A modest business proposal

Tom and I have an idea for a business model and we’d like to run it past you all and see what you think. We’ve been thinking how great it would be to open a restaurant. We’d need to get funding for the venue, and to buy all the eatery gear and set up a kitchen. We’ll need to pay for raw materials, for waiters and bar staff, cleaners, managers, someone to take bookings, maybe some publicity. Where this really gets clever though, is our vision for the chefs.
We think chefs should be paid a percentage of every meal they sell, rather than paying them a wage. It gives them opportunity to earn a great deal more, of course, but if their food doesn’t sell, it reduces our financial risk. We’ll only start paying them that cut when we’ve covered the cost of the food and the waiting staff and taken something towards the rent, too.
If we’re taking on new chefs, who won’t automatically attract eaters, then we think they ought to pay for their own ingredients. We, after all, are taking most of the financial risk here, it’s only fair to ask them to contribute to that. We think it would be helpful if chefs made some effort to promote their food, too. We envisage them going out to people’s houses to cook sample meals now and then in order to attract customers. If a chef already has a TV program, they’ll get a better deal and we might be able to consider paying them up front.
We’ll pay the chef their percentage every six months. Well, we say that, but in practice the six monthly cheque will arrive when we get round to it, and could be a month or two late. However, such will be the contracts that if chefs don’t like this, about their only option will be to take their skills and recipes to another restaurant and try their luck there. To really make this work, we will get all other restaurants onboard, so that these are the only terms available for wannabe chefs.
We realise that with this model, the chef will probably need to work a regular day job in order to make ends meet. However, as being a chef is such great work, and it’s really a hobby job, this seems perfectly fair and reasonable to us. They ought to be happy doing it for love. Given the glamour and reputation of being a chef, we’re also confident that there are so many people who want to do it that we’ll never struggle to find people willing to work for us on these terms. After all, everyone has a meal in them.
If this business model made you a bit uncomfortable (and I really hope it did!), please consider that this is how the publishing of art, words and music tends to work, and that this is standard as a way of treating creatives in those industries. We’re wondering if the idea of ‘fair trade’ could be extended across the creative industries. All creative industries depend on the ‘product’ but usually the people making that product are the last to see any money from it. Editors, managers, in house designers, and the person who cleans the editor’s office will all get paid long before the creator sees a penny, in the vast majority of cases.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

19 responses to “A modest business proposal

  • angharadlois

    Wow, that really works as an analogy!

  • Catherine Crayton

    At first starting to read, I thought a wonderful idea. As I read further it bothered me because of the treatment of the chefs. Then you revealed where you were going with this and it clicked! Also felt much relieved that you and Tom hadn’t totally gone off the deep end 🙂 That is the way creative people are treated there does need to be Fair Trade in the creative arts industries! Thank you for a very good reality wake up this morning!

  • Paul Morton

    I particularly like the bit where you make it clear you think you’re better than an office cleaner
    but they have a job that pays them and you don’t
    which makes what you do a hobby
    ~fin~

    • Nimue Brown

      It pays me some, but not enough to live on. It pays me enough that I rank amongst the top 10% of authors in terms of financial success, (as in 90% of authors are worse off than me, give or take) and that still isn’t enough to live on, and I am not high maintenance. I’ve not said I’m better than an office cleaner. Why would I think that? Cleaning is a valuable, necessary thing. What’s not to like? There are plenty of people who value what I do enough to want it – magazine articles, book reviews, books, turning up to read blog posts, but who can’t afford to pay me. Some of that is to do with the current economic climate, some of it with a culture that assumes certain work should be given away for free. All creative people are being hit by this, at all levels of the industry. I’ve got to the point of realising I’d be happier doing something else. I’m not ashamed of that realisation, although getting there has been hard. I would not be ashamed to do anything anyone found useful, that wasn’t inherently dishonourable.

  • Michael

    Interesting concept, but I like it.

  • hotch60

    WoW — had no idea the creative talent out there gets treated so poorly. And I wonder if this is true over the pond as well. Feels veryuch like the concept our Wall Street and government are using , and it sucks!

    • Nimue Brown

      I’m writing from the UK, but with awareness of writers, artists and musicians all over the place. The government here is slackening laws protecting intellectual property, making it even easier for big companies to rip us off. It is a shoddy state of affairs to say the least.

  • roselle angwin

    Got to the end of paragraph two and started smiling in recognition.

    Got to halfway through and started feeling really pissed off, as sometimes one doesn’t see clearly how one’s own situation actually IS until one compares it with ‘the norm’ via an analogy.

    Yes, you are spot-on, Nimuë, and thank you for making me see exactly how DUMB our situation as freelance writers really is, ‘creative freedom’ notwithstanding. (Not that I intend to give it up; it’s just that I rarely feel quite this angry about the publishing industry, since it’s my choice to be a writer.)

    Thanks for the (dark) humour that you can still raise in among your own dilemmas.

    Might I reblog this?

  • Nimue Brown

    By all means, and thank you 🙂

    • roselle angwin

      Guess you know about the Facebook group ‘STOP WORKING FOR FREE’, for artists? A stroppy writer told me she NEVER does anything for free now, and demands money upfront. I’m getting better at it, and trust there’ll be something else waiting for me behind a job I don’t get if they don’t like my requests, or something I turn down because it’s free, whether or not it’s ‘publicity for me’, as people like to say. (Yeah tell that to your plumber next time your pipes burst…)

      • Nimue Brown

        Trouble is, most publishing arrangements do not deliver an advance these days, you hand over for free and they pay you, perhaps, and that’s often the best hope you have. It also doesn’t help that there are so many aspiring authors, there’s always someone else who will do it for free, or for almost nothing, and so it becomes a race to the bottom all too often. Charging a penny a word is ambitious…

      • Nimue Brown

        As the saying goes, people die of exposure.

      • roselle angwin

        Oh I know! I’ve had 11 books published, including by bona fide publishing houses like Element (the best advance I ever had, all of £1500 – that was for my first book in 1993; all downhill since then!), and Robert Hale; and my royalties per year amount to a couple of hundred pounds. That’s all. And yes Element went bust, owing me rather a lot of money, too.

        I didn’t really mean books, though; I meant contributions to journals and writing magazines etc – though when there are requests for poems from the small press I don’t expect money for those – there ain’t any, that simple, and most poetry presses are run on love. Otherwise I stick out, including in eg judging poetry competitions…

  • Jonathan Green

    “We’ll pay the chef their percentage every six months. Well, we say that, but in practice the six monthly cheque will arrive when we get round to it, and could be a month or two late.”

    How about five years late?

    A friend of mine the other day told me he almost lost his house because a publisher when bust owing him a great deal of money. Money he’s never seen to this day.

    • Nimue Brown

      I wish I could say I’m shocked to hear this. I watched an ebook house going under some years ago. It stopped paying, but still had the books up, so no one could take their work to another house. Took ages and a lot of creative thinking and effort to just get the books taken down and free the authors to try their luck somewhere else.

  • Chris Hurst

    I loved that! It took me a while to “get” it (my partner was reading it to me whilst I was concentrating on designing a journal cover) …. but it’s so true. The life of a freelance illustrator in the fashion industry was exactly like that. I used to spend as much time chasing payments that were months overdue as I was devoting to new projects – and I had to pay for materials, postage, couriers and train tickets to get to meetings up front. One year I had no money for Christmas presents for the kids and was expected to hand deliver a project to a fashion consultancy that owed me £5k (outstanding for months, and this the late 1980s so a lot of money). I delivered it, in person …. in that I went in, showed them the work, they loved it, and then I packed it all up again and told them I would be waiting with it in my car whilst they raised a banker’s draft for the outstanding sum. They literally hissed like vipers and threatened that I would never work again (but I was cold, tired, hungry and past caring). I got the money.Your blog made me chuckle for hours. Thank you.

  • Graeme K Talboys

    You might add that in the event of the restaurant going bust, the chefs need not expect to be paid any money owing to them as all other creditors come first (as I know from bitter experience).

  • celticchick

    About halfway in I realized how this sounded like the publishing industry. It’s sad how we get screwed. Don’t know how to fix it though.

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