Can we calculate a "just" salary for a pizza chef? And is money all that counts?

Posted on Tuesday, March 2, 2021 by Alan Pizzaiolo TribeNo comments

You just need to be a part of a Pizzaioli Facebook group where people occasionally post vacancies to understand how animated pizza chefs can get about salaries.

Unfortunately a lot of pizzerias are still paying minimum wage (or there about), sometimes masked by the fact that tips are included in the salary advertised, hence inflating the actual salary or at a minimum confusing applicants. Although part of the pizzaiolo job can be replicated, and some owners go as far as to say that they can train staff from scratch, there are some aspects of the job, like speed, accuracy, creativity and the ability to solve problems (we are talking baking, proving and other technical problems) that really warrant a higher salary.

I often ask myself what the right salary really is. Being an entrepreneur, but also having worked for 15 years as a salaried employee, this is not only a philosophical question. Sure there are a lot of pizza chefs out there, and sooner or later you are bound to find one for the right price, but is he/she the one you need? Will they do the job to the right standard? Can they produce X pizzas an hour?

Is there a formula we can use to calculate what a “just” salary is? And above all, on the employer side, when does a just reward for taking all the risks that running a business entails become greed?

There always seems to be a disconnect between pizza chefs and pizzeria owners. This is common in all industries, but seems to be exacerbated in our own, where it is difficult to say what an average salary is as there are some many variables to this job.

Sometimes pizza chefs don’t seem to consider the various factors that can affect a job offer. For instance when I first opened my small pizzeria we could only seat 15 guests, it goes without saying that I could not afford to pay my pizzaiolo £25k a year, but many pizzaioli didn’t seem to understand this. Paying someone £25k a year doesn’t really cost a business £25k, it costs around £28k of which the employee will receive about £20k net.

Assuming for a moment that we could afford to pay a competitive, industry average salary, but also that salary is only one of the reasons why employees join a company. What else can we offer to attract and retain talent? Research by Harvard Business Review shows that there are some “motivators” that have nothing to do with the salary, such as:

  • Opportunities to achieve something special and recognition for those achievements
  • Doing exciting work
  • Career Growth opportunities
  • Responsibility
  • Work Flexibility. Yes we have fixed service hours, but can the prep be done at any time? Can we offer single shifts instead of doubles?

    An extreme example of individuals willing to work for no money, but to gain knowledge, recognition and possibly peer respect is when chefs do unpaid “internships” (“stages” in French) in famous restaurants. I remember El Bulli (the 3 Michelin Star restaurant, voted best restaurant in the world 5 times) used to get 10.000 applications to work 6 months for free!


    On the opposite side of the coin there are factors that are demotivating, Human Resource geeks refer to those as “hygiene factors” (nothing to do with personal hygiene). Those factors are extrinsic to the job itself and include:

  • Company policy and administration
  • Supervision
  • Working conditions
  • Interpersonal relationships
  • Salary
  • Status
  • Security

    In other words if we can create an exciting work environment, where people are recognised for their hard work, and respected, in time this will become a recruiting competitive advantage.

    Then if we want to get creative with ways of compensating our employees that go beyond annual pay we may consider:

  • Share of profits or a per pizza bonus
  • Lenght of service bonus, where every six months or year a bonus is awarded, this is especially important now in the UK where owners should try and retain their staff at all costs (read our blog or listen to our podcast, episodes 9 and 10, to be reminded of the costs of sponsoring someone)
  • Training. This can be a tax efficient way to retain employees as if we spend £500 on a training our employee saves £150 as to get a £500 net they should receive about £650 in their payslip, but also an employer doesn’t pay national insurance and pensions contributions on this. This is a win-win situation.
  • If you want to go “new age or Silicon Valley age” you could try unlimited vacations.. Personally I am still not sure about this one, especially in a job where there are no quarterly productivity targets. Also, can someone really take 6 weeks off instead of 4 and not be scoffed at? Maybe an extra bonus day off, here and there, would help more?



If you have a magic formula to calculate what an adequate salary is, please let me know. Maybe something based on number of pizzas? Turnover? Restaurant Square meters? Living costs? (I can feel another blog coming up)


Photo by John McArthur on Unsplash
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