Need chefs advice

Joined Mar 21, 2010
Hello, this is my first post and I hope a chef here can give me some much needed advice.
I am the owner of a small bakery cafe in central PA. I would describe our style as upscale comfort food. We are a scratch made bakery restaurant feasuring rustic all sourdough breads, fresh baked every day pastries pies and tarts with an emphasis on locally sustainable and eco friendly product. We are growing as a business even in this current economy. Our lunches are 40-60 covers on average and our check average is 40$pp. Dinner we do on the weekends and thursdays and fridays during the busy season. Lunch is our biggest shift. Our clientelle has $$ and don't feel bad about spending it on the quality I feel we offer. My wife and I have have limited experience i running  a restaurant so as we grew we hired a chef to oversee the kitchen and are now looking to hire  a pastry chef to manage and run the bakery under my supervision. Currently I run the bakery end of the business and the chef runs the kitchen under our oversight. There are 5 full time cooks, 1 full time baker, one part time and myself. My wife runs the FOH. As many of you know working the day to day takes away from the management of the restaurant which really needs more of my attention. 7 days a week at 12-15 hours a day are taking a toll on me and my health, this is the reason I need a pastry chef. We are also buying a number of high quality  frozen desserts for 4-5 dollars each which we would like to eliminate and make everything in house 100%.
I have found a pastry chef who is really good perhaps better than we need for our place. His backround for the last 10 years or so is fine dining at a 4-5 star restaurants, he has the experience in all the things we are trying to build our business into. Things like wholesale, retail cakes, catering, you name it he has some experience doing the job, he has excellent references and a great resume. The position requires someone who can problem solve and think on their feet as well as someone who can keep the costs in line and see the big picture. We think we have found this person. The Pastry Chef we are considering said he knows we can make everything we currently buy and bring the cost to a more realistic <1$ per portion while providing a superior product. I believe it seeing the things he has made already with little effort.

Here is the problem, he recently lost his job due to the economy and I know he cannot last too much longer on unemployment, last year he made 60+K a year with benefits. Right now we are trying him out for a month under the table at 20$ an hour, we do not currently offer benefits. So far we have been happy with the quality of work and he has made a few changes that have increased sales, cut costs and have streamlined the operation to our benefit. We need to be at about 20K sales a week to be comfortable right now we are at 13-16K a week. I would like him to stay on but am unsure how to sway him to consider a lesser salary without the benefits. The chef has spoken to him about this and while he likes working here and he fits in he said the $$$ would be the dealbreaker. I can not affort what he would  like to make or pay for benefits (right now-we are looking into it). I'm not trying to be cheap here it is just the reality of my operation. In 2 weeks we will discuss salary and am looking for suggestions that I can make in order to convince him to stay. With his knowledge I feel we can build the business to where it should be, I would like the bakery revenue to be 40% of the total sales. The chef 8 years experienced is making 45K a year and would not be pleased to learn the new pastry chef  20 years experienced is making more-another quandry.

Could anyone offer any insight on this for me? What kind of package would be fair for this type of work? Would hourly be better for him than salary? I see him working 45-50 hours a week at salary and additionally as needed. Should a pastry chef make as much as the chef, I am not sure how these things work.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Joined Feb 8, 2009
IMHO, sit down with him, and make him part of the solution. You can't afford to pay for growth, with the $$$$$ coming in right now. I would offer base wages, with incentives on bakery sales, quality and growth. If growth doesn't happen, then your not stuck with paying a high $$$$ employee. If sales/growth does happen, the business, and the pastry Chef win. This takes the pressure off of you, and puts it on his shoulders, if he produces everyone wins, if not, the business may be at its peek sales/growth potential. This will also make the pastry Chef think of new and inventive/creative ways of building the bakery. He will not only be an employee, but a partner in the success of your business. Every Chef I have been involved with likes a challenge, that's how we got here...........Chef Bill
Joined Feb 1, 2007
I agree with Chef Billy. There's nothing like an incentive program to motivate productivity.

Using the figures you provided, if the new guy achieves your target of $20K/week, and you offered him 10% of new business, that would represent almost $21K/year in his pocket. So you might use that as a negotiating tool. Offer him a base salary plus the incentive.

Compensation is supposed to be confidential. But realistically, the word spreads. So I would consider renegotiating the chef's salary, offering him an incentive as well on all new non-bakery sales increases.

Granted, all this will increase your bookkeeping burden. But with the two top guys having an equity position in the company they'll both give 110% all the time. Well worth it, in my opinion.

One other negotiating point to consider. Doesn't matter that the pastry chef used to make $60K plus. The reality is that he's been on unemployment long enough for it to almost be running out, and hasn't been able to find a job. Your 20 bucks under the table has looked awfully good to him, and he'd probably jump at a fair salary (fair given your circumstances) along with the incentive.

BTW, I would not have anyone in the kitchen earning more in base salary than the chef.
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Joined Apr 1, 2010
 Great comments from everyone so far. Perhaps I can offer a different perspective for you. A great pastry chef can be worth his or her weight in pure profits! Have you thought about hiring this pastry chef on as a 1099 independent contractor?

Check with your accountant, but this would allow you to pay him a bit more and all of the tax responsibility would fall on him. If he is entrepreneurial in anyway shape or form, he could create an entity to help him save on his own taxes and deduct almost EVERYTHING as a business expense (insurance, clothing, equipment, continuing education, travel, etc)

I like the ideas that the other have mentioned about creating an incentive program on any new business. You must also be prepared to show your books that justify the increased sales. But remember, top line does not equal bottom line. Yes your pastry chef will be a key part of increasing sales, but you as the business owner have all of the other costs associated with doing business that come out of your end of the profit. Rent, licensing, tax responsibility, utilities, insurance, etc.

The economy is tough right now and depending on what part of PA you are in, good help may be hard to find. Your wage is somewhat below what a good pastry chef can make at a hotel, restaurant, or higher end grocery store chain such as Wegmans, Giant, Weis Markets, etc. Remember that these companies can also offer insurance, 401k, benefits and a shorter work week. You don't want to lose someone productive for a couple of dollars more per hour.

Also, look at providing some desserts at wholesale to other accounts that don't have your pastry chefs expertise, Think of all the other places in town having to offer the same frozen desserts you were complaining about before that cost 4 bucks a slice!

Also, make sure that you get your chefs (both of them) to document EVERYTHING! Make it part of their job to document all recipes, procedures, and ingredient lists. This is to make sure that when ( not if) they leave you , you will have no problem in the transition to the new people that you have to hire. 

Yes you too will experience your chef or pastry chef quitting you on Friday morning and leaving you high and dry if you don't have everything documented, documented, and documented! 

Joined Sep 29, 2009
 I'm going to sign on with the incentive program.  When you make someone's wage depend partly on their portion of the business's success, you end up with better products, better profits, and an all around better employee.

Slightly lower hourly, on the books, with 10% stake from current numbers to 20K/wk and 11% from 21K+/wk and you will see a pastry chef become a bake shop manager in about a week.  The key is, in part, to tie it to profits with benchmark numbers.
Joined Oct 10, 2005
All good advice.  Don't forget, if he's that good, he can also attract "side business":  Catering items, restaurant desserts, wholesales etc.  Lot of good money there, and a lot of options on how to make it work for both of you.
Joined Sep 29, 2009
All good advice.  Don't forget, if he's that good, he can also attract "side business":  Catering items, restaurant desserts, wholesales etc.  Lot of good money there, and a lot of options on how to make it work for both of you.
There's a huge amount of money to be made selling fresh sandwich rolls to other restaurants.  There's also good cash flow in agreements with local coffee houses.  Your pastries in their cases, with your logo stands of course.  They get cost plus a small margin and you get paid to advertise. 
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Joined Mar 29, 2010
I'd side with the incentive program. There's great advice above on marketing your products to other restaurants, caterers, etc. And if the guy is as good as you feel, he won't need much of your oversight, and you can handle marketing and business issues.

The job market is tight, and that gives you leverage.

With his experience he should understand that higher volumes and margins translate into more cash for you to work with, and that can mean more cash in his pocket.

If you are running the bakery and cafe as separate entities, then the salary comparo with the exec chef is a moot point.

Joined Apr 3, 2010
All of the above is good info in particular Chef Billy. As far as who makes more chef or pastry chef , it is supply and demand. Here in Florida it is almost impossible to find a good pastry chef so they know it and command big bucks. Also here in Florida everyone is a chef, or so they think.Many places have started o purchase upscale desserts even though you could do it for less. You can't do for less if you don;t do the volume of sales. By the time you pay into unenployment, workmans comp, sick days,vacations etc you are cheaper buying it made . If the man was making 60 and you pay a lot less he may take the job but will still be looking around for more$ Give it a lot of thought before you jump. Also ask yourself does what you save merit $60,000.00.
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Joined Feb 10, 2010
Personally I'm a fan of the incentive concept.  I'd recommend a percentage of the business.  Perhaps establish the pastry part of your enterprise as a separate business, of which the pastry chef could have an ownership.  The other suggestion, is to allow and help your pastry chef, make some additional money. 

He may for example, use your kitchen for personal gigs, or producing an item under his own label, that he can then retail in your store and to other stores.

If he is the calibre that you say he is, I'd bust my balls and pay him more than I get, to keep him, if I believe that his presence can add to my business.
Joined May 6, 2010
It sounds to me like you have a successful business that has the potential for growth; however the future depends on the decisions you make today. I can understand your concerns and believe that a salary that has room for growth would be a fair offer. Perhaps a lower salary than he’s asking with an incentive bonus that would protect you and please him. I would also cover myself by hiring a helper or maybe an assistant that you choose who will eventually be capable of holding down the fort in the event that he loses patents and decides to book, at least you would be covered until another qualified pastry chef is hired to fill the gap. Most professionals would understand your concerns and meet you half way or at least be willing to work with some type of time table that is reasonable. This will also prove to you that you have someone who truly cares about your business and interest rather than simply thinking of himself and how much money he can get out of you. He must be willing to meet you half way for it to be a win-win negotiation. Never judge a book by its cover; I’ve hired good people who later developed personal issues that caused them to renege on the terms of our agreement. This should also balance out the issue of him earning a hirer salary than the chef. Which department brings in more revenue? If the pastry or baking area of the business is responsible for more revenues, then that may be something to think about. Neither one should know the others salary anyway, although the truth eventually comes out, especially in a restaurant where employees often spend more time with themselves rather than their families.
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