive chef at Pernoi in Birmingham, Michigan, and chef de cuisine at French Louie in Brooklyn, New York. "It is a completely protective shoe that gives excellent support while being extremely comfortable for long hours."
These Blundstone unisex work boots are designed for safety with a water-resistant leather upper slip-resistant sole and a steel shank to ensure the correct step flex point. The shoes have a removable footbed, which is antibacterial, washable, and breathable, and they also have great arch support.
Price at time of publish: $230
Material: Oil tanned leather | Color Options: Black, brown | Style: Pull-on
Dr. Martens 1460 Slip Resistant Service Boots
Takes time to break in
These shoes are made for work and play. The slip-resistant boots have great support and an enhanced grip. They also look great outside the kitchen. If you find yourself running from the kitchen to events, you won’t have to stop to change your shoes.
Made with industrial, water-resistant leather, Dr. Martens are easily wiped clean. They take a couple of days to break in but are comfortable after that. The shoes are versatile and help you express your individuality while staying safe and comfortable at work.
Price at time of publish: $180
Material: Leather and synthetic | Color Options: White, black, cherry red | Style: Lace up
Best for Personal Chefs
Adidas Originals Cloudfoam Advantage Sneaker
Soft and comfortable
Moderate arch support
Attractive casual design
Not suitable for commercial kitchens
As a personal chef, you are mostly working in a client’s home. The surface is quite different from the restaurant kitchen, and so is the environment. You need shoes that can keep supporting you on both carpets and wooden floors.
"I discovered Adidas Clouds when talking with a friend who is a surgeon and is on his feet for long hours," says Mekhitarian. "We discussed footwear, and he mentioned that the Adidas Clouds are most forgiving on his arches and back." Adidas lends greater flexibility and personality in your shoes as a personal chef.
Material: Textile, synthetics | Color Options: Black, white with color options for core stripes | Style: Lace-up, athletic
Dansko XP 2.0 Clogs
Roomy toe box
Comes in tons of colors, designs
Takes time to break in
Prone to ankle rolling
These Dansko shoes come in a lot of fun colors and styles. They have a lightweight construction, slip-resistant soles, and a removable footbed. The shoe also has an arch stabilizer for support and memory foam for comfort for all-day standing. The padded instep provides extra comfort, and the roomy toe box allows your toes to move comfortably.
"I appreciate their durability. They're slightly expensive, but they last forever," says Cammie Reed, owner of Round the Table, a Colorado-based personal chef service. "There was a marked improvement in knee and ankle pain after wearing these shoes."
Price at time of publish: $150
Material: Leather, Synthetic | Color Options: Black, brown, various multicolor designs | Style: Slip-on
Best Cork Footbed
Birkenstock Super-Birki Cork Footbed Clog
Anatomically shaped cork-latex footbed
Can be disinfected
Footbed wears off easily
"Birkis are light on the feet, easy to put on, and feel like you are wearing loose slippers," says Taylor Westbrook, owner of By the Brook Tempeh in Saxapahaw, North Carolina. "They are pretty durable, and my first pair lasted a long time."
Birkenstock shoes come with a removable cork-latex footbed that conforms to your feet and is lined with moisture-wicking fabric. "Breathability is key, which I value in the Birki brand," says Westbrook. The polyurethane sole is oil- and grease-resistant, can handle temperatures up to 176 degrees, and is easy to disinfect.
Price at time of publish: $70
Material: Polyurethane, cork | Color Options: Black, white, red, blue, yellow, green, apple green, raspberry sorbet, light blue | Style: Slip-on
Birkenstock Professional Birki is a supportive shoe that has been tested in the kitchen environment for decades. And if you prefer the sneaker look in your shoes, the New Balance Slip Resistant Shoes are safe and comfortable.
How to Select the Right Chef Shoe
Why Are Kitchen Shoes Important?
You need to stay on your toes if you work in a kitchen, as they’re often busy and tightly packed with slippery floors and hot surfaces—even a small slip can lead to serious injury. The correct footwear is paramount to staying safe and on your feet (literally).
Of course, chef shoes are for much more than just avoiding kitchen mishaps. Since the work involves mostly standing or walking around, comfort and support are must-haves to negate fatigue and aches. Finding the right pair of chef shoes makes work easier, safer, and simply more comfortable.
- Find the right fit: This may seem like a no-brainer, but when it comes to work shoes, finding the correct size and fit is vital. If a shoe is too big, it can trip you up or fall off and get in someone’s way. If it’s too small, the shoes will pinch or squish your feet and cause distracting discomfort or painful blisters.
- No-slip grip: Look for shoes with strong grips. Kitchen floors can grow slick from spills or mop water, and nobody wants to fall.
- Comfort and support: If you’re on your feet while on the clock, you’ll need a comfortable shoe. Avoid aches and pains by getting a sturdy shoe that cushions your feet and offers support for your arches.
- Water-resistance: To cut down on cleaning stains, consider looking for shoes that are water-resistant or waterproof.
Common Mistakes When Purchasing Chef Shoes
- Fashion over function: Prioritize comfort, grip, fit, and support over flashy aesthetics. Chef shoes are bound to get messy, so focusing solely on looks won’t help you. In this case, practicality is better than fashion.
- Short lifespan: While chef shoes may not be the most glamorous, you don’t want to just go with the cheapest pair available. Look for shoes with durable material so they’ll last a long time and hold up under working conditions.
What to Look for in Chef Shoes
In a professional kitchen, shoes play a key role in preventing any slips and falls. The material with which shoes are made and the design of the shoe help enhance the protection that professional and certified shoes offer. Leather, rubber, and polyethylene are the leading choice of materials. These materials resist liquids, oils, and grease and are easy to clean.
- Shock Absorption: Because kitchens floors are hard surfaces, walking and standing on them results in muscle fatigue. To avoid stressing your legs and feet, choose shoes that have good shock absorption and a comfortable footbed. An even distribution of weight in the footbed reduces fatigue.
- Slip Resistance: Look for shoes that have either an SRA, SRB, or SRC certification. These labels mean that the soles of the shoes were tested with soap solutions on tiles (SRA) or a stainless-steel surface coated with a glycerol solution (SRB). For both these tests, the shoes face highly slippery conditions. A rating of SRC means that both the SRA and SRB tests were conducted.
- Breathability: A shoe with enhanced airflow or moisture-wicking fabric will keep your feet cool in the heat of the kitchen and keep you comfortable.
- Comfort/Style: This factor is a personal choice. After all, the shoe and you are going to be spending a lot of time together. It is best to get comfortable. Lace-up or slip-on? Both have their own merits. Slip-ons are easy to get in and out of and are usually much easier to clean and disinfect. Lace-up styles offer a more secure hold. If you need more arch support or more room in the toe box, pick a shoe that has the features you are comfortable in.
Ease of Care
Chef shoes will certainly take a beating over their lifetime—sauce spills, scuffs, long shifts. After a full day of work, the last thing you want to deal with is a shoe that’s difficult to clean and maintain. Before you purchase a pair, check out the cleaning recommendations. Can you toss them into a washing machine or dishwasher? Do they just need a light spot-cleaning with a damp cloth or toothbrush? Will a simple rinse off with a hose do? If a pair of shoes requires more in-depth cleaning than you’re willing to give, maybe look for a different set.
How do you clean chef shoes?
To clean the top of the shoe, use a light brush and a damp cloth to get the dirt and spills off the shoe. To clean the outsole, spray with a garden hose and allow the shoes to dry completely. For a deeper cleaning of the chef shoes, always check instructions from the manufacturer. Some leather shoes cannot be submerged in water, whereas some clogs can be just tossed in the washer to clean.
Are steel-toe shoes important for a chef?
Chefs are not required to wear steel-toe shoes. It usually is a personal preference and sometimes can depend on the design and comfort of the shoe. For some chefs, steel-toe shoes could provide better protection depending on the station they are working at. For example, someone working at meat fabrication and using big knives all day long or someone using heavy utensils to cook food in large quantities could benefit from the extra protection steel-toe shoes provide.
Should other kitchen workers wear chef shoes?
Chef shoes are designed to make working in the kitchen safer for everyone. Anyone who must come into the kitchen regularly to complete their tasks should wear a chef's shoe for their own safety and the safety of others.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Personal chef and food educator Renu Dhar is used to standing for long hours while working. She owns a few of the recommended shoes and is always looking for shoes that help reduce fatigue and are safe in the work environment. She interviewed professional chefs to get their recommendations based on hours of standing on their feet in professional kitchens.
Allison Wignall, who updated this article, went through her fair share of kitchen shoes. She wishes she had a guide like this to help her invest in long-lasting shoes instead of tossing out pairs every few months. Her work has been featured in publications including Food & Wine, Travel + Leisure, and Southern Living.
Vahé Mekhitarian is the owner of Menu for You.
Zachary Patz is the former chef de cuisine at Il Posto in Denver.
Denis Zvekic is the executive chef at Kachina Cantina in Denver.
Jason Maybee is a member of the Denver Chefs Collaborative.
Madhoo Seth is the owner of Roots restaurant and The Gourmet Kitchen Catering in Colorado.
Justin Ryan Fulton is a freelance consultant with past positions that include executive chef at Pernoi in Birmingham, Michigan, and chef de cuisine at French Louie in Brooklyn, New York.
Cammie Reed is the owner of Round the Table, a Colorado-based personal chef service.
Taylor Westbrook is the owner of By the Brook Tempeh in Saxapahaw, North Carolina.
Shabat S, Gefen T, Nyska M, Folman Y, Gepstein R. The effect of insoles on the incidence and severity of low back pain among workers whose job involves long-distance walking. Eur Spine J. 2005;14(6):546-550. doi:10.1007/s00586-004-0824-z
Health and Safety Executive. Footwear.