From my experiences and what I've witnessed working with restaurant owners...
there are several reasons as to why Chef's, Cooks, Hospitality staff are subject to such poor financial and professional treatments by owners. (especially independent restaurant owners)
1. Owners rely on the passionate/aspirational nature of their Chef's/Cooks to work more hours... while paying them as low as possible.
* True Story Example: I worked with/for an owner in San Diego that had hired staff come in to clean up the entire restaurant (moving furniture, scrubbing floors/walls/bathrooms/etc, lifting heavy items, etc for over 6+ hours) for free! and suggested to all employees that those who "care" will come in to work for free ... of course, non-verbally insinuating that if people didn't want to work for free, that they won't get hours or will be let-go after the trial period.
* The same owner when I first interviewed, dangled all kinds of cherries to gain my interest with phrases such as: "future partnership", "ownership stake", IF they saw that I was "loyal" and was a "hard worker" and went "above and beyond"
The truth is, any real cook who has pride in their craft will work hard (in comparison to other professions) because they care about their environment and finished product. Owners using such verbiage really is expecting that person to go above and beyond... THE LEGAL expectations of fair-labor, meaning ownership expects employees to work overtime without pay, not take their legally required breaks and work 6-7 days a week without consideration for that employees family/mental, physical and psychological health and these dangled cherries are used in the interview/hiring process for candidates to accept LESS starting wage/salary than what is their true fair-market value in "hopes" of receiving the "potential ownership stake." (I and most of my peers of Chefs have heard this BS way too many times to even entertain the notion.)
** IF YOU'RE A YOUNG, UP AND COMING CHEF... DO NOT GET INVOLVED WITH OWNERS THAT DANGLE CHERRIES IN-FRONT OF YOU DURING THE INTERVIEW/HIRING PROCESS. if you really think about it... if you're an exceptional chef/mgr/etc... owners won't have to dangle the "POSSIBILITY" in front of you... instead, they'll just offer it because they see that you're an asset they would rather be with than without. Otherwise, be prepared to work 80+ hour weeks, lose all family/social life, be under-staffed to where you're doing 65% of all the BOH and FOH manual work and be underpaid for as long as it takes for you to either demand a raise or quit.
Let's talk about the word often used as a requirement of business owners to employees...
From what I've learned... this word is used by ownership, as a consequential factoring of employment term. Really it's so the employees (non-ownership management included), can be paid as minimum as possible for as long as possible no matter their talent level, their hard-work, their sacrifices and the positive value they bring in to and for the business. Basically, owners are just using this word to tell employees... don't expect or ask for a raise no matter how much money you make me, otherwise you're NOT LOYAL!
If you really think about it... a talented chef with very good work ethic should be able to find any job, any where... if that same chef is currently getting paid... $60k/annual... in a thriving restaurant... and is positively affecting the bottomline of that restaurant, why shouldn't that same chef be awarded a raise or bonus?.... or bring his TALENT'S TO SOUTHBEACH like lebron james famously stated... and get paid more somewhere else that is willing to pay for his talents and work ethic? ... I'll tell you why. It's because 1) he will be deemed UN-LOYAL. 2) which will reflect on his resume and most employers only look at how long you were in an establishment without really factoring in any other scenarios.
Let's flip that coin... are owners loyal? In my experiences, most of them are not (there are a select few that have seen the light)... owners will terminate anyone for any given or without any reason (it's their right.) ..... but let's think consciously as well...it's also an employees right to pursue happiness. and if that means getting paid more than what you currently are (hopefully, the increase in pay is deserved)... they should be able to pursue that option. The unfortunate fact of this scenario however, is that when employees take such course, they are deemed UN- LOYAL. but when owners do it, it's considered "business acumen" .. ???? doesn't make much ethical sense does it?
Most restaurant owners (except for a few I've met in my experiences) take full advantage of people. They want to make the most money, have the best qualities of lives while leaving their employees to fend for scraps.
Piece of advice, Because most chef owners really feel the pain of SERVICE STAFF (that's why if you're looking to work in the restaurant industry... you should work for a CHEF/OWNER... and not some financially gifted donkey's who decided they want a restaurant). They are more keen to a better working environment and are more keen to fair-wages, hours and treatment of staff.
and the owners who really doesn't have restaurant experience (from dishwashing, to training staff to properly toss and season a salad, etc.) ... and try to be restaurant operators... They are the ones employees should stay away from... they have a tendency to only see the bottom-line without factoring in the human element in every workplace environment. They are most likely to underpay, mistreat, turnover and run complete sh*t shows.
Restaurant owners expect their employees to LIVE TO WORK. while they work to live. That's as true a statement as any.
If you're curious or sceptic about this message... look at the financial statements of restaurants and compare how much an owner-operator makes to how much a chef makes... then compare their hours and scope of work.