folio cooking

Behind the Swingin' Doors

Kitchen workers make less $$ than servers & management


Last week, I explained the restaurant French Brigade de cuisine kitchen hierarchy system, where each employee knows what is expected based on the station assignment. I also told you that waiters appear in that hierarchy—the chef de rang, preparing dishes such as Caesar salads tableside. This leads me to the issue of: wages. The restaurant industry in the U.S. takes the best of the French system (the kitchen hierarchy) and combines it with the worst wage system in the world.

Ever wonder why the guide books tell you not to give American-sized tips at most European restaurants? That’s because the European waiters are paid fairly.  They’re not working for tips. That’s also because the true reason your meal is delicious is not because of the person who carries out your plates. The person making that food delicious is in the kitchen, behind the line, where starting pay in the U.S. is around $10/hour. And it doesn’t go much higher.

The person carrying the plates is actually paid much worse, but has the potential to make a disproportionate amount more because of the American system of the waiter’s true income coming from tips. Many fast-casual restaurants are abusing this system and paying their cashiers and food runners the tip wage, when they should be paying at least minimum wage.

Thus, in many expensive restaurants, the waiters may take home hundreds of dollars a night, while the kitchen staff makes their $10-$20/hour wages—whether they cook a meal for a slow night of 20 people or they cook for 200 people. The waiter’s pay increases with more customers because of more tip potential, while the cook’s pay stays the same. Thus, the American restaurant industry pay system is unfair for both waiters and kitchen staff. Waiters should be paid at least as much as cooks per hour—but waiters shouldn’t get to keep all the tips that are in part the result of the good food.

In my restaurant, I pay my employees equitable wages. We are all one team—waiters, dishwashers, cooks and cashier. No category of our team depends on tips for their income—and all benefit if tips are received. In my place, I’ve eliminated unfair wage distinctions—and the rest of the restaurant industry should do the same.

There is nothing worse than not paying a person fairly for the work he or she has done.

So if thinking about the abusive pay system of the restaurant industry makes you feel too sick to go out to dinner, go ahead and make something delicious at home. Invite your friends and family over, discuss how to change the world, and enjoy something you make yourself—and think which is harder: Making that food or putting it on the table? Use our local wild-caught shrimp to make my favorite guac.




• 1/2 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined

• 2 teaspoon chipotle spice

• 2 avocados, deseeded, scooped & diced

• 1/2 red onion, diced

• 1 serrano pepper, or chili of your choice

• 2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped

• 1 lime, juiced

• Salt & pepper to taste



1. Toss the shrimp with chipotle sauce. Sauté shrimp on medium heat until just cooked through. Cool, then dice each shrimp into quarter-inch pieces.

2. Mix the remaining ingredients and add cooked shrimp.

3. Adjust the seasoning.

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