There is no denying that when we look at a job advert our eyes gleam towards the pay. Our brains start ticking – is that enough for me right now?
So let’s talk about what ‘enough’ means! Here at Countertalk we want to talk about realistic pay brackets in the food industry and how we go about deciding whether the pay is enough for the role. We are your biggest cheerleaders and we want to ensure that you get your worth. We believe that your worth extends beyond a pay bracket – It also falls into hours spent at work, team environment, self-esteem and so much more.
When you look at the pay, ask yourself these questions:
- The location: Is the role in London or outside of London where the cost of living is also lower
- The role & company: These two are tied to each other, the wage of a head pastry chef in a small local bakery will be lower than the pay for a head of pastry in a 5* hotel in a central London location.
- The size of the company is a really important factor: Is the company an independent? Or does the company have multiple sites with lots of external investment?
Another important thing to remember:
The pay at face value doesn’t have to mean that’s your pay forever. Is there scope to evolve within the company, either in terms of pay rise? Or, crucially, in terms of skills that you can use to further your career elsewhere?
So a good question to ask yourself on top of the pay is: what else can you gain from the role that isn’t directly related to money? Will the role elevate your craft so that you are even more valuable and hireable moving forward? Will a year of learning a new cuisine then allow you to springboard into offering that in your future business, or widening your repertoire as a private caterer? Perhaps a six month stint at a small remote restaurant with subsidised accommodation can open your eyes to what it’s like to own your own business outside of London if that’s your goal? There’s always lots of factors at play.
In conclusion, what we are looking for is a VALUE BALANCE. The pay/learning equation has to be right – and that’s different for everyone, both employers and employees.
When it comes to making money, I’m very much aware of the feeling of being spoken to by someone who hasn’t been there. So let me ‘put my money where my mouth is’. I wanted to tell you exactly how much I was paid in my career, so that it might shed a light on your own journey.
Let’s talk about my personal salary with a few notable examples:
*(please note that these examples are from the last 9 years)*
My starting salary in the industry was £17k per year:
Position: Commis Pastry Chef
Hours: 48-55 hours p/w
Location: Central London
Type of establishment: Fine dining restaurant, cafe and bar
Team size: 20-25 chefs
Takeaway: My head chef here was really generous with his knowledge and training. We still keep in touch to this day!
My third job in the industry was at £18k per year:
Position: Commis Pastry Chef
Hours: 50-60 hours p/w
Location: Central London/West
Type of establishment: Fine dining, boujie AF
Team size: 45 chefs
Takeaway: I didn’t always enjoy myself here but I learnt an entirely new way of working, initially I found the team dynamic really difficult but I soon found my way. The head pastry chef and I didn’t always see eye to see and a lot of that was due to miscommunication. Over time I started working harder and timing myself to improve on all of the tasks. The head pastry chef noticed and I was given more responsibilities and often allowed to do lunch service on my own. A difficult beginning but a really good ending!
My 7th job in the industry was at 25k per year, I took a 3k pay cut and a lower position in this company as I thought would learn a lot here:
Position: Pastry CDP
Hours: 60+ p/w
Location: Central London
Type of establishment: Fancy bakery
Team size: 15-18 chefs/bakers
Takeaway: I was happy to take a lower salary for the purpose of learning however it became clear that I was doing the job of a sous chef but only being paid for the role of a CDP. I didn’t stay here for very long.
My 8th job in the industry was at 28k per year, this time it was in the savoury section:
Hours: 55-60 p/w
Location: Central London
Type of establishment: Michelin star
Team size: 10
Takeaway: This was a really fun learning curve where I got to get to grips with a new cuisine and watch a new opening go from pre opening prep to earning a Michelin star. I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to be doing in the long run but I knew the skills I was learning here would come in handy in the future.
When I became a head of pastry in a small neighbourhood restaurant I was on £36k (30k +6k in service charge)
Position: Head Pastry Chef
Hours: 48-52 p/w (and paid overtime)
Location: London neighbourhood
Type of establishment: Small, local, restaurant
Team size: 6
Takeaway: I loved this job, I was given a lot of creative freedom and got to use brilliant local ingredients. Had other career opportunities not come up I could have seen myself in a role like this for the foreseeable!
Those are just some examples from the places I’ve worked in.
Let me be honest – I haven’t always enjoyed myself. It was mostly perseverance that got me through, and it helped so much to look at every experience through the lens of lessons learnt. I was extremely determined and I knew that as every day passed by I had learnt something new, whether that was as small as a new way of unravelling the blue roll to get more out of it, or as significant as new technique. It all helped.
But that was my own value balance. At the beginning I was happy to work in lower-paid roles as I really wanted to learn. I know that’s not the same for other peoples’ value balance. The only RIGHT way is making an INFORMED DECISION.
So how did I make that work? Throughout my restaurant-kitchen work I would always pick up jobs or work experience on the side, to up my skills game and also boost my income a little. I knew that I wanted to learn as much as possible to get myself further, so I would often fill my free time organising a day or two in different kitchens. That would help me to see the inner workings of a place without working there in a really fun way and make friends along the way. I didn’t know ANYONE when I started out. Those connections were totally invaluable in my life and career to this day.
Then, one-off private catering gigs helped me to diversify my skill set, teaching me how to organise myself fast and how to make it work in whatever kitchen I found myself in (there are many stories!). I signed up to private chef agencies and would tick every single day off as ‘available’ on their calendar. Private cheffing usually means you can earn between £8.50-25p/h and sometimes it would be a higher day rate (£250-500 per day) if the work was more intense. I would save that money or use it towards holidays – sacrificing Christmas day for a substantial pay packet helped to put a pot of money together to get Countertalk off the ground. Again – that was a value balance that worked for ME. Each person needs to work out their own priorities, and go for it!
I should really emphasise that I do not believe in wearing yourself so thin that you have nothing to give. I’m not an energizer bunny. I do know what it’s like to not have any money, coming from that place means I will always have some innate need to keep going to make sure I don’t go back there.
There’s no judgement here, everyone has their own personal thoughts and needs when it comes to money and I am by no means telling you how you should live your life. I am shedding a transparent light on what my salary has looked like in the hope of helping you to make some informed decisions about what you want for yourself. For me, it’s a long game. My angle is taking a lower salary and sacrificing immediate financial gain with the knowledge that it will pay off in the future. The silver lining to the above is that I can tell you – it has paid off. I’m in a much better place financially but only through sacrifice. I’m a lot smarter about how much I charge, how I use my time and have built up multiple revenue streams that I wouldn’t have been able to do without going through the above. My intention with this article is to be more transparent about pay with you, this is my personal experience and I encourage you to do what’s best for you!
Gratitude to the hospitality industry for shaping my purpose and my why.
Lots of love,
P.S. At Countertalk we NEVER allow jobs which underpay – and we have frequently rejected jobs where we feel that the value balance is off. We work hard to make sure all our roles pay the minimum wage or above, we encourage employers to work towards paying a living wage and more.