Shuna is a slashie like me. No, not a actor slash male model, silly Zoolander fan, blogger slash chef. Pastry chef to be exact. And she recently lost her pastry chef job.
I point this out, not to irritate what is a sensitive situation, but to shed light on the fragility of a pastry chefs job. Our position is a constant walk on thin ice, a weekly prayer that the ice won’t crack and swallow our position altogether.
It is a rare restaurant that can truly afford a pastry chefs salary, particularly outside hotel and restaurant groups, and in the small intimate passion driven restaurants I prefer. Labor costs on high end food run around 40 percent. What that means, is for every dollar that comes in the restaurant, 40 percent of that goes to labor. The goal for food cost is around 25 percent. That leaves a slim 35 percent of the gross income to pay for rent, china, equipment, tables, chairs, electricity, flowers, anything and everything.
And profit? 1 percent is considered successful.
The thing about labor cost, is that it’s flexible. Veil’s kitchen staff of 4 can put out 30 dinners, or 80. It costs the restaurant the same to have those 4 cooks/chefs in the kitchen, but clearly having 80 customers brings the restaurant much much more money. Thus, labor cost goes down the busier the restaurant is.
Equally, the slower the dining room is, the higher labor cost is. To create high end, fine dining it takes the same 4 cooks to run a moderate evening as it does a busy evening. To include a pastry chefs salary into labor cost, a restaurant needs to be busy, or big, or part of a large restaurant group, or a hotel.
So we watch numbers like a hawk. We count how many desserts were sold each night, how many covers we had, what percent of diners chose to have dessert. We keep our own food cost in check. We worry over slow days, weeks, months. We see the ice getting thinner, and the potential of our job slipping through the cracks.
I am fairly lucky, I was trained as a line cook long before I entered into the pastry world. I have versatile skills, which help to validate my salary. To keep my self firmly planted in the kitchen I could prep out the veg station, work the pantry, butcher, or cook on the line.
I could take a hourly wage and work part time. Or take a small salary and work 60 hours a week.
I could work for far less money than I know I could get elsewhere.
And I do, believe me.
I do all these things to work at Veil. I make all these sacrifices to stay out of a restaurant group, out of a hotel, out of a private club, out of large busy restaurants. I thrive in a small intimate kitchen, where quality can be absolutely controlled. I prefer to labor intensely for an owner who I know and like, who’s benefit I can see my work directly effecting. I like the security of personal relationships with all levels of management, who are the people see day in day out, inside and outside the restaurant.
I want to feel connected to the growth and success of the restaurant I work for. I want to feel connected to the customers I cook for.
I could care less about bringing in profit for a corporation. There is absolutely no motivation for me to break my body, work 60 plus hours for people who don’t know me. People who see me as a labor cost, not a person.
So I make sacrifices. I don’t want to be a line cook, but if it lets me stay in the kitchen and create the desserts I do at Veil, then I’ll do it. I don’t want to be broke, but if that’s what it takes to stay in a kitchen of integrity, intimacy, I will.
I do this, because above all, I don’t want to lose my job.