Bonus Pay: How much should I be asking for?

Joined Dec 17, 2009
Due to a series of unforseen circumstances, I've been promoted to Head Chef at a tiny ethnic joint in Indianapolis, IN. We are not open, but I have spent a lot of time planning the menu, testing the recipes, meeting with our supplier, setting job descriptions, interviewing for a Sous and other staff etc etc.....So here is my question....

My boss is a slick MFer and knows he is getting me as cheap labor ($9/hr) but I know it is unlikely he will pay me more until I finish culinary school in the fall. In the mean time, I plan on asking for a regular bonus. Would it be unreasonable to ask for a percentage? Assuming, of course, we are successful....has anyone else been in a similar situation? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Joined Apr 3, 2008
well if he is that slick...there will never be a profitable percentage for you to get a bonus off of.. I would ask for the pay raise. A couple of dollars now and more after graduation.
Joined Dec 17, 2009
Thanks, I will for sure. I am a little nervous asking for a pay raise before we open but I have put a lot of work into this.


Staff member
Joined Oct 7, 2001
Personally, I never negotiate about bonuses and see them just as that, a bonus.  When being hired for a new job I make sure that I get the salary (wage) I need or want (within a range) and ever buy into that whole "we don't pay a lot, but have a great bonus program" BS.  If this is the route you want to go then you need to come up with a some very objective standards and payout goals.  Standards such as did you keep your food cost at or under the targeted number, labor at or under targeted number, health inspection score, percentage of positive feedback (if your place uses comment cards) etc.  Next you want to define what the bonus potential will be.  Is it a percentage of all sales?  Percentage of sales above budget?  Percentage of your yearly salary (or wage, based on a 40 hour week)?  You get the idea.  Then, finally, you want to try to make the something other than an all or none situation or you will get burnt.  By this I mean, using my examples of standards above, follow something like this:

Food Cost  40%

Labor Cost 30%

Health Inspection score 10%

Positive Feedback 20%

Total Potential Bonus  100%

This way you still have an opportunity to get some bonus even if you miss 1 or 2 measurables.  But again, a bonus is a bonus.  One should never rely on them for their income or you can get screwed.  Personally, I would go to the guy, lay out exactly what you have done for him and how it benefits him and discuss a wage increase.
Joined Dec 17, 2009
Thanks, Pete. I like working with formulas and this is likely the best way to approach the situation. It is a very unusual circumstance due to the head chef quitting and the owner basically saying "Hey, you can do this, you are smart." Don't get me wrong, I am up for the challenge but I don't want to be taken advantage of. I never anticipated that I would start out in this position but I might as well jump in and see if I sink or swim. Either way, the experience points will be immeasurable.
Joined Feb 8, 2009
The only thing a Chef can control is food cost and labor cost, get an incentive bonus for both. If he is one slick MF, then be a slicker MF. I never give a bonus on profitability, I want my Chefs and Managers controlling their departments all day, everyday...............ChefBillyB
Joined Sep 18, 2008
The only thing a Chef can control is food cost and labor cost, get an incentive bonus for both. If he is one slick MF, then be a slicker MF. I never give a bonus on profitability, I want my Chefs and Managers controlling their departments all day, everyday...............ChefBillyB
Yeah, a bonus on "profitability" is fraught with loopholes, like how do you account for "comps" and what exactly is profit, there are a lot of "movie stars" wondering where their profit %age disappeared to. ;)
Joined Feb 1, 2007
The film industry is a prime example of how one can screw themselves. No movie in history every showed a profit; making percentage of profits a null figure.

If you're going to base your bonus on total income it should be based on the gross. X% of total revenue. In effect, this gives you an equity position in the business, and, should the owner ask why that route makes sense, promotes you working harder because the better job you do, the more everybody makes. In the written agreement, be sure and specify the frequency the bonus is paid. Personally, I'd shoot for quarterly payments rather than annual.

That's one approach.

Another, as others have suggested, is a percentage of targeted goals. Defining those goals and targets can often be a chore, however, especially in a start-up situation. For instance, I know of places which pay the chef a bonus based on increased sales. Obviously, that won't work for you.

However, I have a deeper concern. Why did the head chef suddenly depart? We're it me, I'd track him down, buy him a drink, and get the straight skinny. There may be a valid reason. Or it may be that he distrusts the owner, for one reason or another. Maybe it was a question of money (and, if possible, I'd find out what his salary was). Whatever he says, work it into your equation. Maybe I'm just cynical, but it wouldn't surprise me to learn that the chef was promised the moon plus two dollars, and none of it came to pass. That's a very common scenerio with start ups.

My feeling is that the owner is taking advantage of you. What he's doing, I suspect, is having you do all the start-up work at very little cost (the fact is, many fast-food joints pay that much and more). Then, once everything is in-place, there will suddenly be a new head chef running the kitchen, and you'll be left sucking hind teat.

Come what may, as others have suggested, get everything in writing!!!

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