Need Advice on Owner....

Joined Apr 23, 2010
Hey Guys & Gals,

I've been working in the business a while now and I recently just got a new "Ex. Chef" position, or so I thought.

Smaller establishment (16 tables) and a smaller kitchen, (walk-in) (reach-in freezer).... and I was under the impression that she needed an Ex. Come to find out, after my transition period into the kitchen, she let go of the line cooks (2) and one prep guy. Her answer to me was that "now that we have you, we didn't need them, they were stealing from me anyway".

She doesn't do a lot of business, treading water, right now I supervise myself, one guy on weekends, a F/T salad guy that she wants to dump as well and one dishwasher... All my friends in the business around me tell me to hire more staff and demand it... Her FOH is high school kids who don't get paid, all tips, long story with that..... Closed on Mondays... and She has 2 seatings, 1130-230 and 500-800... 

The problem is, every time I ask, she says "we're not making money, when we do, you can"... 

I really don't know what to do... if I "get sick", then there is no one to cook, she wants a new menu I see the place has potential, but I don't see it going far without a kitchen. If I do get sick, she will come in (owner) and cook... She was doing it for a while and never really had a chef to manage the kitchen....

My proposal to her - Let me bring in a sous, 2 LC, 1 PC, 1 SAL and 2 DW... all part time except sous... Close the shop for Tue/Wed/Thu - bring in a new FOH and BOH, uniform the front, new menu (keep some old classics - like Short Ribs, etc...) and re-open / come out strong as New Ex Chef to a New Rest. (everyone wants to try the new thing)...

Any Advice? 
Joined Oct 18, 2007
I think your perception of how the kitchen should be staffed and the actual needs of the kitchen are different.
If you're able to handle the current workload I don't see you being allowed to hire more people, definitely not the amount of staff you want.
Even part time that's a huge addition to labor costs.
If the business isn't making money, there's no money to spend on this staff.
16 tables?
I don't see you winning out in this.
You might be able to negotiate a line cook to back you up.
Also, I might suggest closing on Mon & Tue.
This would enable a smaller crew (or just yourself) to cover a full week easily.
I would recommend moving on, you'll never be happy here.
If you're unhappy now it will only get worse.

Also, after re-reading your post, I don't think she needs someone in your position.
She just needs more reliable people at less money.
There's a happy medium somewhere in there.
Joined Feb 8, 2009
What should be done, and what she can afford to do, are two different things. When your drowning and only have one life raft (YOU) that's all she could see. She needs a business plan and what the labor will be for a  new menu/ Grand opening, then let her make the call. I would get my resume up to date..........Chef Bill
Joined Oct 10, 2005
My advice?

Set seating times, limited menu--perhaps 2-3 daily specials, maybe a brunch or two.   Ask for  1 p/t d/washer.

Get a fix on your food cost and negotiate a bonus/increase for every percent you lower it.

Only do full a'la carte when the business warrants it.
Joined Aug 21, 2004
Without knowing more specific numbers it is hard to really determine staffing needs, but as a former chef/owner of a restaurant that sounds similar in size and numbers I would say that you are way base with your staffing projections. Generally my kitchen operated with 2 people at lunch and 3 at dinner.
Joined Apr 23, 2010
I understand what I want what I need are two totally separate things. I would love a full kitchen.... Coming from a larger rest. where I had a sous, few LC and prep, its hard not having someone there to back me up. 

My problem is that when I see a place that could be very successful, I hate to start letting it go. However, I don't see her letting me hire more staff. Today she took me in the kitchen and in front of the dishwasher / salad guy she described to me how to roll meat balls.

I plan to meet with her husband tonight. Pitch my idea, or ask him what kind of budget can I get for salary. Today I had a blowup with the dishwasher who told me how to do my job; I don't see this place going far and then the owner asked why I didn't help the salad guy make sandwiches - my answer - I was prep/preparing specials, etc... which I was... 

I feel that when she let someone go, and brought me on - I would be her patsy... She could say she had an award-winning chef and then that would drive up guests.

I am really stuck... I am def. not happy right now, as I sit here with no one in my dining room, I am the only one in the kitchen (as the Salad guy went home and the dishwasher took off until after dinner... No waiters, they're late, FOH manager - not here (late or doesn't show), I am the only soul here; its a shame when you have a passion and no one to cook for...

Her friends came on Sunday.... I sold out of my specials (so I thought).... Fried Ravioli, Cavatelli & Broc. & Shrimp/Crab Alfredo.... come to find out, the total bill of $175+ was comped because they were friends of hers.....

Plus to add icing on the cake - my salad guy is selling panini's out the backdoor, but I cant fire him because there is no replacement in place... and when I told her about it - she wouldn't believe me - she just said "why would he do that? whats in it for him?"

I just got this gig and I don't know.... It feels like a sinking ship.... Any more advice would be great
Joined Sep 2, 2009
My advice......Start looking, don't get caught up in the politics of the rest. just come in do your job well, keep a pay check coming in and when you find something new get out of there....sounds to me you would never really have any say as to how things are going to run anyway....I've worked at a couple of places like that and it drove me crazy !!!!!
Joined Mar 9, 2010
Those who fail to plan
Plan to Fail
This place was never well planned get out ,you will never be in control because they will not give it to you ....from what I've read.
Joined Oct 10, 2005

From what I learned from the last post, you're not ready to manage a kitchen.

Sixteen tables = how many seats?  What's the average guest cheque?  Sit down and figure out what the kitchen could earn if you turn the tables 11/2 times a night, now figure out what your labour cost would be with your dream team of a sous, line cooks, prep cooks and d/washers.

It won't add up.

Everything has potential.  Even dog-doo on the sreet has potential.  But it takes money to develop it.

Whose money?

The owner doesn't have a pot to pee in or a window to throw it out of, how on earth could she invest a couple of grand in new staff, and a new menu wthout some kind of a guarantee of a return on her investment?,  Right now she can't even trust you to run her kitchen as it is.

Last time I fired a guy for stealing from me, I was working 80 hr weeks for almost three months before I found a suitable replacement.  And you're chicken to fire a guy for stealing from you (it's YOUR food cost) and thumbing his nose at you all the while laughing at you 'cause he figures he's got you over a barrel?

1 f/t guy (you) and one p/t guy can easily do a 16 table place IF you have a limited menu and push a trio of daily specials.

Once you can show that your salary and food cost are covered, you have every right to ask for bigger and better things.

If you still see potential in this place, put your labour and your brains  where your mouth is, and make a go of it. 

Joined Apr 24, 2010
I agree with the sentiment of firing the thief. Is it stress to cover for him? Sure. Is it stress that he's ripping of the business? Of course. Which is worse? That one, to me, is obvious. I'd have dragged him to the back and fired him on the spot after catching him. People like that bring down a business.

My main question is this: What the heck does the owner do? She has you as the Ex Chef in the back, and you said she has a FOH manager as well, so what's she doing? The FOH manager should be axed, and she should take over that position, and simultaneously help out with cleaning or prep when available or when warranted. I worked at a bistro for two years where, for the majority of the time, we had just two of us during the lunch hours and three of us at night. Granted, we were even smaller, but we had 10 tables and about 8-10 more seats at the bar.

Oh, and that's two and three people total, not just in the kitchen. The owner would often pull all-day shifts because its his business. She needs to cut down on employee costs? Fine. Then she needs to take over those hours herself. That's what owning a restaurant entails. Goodbye 8-hour work days.

With that said, I can understand your frustration, but I wonder if a lot of it might be coming to culture shock. It sounds like you're in an environment you're not used to. There are two things (broadly) that need to be done: 1) Remove the kinks, and 2) Increase the perks. The big kinks are the useless and worthless employees. They need to go. The perks (as others here have said) are in what you offer and how you offer it in order to fill tables. Build a menu in such a way that you streamline your food stocks. The bistro excelled at that, because our owner understood what a necessary ability that is. Grab six random things from your kitchen sometime, set them on a table, and just look at how many pairings and combinations you can create. The meat for meatballs can also be used for lasagna. The ricotta for lasagna can be used for cannolis.

Between those two general ideas, you'll cut costs. Then once you start filling more tables, hire the part-time line cook or d/w you might need. Anyway, I know a lot of what I said you already know (given the difference in our positions!) but I figure sometimes we forget things when under stress, and sometimes it just helps to hear them again. One way or another, good luck, and press forward!
Joined Aug 21, 2009
I agree with firing the thief... the place is losing money and here he is helping that along, and taking you along with him because as it has been said.. it is your food cost he is adding to with his little "enterprise".  

It is possible to make a go of the place but it is only going to happen if the lines of communication are open and you and the owner have to work together on this.  There is no money for kitchen support staff, so you are the one who has to make it work.  I am not familiar with your menu, but if it is something that cannot be done by a single person, then you and the owner need to sit down and look at that and come up with something that is doable.  The cafe I worked at was very similar in size to your place and to keep costs in line the owners both worked on the floor so the only paid staff in the place was me during the week and one server on the weekends. 

Part of your frustration could be culture shock... looking back on my own experience I think I had a case of it when I started where I am now. 

Good luck! 
Joined Feb 10, 2010
Dude, I've seen this before, been there before.  Get out.  Move on.  You clearly have the capability, but you can't overthrow the owner, and it seems she's her own worst enemy.  It's not worth your stress.  You're not the exec chef there.  Your not leading, if no-one is following.

Besides, I think that you're better in a more vibrant environment.  May be even settling for a Sous Chef position while your looking for another exec job.
Joined Apr 2, 2007
Trust me I have been in this situation more than once, you have two options. Give up and start looking for another job, or stay and try to work things out with the owner.

Firstly, unless the chef is the owner, he/she must work alongside the owner, be trustworthy, willing, supportive and most of all, loyal. By the same token, the owner must have a similar high regard for their chef. Now, according to your posts this clearly is not happening.

Put yourself in her shoes for a moment. In a desperate measure to make it work she has cut out the dead wood and hired someone who she (and he) thinks can turn things around. The business is obviously in trouble, you either accept this as a challenge and show her that you are capable of  helping to save the business, or you criticise it and make unreasonable demands because you are not used to being in this situation. Now after a short time you make a proposal to her ;Quote,

My proposal to her - Let me bring in a sous, 2 LC, 1 PC, 1 SAL and 2 DW... all part time except sous... Close the shop for Tue/Wed/Thu - bring in a new FOH and BOH, uniform the front, new menu (keep some old classics - like Short Ribs, etc...) and re-open / come out strong as New Ex Chef to a New Rest. (everyone wants to try the new thing)...  

This may have been your previous line up but here it is unreasonable, since there are no customers on some nights, but she has listened to you and said that when it starts to make money you can have the staff. Remember, she had a business before you came along and she will still have a business when you are gone, it is not your place to tell her how to run things.

Why have you not fired the thief? He is stealing from your budget. The sooner you take control of the kitchen the better chance you will have of gaining her respect and running the kitchen properly. As other posters have said limit the menu, work your butt off and make a difference. Stop worrying about what happens if you get sick, you can't afford to go sick.

Where I come from there are only Executive Chefs in large hotels or cruise ships, everyone else is a chef and you earn your title by working hard. If you have no staff how are you an Ex Chef?

Ask yourself a few questions and weigh it all up, there is nothing worse than being unhappy at work;

Can it work? Do I want to make it work? How am I going to make it work?

Good luck.
Joined Jul 3, 2008
A sixteen table restaurant does not need an exec, a sous, and an owner.  What it needs is an owner/exec.  Offer to buy the place or leave.
Last edited:


Staff member
Joined Jun 11, 2001
A sixteen table restaurant does not need an exec, a sous, and an owner.  What it needs is an owner/exec.  Offer to buy the place or leave.
Exactly.  Let me be blunt.  Especially if you're serving fried ravioli.  Unless you are doing Michelin star food there really is no reason.  Maybe get a dishwasher to help plate but that's really it.
Joined Apr 3, 2010
All this drama and politics, and craziness for a sixteen seat JOINT. Not worth the time or aggravation.......Start looking around quick. If you leave , she can save more money ! Dishwasher can cook as he knows how to do it anyway.
Last edited:
Joined May 18, 2010
The hardest thing to change is old managerial habits and standards. If she has run her kitchen like a wild west nut hut  for years then it will stay that way, even if she hires Marco Pierre White himself! Play country dumb, revamp the resume, put a pretty smile on your face and move along when a better gig comes down the road (BTW a better gig ALL WAYS comes down the road).
Joined Feb 28, 2007
Boiled frog!

I was told if you put a frog in a pot of cold water, and put in on the stove, he will slowly cook to death, but if you toss a frog in a pot of hot water he jumps out right away.

You know you have a bad situation, JUMP OUT! If you stay you may get used to it and cook to death.

Alternately: Screw all of our advice and master the situation.

PS. I have to agree about the title thing. As I see it, an "Ex Chef" at a 16 seat restaurant is one that doesn't work there anymore. Along those lines it may be a very good idea to be the Ex Chef.



Staff member
Joined Jun 11, 2001
Alternately: Screw all of our advice and master the situation.
Joined May 22, 2010
 my salad guy is selling panini's out the backdoor,

Fire him. Grow a set.

Stop worrying about what she does with her money... she wants to comp a meal for her friends? So what?

I agree with many of the above statements. Close one extra day a week, it will give you, your ONE second cook and your dishwasher/prep cook 5 days of work a week. Limit your menu, and focus on quality over quantity. Perhaps a bistro style menu for the day, a table d'hote for the evenings, change the menu weekly?

Clean house. Start over. Surround yourself with employees you can trust.

But.. 16 tables?

2 cooks per shift, tops.

If you do 50 covers per seating, with an average cheque (food only) of $20, you're looking at $2000 a day.( From the sounds of it, you're not even close to that.)

30% food cost... $600

20% labour cost... That's $400 for the entire kitchen, including you, if you're doing 100 covers a day.

You either step up, and own this joint... or move on. There are only two choices.

But, if I were you, I'd be explaining to the owner that she hired you to take over the food. There will be no cooking lessons from her, and she wil let you run your kitchen as you see fit. Anything less is simply unacceptable.
Last edited:
Top Bottom