I Need Advise About A Legal Issue!!!!

Joined Jun 9, 2001
Hello all! I need some help.

Last night, I walked out of the restaurant that I was the chef of because of something that the owners said to me. I was fed up with them and decided it was my time to just leave so I did after service. The next morning, I drove over to the restaurant and retured the keys and asked for my pay check. The owner, Daniel, told me that he will not pay me until I give him the recipes. I told him that I have no recipes.

I know legaly that they can not hold my pay check for any reason. I will be calling the Labor Department tomarrow.

My question.... if I did have recipes, am I legaly bound to give them to the owner?

When I was hired, I did NOT sign anything that said I had to give them recipes or that the restaurant owned the recipes. Matter of fact, it is not even my menu. It was another chefs menu who just got fired.

When I was hired, they did not give me any job description or anything like that that mentioned that I was to write recipes which then came property of the restaurant. I was there simply to cook.

It is a weird situation and I wish I could explain it all.

My question..... who owns the recipes? Can they withhold my pay check until they recieve there recipes?

I cant seem to find anything on the subject of restaurant law that says anything about who owns the recipes.

Can anyone help?
Joined Apr 28, 2003
Sounds to me like hes trying to blackmail you, with holding your paycheck to get to your "secrets". He dosn't have the rights to your recipes period, hes just being a real ***** about it so threaten to take him to court. Use it as a bluff first and if he still won't give you your hard earned money within like 2-3 weeks, back up your threat and take him to court. By the sounds of things, he can't afford to tarnish his restaurant and MAY try avoiding such bad publicity. Its a good thing that there was no signed contract which obligates your to do anything of a sort.


Staff member
Joined Jun 11, 2001
No, they cannot legally withhold pay. Never. Not even if you don't give them the recipes. Been through this before. They can sue you afterwards for the recipes though but only if they prove that you have them. If you're gonna write recipes, make sure you get paid for them. But I wouldn't.
Joined Aug 29, 2000
If the recipes are in your head, what does he want?? :eek:

If they were in a book or file he gave you, I suppose they are his. In any case, this seems like a contract dispute complicated by intellectual property issues. I vote for you to contact legal aid or a private attorney.

Good luck, Isaac! I hope a good situation awaits you, and soon.

Joined Jul 28, 2001
Keep a copy of the recipes and just give him what you think are his and collect your check. Be the big one here. Threatening with legal action is useless. If they are your recipes, then they are yours. Write them up in a way in which he cannot use them without your permission, Then go after him once he is making money off them.
Just my 2 cents from an old timer
Joined Nov 29, 2001
This is an incredibly sore spot with me but as the creator of the recipes, either carefully scribed in your mind OR on paper, you own them. You used your recipes as a tool in your job, just like anyone with an accounting degree. If a person who makes their living with numbers has a certain technique for getting things figured out, then has a parting of ways with his or her employer, that employee is not "honor bound" to show the employer "how to." Let the owners fend for themselves and go where you're appreciated. If you were to leave your recipes behind, what would the owners do? Pay you royalties on each dish?? I think not.

You're right, they cannot withhold pay. Contact the authorities quickly so you'll get paid as quickly as possible.
Joined Jul 18, 2000
im not sure about intellectual property laws in the US, but one of the Australian Law precedents basically says that recipes for a menu are the property of the employer under common law.

the concept at hand, is that as the employer is paying for the employees time, knowledge and labour, anything created as a result belongs to the employer - this is discussed under the following article:


but of course, it is simply just an example of australian law.
Joined Jun 9, 2001
Nick Shu:

Normally I would agree with you but I believe that you would have to sign a document at the begining of your employment saying that all recipes are created for Cafe Mango and are property of Cafe Mango. Also, I did not have ANY job description or job specifications to create recipes for Cafe Mango.

I also think that if they sue me for recipes, they are infringing on my intelectual property. Did they pay for me to go to culinary school? No. Did they pay for books or megazines for me? No.

I would certainly understand it all if I would have signed a contract or documentation saying that all recipes are the property of Cafe Mango. That didnt happen. Also, if it said that my job was to create recipes for Cafe Mango in my job description, I could understand it. However, Cafe Mango had no job description at all and I signed nothing.

The fact is, is that I SIGNED NOTHING!!! NO CONTRACTS, NO DOCUMENTS. There ARE NO RECIPES. I have non. Even if I did, they were created by me (or someone else) and is the intelectual property of the person to whom created it. If Cafe Mango said that they were paying me to create recipes, I would have but they didnt.
Joined Jul 18, 2000
isaac, i understand what you are saying.

Also, i included a caveat with regards to your position, that my knowledge only extends to australian common law and how that operates here.

from my perspective (that is to say under australian law); the employee would have to return the recipes either existing in the workplace or created by the employee in the workplace as a result of working for the employer.

given that, any other recipes, i.e those created by yourself at home or whatever away from the workplace and not related to work remains yours.

it remains academic, the fact that, yes the employer did not send you to school or pay for the tuition for that schooling. However, it does remain a part of the road that you have travelled to arrive at this establishment.

As to the contract of employment, there are some things that are silently implied. An example would be: by agreeing to work at any place, the silent agreement would be to not engage in any theft within the workplace. Doesnt have to be stated, just agreed to by the fact that the contract is ongoing.

My recommendation with regards to the recipes concur with panini's suggestion. Furthermore, i can suggest that you keep 2 copies of the recipes, 1 for yourself, and the other for the former employer.
Joined Dec 8, 1999
Just an aside, and nothing personal, I would look at your interviewing skillls and skill level. This is the second Chef job that ahsn't worked out for you for some reason or another. I would look at attaching myself to a good mentor at this point in a sous chef position. You are early in your career with mostly book learning; I feel you need more practical experience at a lower level. I don't mean this as an insult by any means, but weighing your 4 year degree versus my 2 year degree and 25 years of experience makes you a lead line cook at most. As far as my interviewing skills point goes, you need to learn the right questions to ask prospective employers. I can't tell you what they are, because different people have different expectations out of their potential employers. Learn what your's are. Interviews are as much about the employer weeding out bad employees as they are about potential hires weeding out bad employers.
Joined May 26, 2001
Sorry, Isaac, but in general you have it backwards: Recipes you create for an employer are yours are only if you have an agreement specifying that they are yours. Otherwise, they are considered works for hire, that is, you were paid to come up with them as part of your job, whether specified or not, and they therefore belong to your employer. The laws here are quite similar to the ones Nick.shu cites from Oz.

And listen to Greg's excellent advice.
Joined Jan 24, 2003
I dont know the law where you are but here in the uk it is an employers legal responsibility to give you a contract after 13 weeks.if you havent got a contract of any sorts then he has no arguement & is just being akward.A tip is to leave your job after you have been paid....
Your dishes are yours & no one elses,but if it helps get your$$ then just write any crap up n hand it over (make sure you ove do tha salt hehe)
An extreme solution is to get a placard made up n just stand outside his restaurant all day everyday ....it wont take long for you to get your$$.
Good luck in the future
Joined Mar 8, 2004
My suggestion is similar to mike's.

Why not right up the recipes but screw with the amounts, make some changes, leave out crucial but not very noticable ingredients, etc. It sounds like the guy won't be able to tell the difference. The other thing is there are very few original recipes out there anyway. How many of these recipes are completely original and not adaptations of something you saw in a magazine or out eating at a restaurant some where. Granted adaptations can be very unique but it is still an adaptation. Ex. You make the best Marinara in the world. You have the amounts of ingredients and proceedure down to an art form, maybe a secret ingredient, but you are not the inventor of Marinara. Give him a plain old becky-home-eccy recipe for marinara. If he askes why his is not turning out like yours just let him know that a recipe is just a guide and that the knowlege of how to adjust is what makes a true chef and no-one can own your knowlege.
Joined Dec 7, 2001
...in CA (where I @) I don't even know the laws precisely. But generally following common sense is usefull.

Is there a binder they gave you? did you enter copies of your recipes into this binder or database? If so, seems you need to give the binder back, property issue--in terms of database, give them all the floppies with recipes you developed on them to them (keep a copy for yourself, the recipe may be theirs now, but no one says you can't have a copy of the original recipe--and when they go out of business and people jonez for their particular BBQ sauce, guess who has it for $1 a letter mailed to your P.O. Box, hehehe).

No bother screwing with ammounts. I think we all know that recipes are guidlines at best...feeling, knowing ones self, and repetition are the salt pepper and secret ingredient of any recipe.

Joined Sep 26, 2002
Ok, to me there are a couple of way's it can be taken. For your situation though here is there thing. You have nothing so tell him... so say..I have nothing... Tell me what your talking about. What do you want me to do to make you happy.... give you a menu, give you what I was given when I arrived... If you were given a list of recipes when you got there and they have it what do they expect? Ask him and make him tell you. While doing this get the goodold law enforcement and/or dept of labor involved. Now.. Here is how I hate to see it but.... Lets say you make $10 an hour and they say, take a few days off of cooking and make us a webpage.... theres no agreement, you make everything from scratch.... 16 hours and $160 later who does it belong too? If they told you to do it, you did it and they got an end result it is theirs... as far as getting a recipe out of someone sueing is about the only way you can... And even then I would say its on shaky ground. It all depends on how it went down. In the end though they can say they paid you to make 100 recipes but can they prove it. You were a cook, your paid to cook, what proof do they have that you were ever made to do it. The proof of burden is on their side.
Joined Jul 20, 2004
Did you receive a handbook when you started working there? If so, is there any non-competitive, non-disclosure policy in the handbook? Also, is there any policy that states that anything created while working for the company is the company's?

It may have already stated this in the thread but what state are you in?

You can go to the DOL and fill out a demand for payment of wages form. It is on the employer to then prove that they don't owe you that money. I've had to answer a few of these before and they are a real pain.
Joined Oct 13, 2001
Perhaps you need to talk to someone who works for the waste management company in New Jersy? I would suggest a legal alternative but I am alergic to the judicial system(heck if judge Judy is on the T.V. and I hear it I just brake out in hives)!
As the late Marlon Brando said,"we will just make him an offer he can't refuse"
Of course there has been much better advice posted so dissregard this confrontational advice please.....................Doug

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