Negotiating Salary at a New Business
June 5, 2016 7:42 AM   Subscribe

I left my job about a month ago, and have recently been offered (kind of) an opportunity to act as front-of-house manager at a restaurant that hasn't opened yet. My primary discussions so far haven't been with the owner, so I need to figure out how to address getting paid/ starting work.

At my last job, also a restaurant, I worked with A, who is a very talented chef. She'd been consulting on and off with B, who is her friend and a successful businesswoman in our area, who is planning to open a restaurant soon. I've been talking with A since before I left the last job, and she mentioned that if this project actually happens, she wants me to be a part of it. I've met B twice, only once after the project got started, and she said she's planning on opening by the end of the summer, but with the way renovations and things go, I think September-October is more realistic. I've been to the site 3-4 times and there is real progress and real money being put in. A claims that she's run financials on B and her businesses and she's doing very well, which I believe. When I met B at the restaurant, she took us by her other business which is lovely and well thought out and was quiet that day, but seemed prosperous. B has never owned a restaurant, but has worked in them, and her parents owned one when she was younger. However, she doesn't want to be very involved in the running of the restaurant, she just wants to get it up and running and let other people deal with the day-to-day.

Since I don't know her well, I'm not sure what to do or say about getting money. I am really excited about this project, mostly because I'll be involved from the very beginning. I'm a really organized person and I like getting systems going. I have no experience managing a restaurant, but I've worked in them off and on for 10 years. I've mostly been a server, but I've also been a host, a dishwasher, a prep cook, a baker's assistant, and an expo chef. I'm familiar with point of sale systems, especially the one we're thinking of using, Square, and kitchen equipment.

But when I met B, she didn't ask any questions about me, though A had said B told her she was "excited [I was] involved in this project." She did said, though, that A mentioned that my husband does landscaping, and they might have work for him! Further, A hasn't even negotiated HER pay with B, even though she's been talking about doing it for months. Literally, months. I'm not surprised, since as long as I've known her A kind of talks a big game, but doesn't back it up. Honestly, I think it's because she's afraid B will stop liking her, or not want her to be her chef anymore. A had told me she thought it'd make sense for the two of us as managers to get a salary, and that she was meeting with B on Wednesday. On Friday I met B, so after our "meeting," (which was really a walk and drive around kind of meeting that mostly focused on physical items- the building and equipment) I asked A what B had said about the money. She said "I haven't asked her yet. I want her to fall in love with us and our ideas and when we're indispensable to the project, that's when we'll ask her, so we'll get more." That sounds not only horrible and manipulative, but also kind of naive... these are both ladies in their 50s, and I didn't think I needed to tell A, one is indispensable.

So what should I do? I feel a little uncomfortable talking with B about salary, but I think it's best to do without A around. Since she's been involved in the project longer than I have and has been friends with B for many years, I thought it'd be easier to go through her, but I don't want to wait. I've known A about a year, and you can wait for things for MONTHS with her, and there are a few things that she never delivered on. My concern is, for this to be a successful project, there needs to be work done ahead of time. And I have done. And A has done much more. I picked up a couple of books about starting a restaurant, but haven't found much about when to bring on management and what their responsibilities are before opening. I'm not hurting for money, but I don't want to invest a lot in this without getting paid / without a commitment that I'm actually working there / am actually the FOH manager. I'm a bit afraid that I'll scare her off by being forward or going through the wrong channels or going about it the wrong way, but while I am still looking for other jobs, I am very excited about this opportunity.

Do I call a meeting with B alone and get her to clarify our three roles, then ask for a certain amount of money? Should I ask to see a business plan first? How will I know how much to ask for? This isn't going to be a huge restaurant, but could do good business by turning tables quickly. I have no idea how much is fair because I don't know how well the restaurant will do. I also don't need to make a lot of money, but I'm willing to do a lot of work, so I want to be compensated fairly. I don't want to take advantage, but also don't want to be taken advantage of. I'm willing to be generous with my time, and I'm even willing to make a proposal or pitch to "prove my worth." Is this something I should do? Has anyone been in a similar situation?
posted by serenity_now to Work & Money (8 answers total)
I would talk to B. Tell her you're excited about the possibility of working with her, and that you'd like to know more about your role. Frankly, it's not clear to me that you have a job, so I'd start with that, rather than salary.

Is it possible you offend A or B and blow this thing? Sure. If so, do you really want to work with people like that? That's a personal call for you, but my vote would be no.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:36 AM on June 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

The person opening the restaurant should already have a budget for salaries. That's just part of the opening expenses. That number, or a range leading up to that number, is something that B should be able to provide you. That number should reflect the salary of a professional manager, and not a number that starts small and might or might not get bigger depending on how the business does. If it's an hourly wage, it needs to be similar to what you'd expect as a professional manager on salary, and B needs to have already budgeted for that wage and should be able to provide it to you. If she can't, that is a massive red flag. Just because someone owns a seemingly successful non-restaurant business doesn't mean that they have a clue what running a restaurant entails, even if they've worked in one before.

I would meet with B, explain that you're interested in the opportunity, and ask what the next steps are. You need specific answers with dates and milestones. As J. Wilson mentions, I'm not sure that you actually have a job at this point, so I'd want to clarify all that before talking about money. Opening restaurants is a notoriously flakey proposition, so until you've got a formal offer and have filled out paperwork, I'd just assume that everything is up in the air.

I would not, under any circumstances, do any kind of work for free in the hopes that you'll get this job. It's one thing to read up on how to open a restaurant on your own time, but don't get caught in the trap of doing actual work without being compensated. If it seems like A or B is expecting that out of you, that is your cue to cut and run.
posted by ralan at 10:14 AM on June 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

This is crazy pants.

It seems B has other plans and she's likely not hiring you or A and she's just using you both as free sounding boards.

This person doesn't want to be involved in the day-to-day of the restaurant? This person is not serious and has money to burn. This is a failure of a vanity project. Look for a legitimate position somewhere and leave these two women to their fantasy world.

Give B your husband's business card and a link to his website or online portfolio or whatever he has representing his work. Stop talking to A about this and forget B exists.

B is deluded on many many fronts OR is a very savvy user. Either way, this is not how real jobs start off. You want zero part of this. RUN.
posted by jbenben at 10:25 AM on June 5, 2016 [7 favorites]

I just want to be clear that B has never spoken to you directly about running her restaurant, B has not asked for your CV, B has not shared a business plan, B has done nothing concrete to indicate you or A are involved.

You could submit your CV with a cover letter indicating your interest in the job. I guess? I wouldn't. You haven't said anything that leads me to believe B can handle this role as a restaurant owner. If you seem to feel B has passed your audition and can fulfill the role of owner, fine. I don't see it.

That's why this is crazy pants. You can't and should not 1000% have all the hard work and responsibility of making this business a success (including avoiding employees stealing) without a significant stake in thd business, which you do not have. No one puts in thousands of dollars into a renovation only to let someone else "handle" things. B is either misrepresenting herself, A is misrepresenting B, or B is a wealthy clueless person who won't mind losing the money eventually.

I don't think restaurants are hard, but they do take organization and effort.

Why do you think this is a good idea? I think you have better ways to spend your career currency. Invest yourself in something more stable and much less lopsided.
posted by jbenben at 10:38 AM on June 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

I think A is a complete fantastist. I can't see anywhere here where B even knows you want a job, let alone that she's asking you to run her business for her. The ideal time to discuss your contract would have been when you met B, but instead she offers your husband work? She has no clue that you think you're working for her.

I would continue to look for other work if I were you. If B was genuinely hoping to hire a manager to do all the hard work, they would be involved months prior to opening - talking to suppliers, sorting out payroll and taxes, licensing, working with the chefs on the menu... B isn't going to hire somebody for that sort of role two days before opening. She either already has somebody, or she's not going to be quite as hands-off as A wants her to be. You already know all this, which is why you are worried.

I'm sure A really does want B to hire you, but I think her magical thinking is misleading you badly and in the meantime you're out of work and hanging on for a job in October that will probably never materialise.
posted by tinkletown at 8:00 AM on June 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

tinkletown picked up on something I don't think I'd articulated: that I feel misled by A, and B doesn't realize I want to actually work for her. I think B might be, unfortunately, like jbenben said, a wealthy clueless person and has money to burn. I think she thinks it's "fun" but I don't think she has anyone on the hook. A would theoretically be her kitchen manager, and has designed menus and earmarked equipment to purchase, but is withholding some information because she hasn't discussed pay and doesn't want to "give it away for free."

I'm not waiting around for this opportunity, but I'll apply to this job like I'm applying to others. It might be a too-good-to-be-true kind of situation, but I'll see what happens without putting all my eggs in one basket. I'm a little more apprehensive now, because everyone who responded seems even warier than I was! I think that definitely means I need to be careful, so thanks everyone!
posted by serenity_now at 8:55 AM on June 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

First of all, I have ALWAYS loved your moniker. FWIW.

There's every possibility A won't get hired, but you might because you submitted a formal application, even though it was unsolicited.


Even last week at a children's birthday party, folks were mentioning Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential book and singing it's praises - I got to add that it was the first book I read to my son when he was an infant - TRUE STORY!

My culinary career began in the Manhattan restaurant scene, and that book is 101 if you are thinking about a restaurant career. The type of owner B is, and all possible outcomes, are covered in that book. Re-read it if you think you know it - apparently you missed a bit!

My last thought is you can negotiate interesting long plan compensations if you get the gig. These terms might benefit your long term if B stays out of the way + you have actual skill being a general manger. Who knows? It will def gild your resume, just having the experience.

If B does not have a business plan - get paid freelance to develop one. Cha Ching. Money without the commitment. Don't do a business plan for free - that's Crazy Pants. See: A.
posted by jbenben at 11:57 PM on June 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm not into it anymore. I sent B a CV for the job and she shared it with A and welcomed me aboard, thought I'd be a great FOH manager, etc.

After a few weeks and SIX hours of meetings, I asked B what the next steps are, and what are the long-term and short-term goals we should be setting. She looked right at me and asked if I would work on a business plan with A. I looked some stuff up and emailed B about a compensation plan. She initially agreed to stipend of $200 / week max initially, then emailed me back saying she was focusing her resources on construction and that she would be working on the business plan with A (who hasn't mentioned compensation to this day), and that she wants me involved in later stages. Oh yeah, also, in future please contact A instead of her about staffing issues.

I emailed her this:
"I understand where you're coming from and all that sounds great. Although I'll be starting with X in late summer/early fall when things get going, I'd like to be compensated for the time I've spent thus far in meetings about X- about 6 hours. There were three hours on June 3 and three hours on June 20. I've asked A, but I don't think she's passed this along to you, so I wanted to make sure we're in communication about this point. Thanks a lot!" and instead of her replying, she fwd'ed to A, who called me and asked why I thought I should be paid. When I told her, she tried to smooth things over and said things like "B's not trying to not pay you! She's never said anything about anyone not getting paid!" and emphasized the informal nature of the meetings and the fact that we were "just getting to know each other" and a bunch of other bull. I'm kind of keeping A at a distance because she's still trying to be friendly and ingratiating, but I'm not interested. Even if the restaurant does get off the ground, the whole experience is kind of soured.
posted by serenity_now at 4:36 AM on July 14, 2016

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