Restaurant Concept Where Cooks Earn $20/Hr

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Joined Oct 29, 2012
I recently sold a 32 seat restaurant in New England. My small staff of cooks was earning between $16 and $18 per hour. I want to open another restaurant with about 100 seat. I only want to do this if I can pay my guys a living wage: starting at $15/hour and going up to $20 or more plus benefits. The only catch is that I want to make good money too!

I would love to show the world that cooks can be compensated decently...that they can make what they deserve (or close to it). Obviously I would need to keep costs down. Unfortunately rents, mortgages, and utilities are very expensive in these parts. The only way I can see to shave percentage points off of expenses is to use inexpensive (not cheap) ingredients. For example onion soup; potato and leek soup; fried chicken, arancini, etc.

Am I in a dream world?

Any suggestions?
 
1,832
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Joined Aug 15, 2003
The model to explore would be a no tipping restaurant, charging a service fee, then distributing that as you see fit among the staff. A lot of higher end restaurants are doing this in order to do exactly what you want...to tighten the gap between BoH and FoH pay. 

You should crunch some numbers re: your expected Check average, your service fee, the amount of staff you will need, expected covers, etc. 

$20 an hour is a lot tho. That is like sous chef salary money. 
 
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Thanks for the reply. I had thought about the no tipping scenario, but I don't see how adding 20% to checks would allow me to not only pay the cooks a highert wage, but also raise servers wages from $3.25/hr to $15/hr.
 
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I think it would take a well versed Chef to structure a kitchen and dining room to pay people more. When I took over other operations in my business I was amazed at how much labor I could cut, in most case 50%. All of the operations were heavy in labor. If someone wants to pay more $$$, things have to be done better. The kitchen has to be designed so as to accomplish the menu and all prep with less people. The restaurant that operates with 20 employees now has to be structured to operate with 10 employees. I think your going to see this happen with the new $15 Min wage. Your going to see a lot of change in how things get done in restaurants. Service will be a thing of the past, although I think it's not even close to what it used to be. In most places service is just a delivery service from the from line to the table. If I were to take your idea and structure it in a fine dining restaurant so employees could make more money. I would use my wait staff as contract labor and have them buy into a section. In other words I would have them pay me for a section. They work and give service for tips only no wages. The server would be leasing the section of the restaurant under the conditions of first class service establishing a clientele that would return and ask for their service. If more Chefs were working the kitchen it could run a much lower labor cost. The Chef needs to hire labor when it's needed and also structure the menu as to keep less prep. Your not making money unless your selling food. A large amount of prep is wasting a lot of money that can't be made up. The reason why there are so many employees is in most cases to fail safe the operation. If you want to make change you need to do things different. Most employers learn it, see it, then make it the same in their own operation. You need to look at a business and figure a way to think how it can be done efficiently. I always told my managers to schedule employees like they were taking a $10 bill out of there pocket and paying them every hour for the work they did. After a few hours of doing that, make sure you can look back and be happy that the money was well spent. Your idea of paying more is more involved than I can cover in this site.........Good luck.........Chef Bill
 
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I'm kinda in agreement with chefbill on this.

I also have encountered very fierce opposition when I charged a service fee in my catering biz, customers and servers took it to the labour board. Being a Canuck, I profess ignorance to your states' labour laws, but wasn't it Calif. that declared any tips were the sole benifit of the waiter?

If you want fair wages for cooks you need a national gov't recognized standard/qualification, like almost every other trade and profession has.....,
 
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 I don't see how adding 20% to checks would allow me to not only pay the cooks a highert wage,
How could increasing your sales 20%, not free up money to be applied to cooks. How many cooks worked in your 32 seat restaurant? How many covers were you doing? Just dinner, or lunch and dinner, or breakfast, lunch, and dinner? How many days a week?
 
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@foodpump, yes i believe here in calif that by law, the minute
that money hits the table, the intened recipient is assumed
to be the server, prohibting, by law, management from
confiscating it and doling out to their own liking.
A customer can however request the manager give a tip
to cooks, bussers etc, which tecnically makes it unclaimable
by the server, but with a cash tip thats hard to ensure.
Ive often had horrid service by servet, only to have a
busser fill the gap and save the day. I have handed tips
directly to the busser "this is for you only" only to
discover later the managers "policy" was even bussers tips
must be surrendered to the server despite them being a
bitchstard.

Personally i think rather than do away with tipping
(a very ingrained cultural habit) one should focus on
incresing sales and profit, encouraging cooks tob
help with that, then award a year-end or semi annual
bonus to the cooks based on the end result.
 
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maxs maxs just move to Australia. If you aren't on a salary full-time employees are on over $20/h minimum wage, more if the business can accomodate for it.
 
1,832
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Joined Aug 15, 2003
@MaxS just move to Australia. If you aren't on a salary full-time employees are on over $20/h minimum wage, more if the business can accomodate for it.
Oh sweet! Just move to Australia everyone...problem solved. Close the entire forum. Any more questions we now have the answer. ChefTalk=done. 

"Which culinary school should I go to?" <--Just move to Australia

"Which job should I take?" <--- Is it in Australia? Trick question, take a job in Australia. 

Easy!
 
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5
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Joined May 7, 2016
 
Oh sweet! Just move to Australia everyone...problem solved. Close the entire forum. Any more questions we now have the answer. ChefTalk=done. 

"Which culinary school should I go to?" <--Just move to Australia

"Which job should I take?" <--- Is it in Australia? Trick question, take a job in Australia. 

Easy!
Exactly! /img/vbsmilies/smilies/smiles.gif

But seriously. Entry level Chefs are on roughly $24/h here, roughly 50-60K a year. I am wondering where the differences are in food/electricity/running costs and also cost of living. The whole servers getting minimum $3.25/h and having to rely on tips baffles me as to how they can afford to live.
 
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Joined Dec 23, 2004
This is a great topic and something that will be increasingly important as time goes on.  For better or worse there's a lot of momentum in the "living wage movement".  It's pretty hard to get good help, I mean really stellar workers that take ownership of their jobs, if you're not paying them enough to survive and thrive.  Yet people that want to feel good knowing their server and cooks are being fairly paid still often balk at paying more for their food.  I think Bill and Foodpump hit it on the head:  If you want to pay your staff well you have to cut all the fat out of the operation.

I struggle with this in my [very crappy] labor market. Aside from my Sous I'm the only person in the building that can cook a steak to temp. There is just zero culinary talent in my small town, and of course the Sous and I are transplants.  It's challenging to execute the kind of food we try to do with the level of help we have.  Hard to keep labor low sometimes when few of the cooks can hold down a station by themselves. 

To pay well you need to keep minimal staff, and they have to have that ownership mentality towards their duties.
 
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Joined Aug 15, 2003
I think a lot of it begins with our food system in general. People (Americans) expect GIANT f***ing portions of food on their plate for like 10 bucks. They want doggie bags. They want to eat their "cajun penne chicken pasta" that they got for 8.95 for 3 meals. Its like, a pound of food. 

People SHOULD pay more for food. Actually, people should pay more for meat and LESS for fresh vegetables and fruit. In a country where you can get a hamburger for $1 and not an apple, something is seriously wrong. 

All that cheap, commodity, subsidized meat product needs to go. I truly think that, a good start, would be to using less protein and/or meat as an accent instead of the "center plate" mentality (think most Asian cuisines) is the wave of the future. Our food system isn't really sustainable much longer--I mean crap, look at the state of the oceans--to keep eating the way we do. Not to mention our health as an aggregate. 

I've heard that is the #1 thing people from other countries can't believe when they come to the USA...how cheap the food is and how much of it you get. 

I dunno, the two things are kind of loosely related, but increasing the price of food and lowering the portion cost would be a good start toward a paradigm shift this country needs to create a sustainable food related workforce, from farmer to server to chef. 

But I mean, I die a little inside every time I serve handmade pappardelle pasta with an hours-long simmered bolognese, real Parmigiano cheese, etc and the "portion is too small." I mean, you just ate an amuse bouche, and appetizer, and 120g pasta serving (without sauce) and its "too small?"

Do I really have to feel like I need to portion my over-nighted Alaskan halibut at 8oz because the local Applebees gives you 8oz of fried haddock or pollack or whatever? Is it too small at 5-6oz?

Ugh, sorry. Got a little off topic. 
 
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/\ Exactly! What's the point of having a $15 minimum wage for people flipping burgers at In N Out or frying French fries ; or line/prep cooks working at higher end restaurants who have no greater skill set than the burger flippers at McD's...?

We need to figure out how to pay the relatively skilled BOH, but not making a system where you're paid $15, $16 an hour simply for showing up and holding a knife or spatula.

And yes, the U.S. spends less on food than any other industrialized country in the world. It is not how it should be at all.
You are correct, people expect a lot for little money. Why? Because the majority of people are simply lazy.
1$ cheeseburgers are absolutely part of the problem. And now it's something Americans expect.
Again, we are lazy. People here do not want to put in the effort needed to sustain a country where most of the food is not filled with unhealthy additives. Its not something I enjoy saying, but it is a shame how lazy people are...
 
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1,832
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Joined Aug 15, 2003
 
Exactly! /img/vbsmilies/smilies/smiles.gif

But seriously. Entry level Chefs are on roughly $24/h here, roughly 50-60K a year. I am wondering where the differences are in food/electricity/running costs and also cost of living. The whole servers getting minimum $3.25/h and having to rely on tips baffles me as to how they can afford to live.
Thats a nice wage, I agree. Maybe I'll look into it :)

When you say chef, do you mean a cook on the line or someone who runs a kitchen? 

As far as servers go, the 3.25 an hour (or less in some areas) sucks. They rely almost exclusively on tips, but since, in the USA, EVERYONE is expected to tip 15-20% for the server (unless something goes horribly wrong) on every check, it usually means a living wage for the server, at minimum. Many places the servers do really well. 
 
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Joined Aug 15, 2003
/\ Exactly! What's the point of having a $15 minimum wage for people flipping burgers at In N Out or frying French fries ; or line/prep cooks working at higher end restaurants who have no greater skill set than the burger flippers at McD's...?

We need to figure out how to pay the relatively skilled BOH, but not making a system where you're paid $15, $16 an hour simply for showing up and holding a knife or spatula.
I dunno, I kind of disagree. Some people have this idea that somehow "burger flippers" don't deserve a living wage.... I can't get behind that. I think that ANYONE that shoes up for a job and does a decent job for full time work deserves a livable wage, from burger flippers to nannies to whomever. And yeah, it's not putting together plates at Alinea or Per Se, but it can still be honest hard work and does require a certain set of skills to accomplish. This subset that people seem to detest to much includes a HUGE portion of the industry--short order cooks, sandwich makers, etc. You try working the plate at a (good) diner or Waffle House and tell me it doesn't take skill. 

The fact remains, $8 an hour ISN'T a livable wage for ANYONE, and anyone that works for a living shouldn't have to put up with it. This is the freaking USA, I don't know when we stopped caring about each other but I hope it turns around soon. 

And yeah, part of the problem is people don't want to pay more than $2 for a BigMac. Even though they should. Again, a BigMac is cheaper than a bag of spinach. 
 
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I take issue with tipping the server15-20%

, 20% of what?

20%of the ENTIRE BILL

In other words, the entire dining experience.

Now the server works hard, no doubt there. Thing is, EVERYONE woks hard, and no single person is responsible for the entire experience.

Wrong mentality, but things change. like spitting in public places, hotels and bars had spitoons and cuspidors oncce upon a time, Women weren't allowed to vote, once upon a time.

The mentality about tipping 20% to a server for your meal has to go the way of the spitoon.....
 
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Joined Mar 16, 2016
I was born and raised in IL where the minimum wage for servers is 3$ or so.... I worked in multiple bars/restaurants, servers might make less than the cooks per hour 2-3 times a month, at most. Unless the place is really slow always and the place is over-staffing FOH; but I've never seen that honestly.

I dunno, I kind of disagree. Some people have this idea that somehow "burger flippers" don't deserve a living wage.... I can't get behind that. I think that ANYONE that shoes up for a job and does a decent job for full time work deserves a livable wage, from burger flippers to nannies to whomever. And yeah, it's not putting together plates at Alinea or Per Se, but it can still be honest hard work and does require a certain set of skills to accomplish. This subset that people seem to detest to much includes a HUGE portion of the industry--short order cooks, sandwich makers, etc. You try working the plate at a (good) diner or Waffle House and tell me it doesn't take skill. 

The fact remains, $8 an hour ISN'T a livable wage for ANYONE, and anyone that works for a living shouldn't have to put up with it.

Who expects a living wage working at a restaurant as a basic line cook 35-40 hours a week? Most line cooks don't even work 40 hours or certainly not much more. I agree one should be able to earn a living wage working 2 line cook jobs, 6 days a week 40 hours at each and showing more than basic skills. Showing up on time to work does not take any skill. None. Showing up with a good attitude and the desire to do a good job also does not take skill. Remembering 5 or 6 different tickets, temperatures, and presenting your food well while also using proper techniques, time management, sanitation standards and seasoning to put food on the plate that tastes good, looks good and in a reasonable amount of time ..... That takes some skill. It's FAR from rocket science, but it's something that should be paid for, unlike showing up to Buffalo Wild Wings on time everyday, dropping wings in a fryer and expecting $12 an hour.

Sorry, it's hard to have too much compassion when I see my 22 year old female friend working 2 line cook jobs, 7 days a week, starting at 3 am and ending at 10pm, with one day where she can sleep in a little bit, she's got as much cooking skill as any line cook I've seen. She's never once complained about her wages. And she certainly did not start out at 15$ or $20 an hour.
A living wage is something that comes with working at a level that is equal to supporting your life. Working at your local fancy restaurant 35-40 hours a week is not going to be enough to support a living unless your living in Alaska or somewhere where it's really cheap to live. One must actually possess real skills, experience and ability and then put in enough time every week in order to support their living. Again, showing up on time is not a skill, even if you live in NYC. People being paid 50k, 75k, 100k $ in other industries posses real skills.
The reason this industry doesn't have great wages to begin with is because this used to be an industry that was reserved for the lower class or less skilled people...

http://www.ibtimes.com/us-spends-less-food-any-other-country-world-maps-1546945
 
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Thats a nice wage, I agree. Maybe I'll look into it :)

When you say chef, do you mean a cook on the line or someone who runs a kitchen? 

As far as servers go, the 3.25 an hour (or less in some areas) sucks. They rely almost exclusively on tips, but since, in the USA, EVERYONE is expected to tip 15-20% for the server (unless something goes horribly wrong) on every check, it usually means a living wage for the server, at minimum. Many places the servers do really well. 

Kitchens here generally have the full brigade system in place. Cooks are chefs without qualifications, paid roughly $2 less. Then entry level 'chef' is commis, then Demi so on and so forth. Provided you have a qualification you're a chef, might not be 'The Chef' or 'Chef' but it shows you're qualified.

Generally no one tips here unless it's exceptional in some way. At my current workplace it's better wages to work as a server, $28 an hour or something ridiculous.

After a quick google of the menus of Outback Steakhouse in America and Australia, a 9oz sirloin in America is $16.99, while here it's $27.99. Throw in a conversion and it's a difference of about $4, not a huge difference but that's the same company. Go to a different steakhouse restaurant here and get a 7oz sirloin for somewhere around $30
 
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Couple things to point out here.

Australia dollar versus the American dollar. What's $10.00/hr. Australian in American dollars?

Another item that has a lot to do with food costs are purchasing and serving fruits and vegetables out of season.

With the advent of technology, we are now able to offer things like asparagus, grapes, tomatoes, and such, which use resources that make these items costly.

The alternative would be to go back to the time when these items are only offered on menus when they are in season.

The idea that trimming labor must also go along with reviewing the menu to match.

Keeping the same menu year after year with the same prep needed but with 50% less labor may make you, as the owner, happy that you were able to cut it,

and then you'd now feel your employees are actually working for their new wage, but it might have an adverse effect. 

Instead of 10 cooks, now you have 5 doing the same work.  Human nature being what it is, you might find a mutiny on your hands.
 
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I think it should be noted that the minimum wage has NOT increased with the cost of living. Since around 1980, cost of living has increased something like 65%. Minimum wage has not. Not even close. Raising it to $15 will make up for decades of abuse, even for burger flippers. There are scores of people that think $15. hr is too much to pay a teenager for a summer job. Many people just think you don't deserve that much money, regardless of the cost of living. I've had people tell me that if you are 30 and still working at a fast food restaurant (in any capacity other than a franchise owner) then you are an idiot and haven't made the right "choices." Keeping the wage down is ideology and ideology alone. 

It should also be noted that here in the USA, the poverty level is around $17K per year for an individual. As long as you are above that, you aren't considered in "poverty." Anybody tried having a life making $20K a year? The legislative policy and the cultural acceptance of the abuse of labor is the problem. 

Since the 1980's, the economy has been service based. Financial services rules the roost, and the other service sectors (hotels, food and beverage, etc) has been squeezed to reflect how people feel about white collar vs blue collar jobs. Manufacturing used to be king, and the middle class grew. You could actually have a decent life working at the mill or wherever, doing a job that wasn't that much more skilled than flipping burgers and have money for children and home ownership.

I'm not a pro, but spent enough time in a commercial kitchen to appreciate the work. Line cooks pumping out 200 covers a night at a white table cloth restaurants work their asses off. They deserve to be adequately compensated for their work. Servers play a large part in that dining "experience" and should also be compensated.  I don't have the solution but it isn't eliminating labor and/ or the culturally engrained tipping system. 

Lastly, I agree completely that ANY business needs to streamline their operation to eliminate waste and aim for efficiency. That doesn't mean labor should suffer.  But I get a kick out of the saying "cut the fat" yet fat is a vital component in what gives meat it's flavor. 
 
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