The three main expenses your client will worry about

prove your worth

Every business has different types of costs. Imagine if it didn't take cold hard cash to run a business? We'd see all sorts of weird, curious endeavors! But business owners live with the reality that money keeps the entire production alive.

Today let's chat about sunk costs. My completely botched definition, which would make my economics professors shudder + change my grades, is that sunk costs are those that you have to pay for regardless of if you even have sold anything.

My primary business at the moment is my Etsy shop + MAN I know about sunk costs. Luckily it's an online shop + it's just me at the moment, so I don't have to worry about much overhead. I do take on the cost of my materials, which includes the matte board + shipping materials too. I also bought my own matte cutter so I could custom make each + every order, but hey, I can keep my costs low.

Restaurants, however, aren't quite as lucky.

Restaurants have plenty of sunk costs (and trust me they're a stressor!) Breaking them down can illuminate what’s critical to the day to day operations of a food business.

Three expenses your client worries about

Labor cost

Have you ever been in a restaurant where the owner was also cooking, seating people, serving + busing tables? Not really, right?

Sidenote: restaurants with this scenario will always have the best food + worst service, but moving on...

There are so many roles in a professional restaurant because the restaurant experience is much more than just the food. From start to finish there is a person to attend to your needs—but most restaurants will aim to keep their restaurant staffed as lean as possible. 

Integral staff members will differ from restaurant to restaurant, but additional staff will most likely be part-time employees or contractors to keep labor costs low.

Rent cost

Rent costs are exactly what they sound like, the costs paid to a landlord for using their space.

This is a huge expense especially for businesses in major cities where rent is increasingly rising. This cost is a fixed + non-negotiable cost. At the very least, every restaurant needs to pay their rent.

Rent forces even the greats out of their space. So when rent begins to creep up, you have to be sure that financials will be reviewed to trim excessive or luxury costs.

Food cost

It doesn’t matter if the kitchen is fully staffed, there are customers in their seats or if the menus are expertly designed—there needs to be food.

All food is not created equally. Purchasing premium ingredients, organic produce or buying from local farms will run up the food bill more so than bulk purchases from food distributors.

Food costs differ greatly from restaurant to restaurant often reflected in menu prices. The price of food fluctuates (+ is usually going up + up) so prices will adjust with those market changes.

So where do you fit in?

With rising rents, increasing food prices + director of operations looking to trim their staff, a designer or marketer needs to be indispensable to stay on the books.

An aspiring executive chef might start as a dishwasher. You might start as a contract employee. And hey, being a contractor is a great opportunity! 

Here are a few of my top tips for working with a restaurant or food business a a contractor:

Show up

This one is easy. Show up. I know this seems like a 101 tip, but honestly, you would be surprised how often people can drop the ball on this one. Arrive + leave when you are asked to, but always show up mentally + (of course) physically.

No task is too small

Throw your job description to the window, because sometimes it's all hands on deck at a restaurant. At one of my previous jobs, I would have to package up gifts for concierges or move chairs for seminars while I was hired to assist with social media. Make sure that you are not being taken advantage of, but sometimes heavy lifting will be required to be a team player.

Know when to pick your battles

Again, you should never feel like you are being taken advantage of, but sometimes when it comes to your work fighting too many battles is just not worth it. Remember you are working for someone else + they will usually know what is best for their business. This is a good thing because they're sharing how you can help them out! Learn from them + you will prove your worth easily.

Food for thought // How do you prove your worth for your clients? List five ways you are indispensable + three ways you can improve. Embrace what you are good at + work on improving in your weaker areas.

Understanding your client's four competitors

four types of competiton.jpg

Besides making your client pull their hair out, the competition forces everyone to work harder + more efficient. I always had the mentality that competition was bad + that there was nothing you could do about it. Recognize that there are four types of competition: geographic, category, services + style. Each has their own implications, but can be dealt with when you know what to look out for.

Four types of competitors your client has

Geographic competition

This one is simple, geographic competition are the businesses in the same location as you. For a retail business this is typically the businesses on the same street or neighborhood. For a services business, like a professional photographer or personal chef, competition could be city-wide or state-wide, even. Even in a city like New York, most people will likely only continually visit the businesses close to where they work and live. Making sure you are a notable spot is incredibly important.

Category competition

All of the services + products a business offers adds up to a category. Does your client sell coffee + homemade pastries in a cozy environment? Likely they are a coffee shop + they are not the only one in the world. In a neighborhood where potential customers could easily drive to get to another similar business, think about how to set your client apart in their oversaturated category.

Services competition

Services people, it’s what a business offers. Some business have several services, others have one main service that is their bread + butter. Think about a restaurant that also sells dishware or a yoga studio that sells yoga mats. Not all businesses choose to offer the same services, so this could set two businesses in competing categories apart.

Style competition

When we brand our businesses we think we’re a unique snowflake, but it’s difficult to DIY an entirely one-of-a-kind brand. Style can overlap from business to business. Raise your hand if you have seen a blog use bright gold accents, hand lettering or bright neons? So now that we all have our hands up, let’s put them down + talk about some style trends. Minimal, rustic, girly + romantic—these are a few ways someone could describe the style of their brand. Even though two businesses may describe themselves as minimal what sets them apart is how that style is executed.

So, what can your clients do about these competitors?

Befriend your neighbors

If you have a physical location, neighbors are secret weapons. You might not have too much in common with a local florist, but when their clients are looking for a sandwich or coffee they are likely to recommend your cafe to them.

Spend time with the competition

In other words, learn from competitions + take note of anything that potentially turns you off or confuses you. Also note anything that you particularly enjoyed about your experience. A quick gut check with the competition can teach you so much of what works for your client OR what isn't working.

Highlight unique services

Embrace what you sense is unique about your client. Your client might be too bogged down in the daily reality of running their business, so it's up to you to illuminate what services make their business special with your outside perspective.

Do not copy others

Want to be original? Look around at what you see a lot of + do the complete opposite. Especially when you are doing work for clients, create original work. Anyone can find a template online, don't be a template for yourself or your client's brand.

Food for thought // Does your business have competition? How did you deal with competition creatively?

Designing simple + beautiful menus

flexible menu design

My favorite design projects are those that are creative + add value for my client. Menu design encompasses both. 

Menus can change daily, so you want to set your clients up for success when editing and printing their menus. Your client might be more than willing to pay you for every single edit, but making those menu changes (even weekly) prevents you from moving on with new projects.

So what should you consider when designing a menu?

  1. Make the menu as clear as possible for customers. 
  2. Design the menu in a format that can easily be edited by someone with little design experience. 
  3. Set your client up for success when printing the menu

Let's break these down.

Make the menu as clear as possible for customers. 

The menu should be designed for diners first, always. Testing various menu designs before launching a single design can be a great way to go. Observing how diners interact with the menu is a great idea. Is the menu too large for them to handle? Can everyone read the font size + type? Does switching the placement of each category change sales? Knowing where to properly place items on a menu can improve sales + make the entire ordering process much clearer.

Design a menu in a format that can easily be edited by someone with little design experience. 

While you might think Illustrator is a piece of cake, most of the employees in a restaurant will have no idea what you are talking about. They may only be well-versed in Microsoft, so think about the file type when delivering final designs. 

Set your client up for success when printing the menu.

Ink is crazy expensive. So much so that if your client is printing menus themselves, you may want to avoid ink-ladened designs. If your client is working with a professional printer, you may want to avoid color ink since color prints are pricier.

No matter what, work close with your client to make sure that their branding + budget work with your design vision. Bringing practical advice to the table (like making sure they are thinking about how the menus will be printed!) will make you an invaluable, much-appreciated addition.

3 Simple Design Ideas


Restaurants that do a great job of keeping it simple include Seattle's Delancey and Essex (that's two different restaurants btw!).  The font is printed in black ink + there are virtually no design elements on the menu. It could not be easier for a designer (or non-designer) to go in and make edits as the menu shifts from day to day.

There are quite a few design elements that work here:

  • One color font // No need to worry about capturing the right hue, black font is as simple as it gets.
  • Simple, black font logo // Do you notice the handwritten "delancey" and "essex" in the examples below? The logos are simple, but again keeps with the simple, clean branding for Delancey and Essex.
  • Clear navigation with subtitles // In the first example image below there are only three categories. "To start", "From the wood oven" and "To finish". They made it stupid simple to order with this menu. The restaurant might even get more order value per customer since each diner can clearly see the menu's progression.

You can take a sneak look at their menus in the images below and check out a sample menu right here.

Clean with two colors

A restaurant that does this expertly is Andrew Carmellini's Lafayette. Their menus have a white base with blue as the accent color. There aren't many moving parts to this menu (besides a few side panels) which would make it easy for staff to go in + make edits to menu items.

 Here's what I like most about this menu:

  • Two complimentary colors // blue + black, it doesn't get simpler! Here's an opportunity to show off the branding of the restaurant, but subtly.
  • Branded logo // The logo pops out since most of the text is blue on their menu. The clean logo fits in with the rest of the menu, but adds a subtle decor + branding element to the page.
  • Side panels // On Lafayette's menu, the side panels group similar items, but allow them to stick out. The border has slight detail, but really is a long rectangle. Here they feature items from the bakery and the café. Side panels provide an opportunity to upsell. A customer might have come in for an omelet, but seeing the tea selection or pastry selection on the same page is effective.

See an example of their menu (+ I dare you not to drool you fool) right over here.

Image via @vickimortan

Image via @carissa_burton

Image via @carissa_burton


Illustrations can either be digital or hand drawn, but they add intrigue + branding to a menu. They are also an opportunity to share values. I first noticed Mason's restaurant on Pinterest, because their illustrations are on point for a modern Southern restaurant.

Sidenote: If anyone is willing to ship me to Nashville for a food tour, I'm game. Back to menu design now. 

The menu design is continued on their website, where you will see simple illustrations that are a nod to their regional influence like a horseshoe or a pear.

Use illustration when:

  • They're well-designed // This is an obvious one, but nothing substitutes beautiful design. If you're not confident in your illustration skills, stick to a text menu. Check out Skillshare if you want to improve upon these skills though!
  • They add, but don't clutter // Sometimes a menu is sparse (think Fuku where there are only a few menu items plus a kick-ass drink menu) so illustrations can add more "content" to the page. Adding illustrations to an already busy menu might not be the best choice.
  • They correspond to the branding // Like for Mason's, the illustrations fit the overall vibe of the restaurant. They don't have illustrations of NY bagels or taxis--that would make no sense. Make sure illustrations thematically fit in with everything from the decor of the space to the items that are on the menu itself.
Image via @hollyacopeland

Image via @hollyacopeland

Image via @cheffrohne

Image via @cheffrohne

There is tremendous pressure to design something unique + completely new. Know that it takes time to develop a creative POV that will set you apart from the pack. Heck, there is even a menu generator because menus do tend to look the same! Even so, I hope that you've taken away a few pointers from this post when you're working on your next menu design project.

Food for thought // Have you designed a menu for a client? Do you have tips you would add to the list?

(I also want to see your design, so tweet it at me {@emilysalshutz} + I can tell you how incredible you are)

Roles in a Professional Kitchen


The absolute best way to get the ins + outs of each role in a professional kitchen is to, surprise, spend time in a professional kitchen. You will learn about the industry as an insider. My way in was through working on the catering team for a quick-service lobster restaurant. Joining a restaurant part-time as a hostess or server is a great way to quickly learn about the industry.

For those of you looking for a quicker education, I made a list of the roles in a professional kitchen. Note that this is my interpretation of the roles in a professional restaurant. Each restaurant has slightly different organization, but the bones are usually the same. 

The roles in a professional kitchen


The head honcho, but really the person who owns the business. Everyone ultimately answers to this person, thus why some chefs choose to also own their restaurants. Sometimes this person is funding the entire restaurant or simply just calls the shots. This person typically owns the business legally, but does not have no be the original owner.

Director of Operations

The Director of Ops makes sure the restaurant, well, operates. From balancing labor costs + schedules to managing the marketing + pr—the director operations makes sure that sales go up + costs stay as low as possible. As a freelancer, you will likely interact with the director of ops way more than the restauranteur.


You know that person that comes over to your table + asks if everything is alright? That’s the Manager. A restaurant can have one manager (typically referred to as the General Manager or GM) or several who oversee service in different parts of the restaurant. Managers strive to make sure every customer is content, the floor staff is ready to go + are the go-to when a table needs extra attention.

Maitre’d + Hosts/Hostesses

The first person you see when you walk in the door is typically a Host or Hostesses and potentially a Maitre’d. The maitre’d is in charge of the hosts and hostesses. They train them + organize their schedules, but more importantly they know who is coming into the restaurant that night + guide everyone from the servers to the executive chef on how to serve diners the best. The maitre’d looks out for VIPs, from celebrities to restaurant critics. At some restaurants they keep notes on regular diners, making sure the restaurant delivers a better experience with each visit.

Executive Chef

The Executive Chef oversees the kitchen. Style differs, some chefs would rather approve dishes as they appear on the pass, while others prefer to do the cooking. They guide the menu, but often with input from the restauranteur. It takes years to become an executive chef, typically working through stations until given this prestigious title.

Sous Chef

The right hand man for the executive chef. There can be several per kitchen. Sous chefs work hard to make sure the entire kitchen is in order before + during service.

Line Cook

The worker bees of the kitchen are the line cooks. They own a station + get it done. Seafood, pasta, poultry, red meat—each station can get their own line cook depending on the size of a kitchen.

Pastry Chef

Specializing in the sweet stuff, the pastry chef plans + executes the pastry menu. They are experts in most pastry techniques: ice creams, shuffles, custards, the list is endless + delicious.


Straightforward, but these guys are the king behind the bar. Delivering drinks throughout the day, roles around the bar range from crafting cocktails to shaking them up. They often work for tips, but typically are paid a higher hourly rate than the rest of the restaurant. They cater the front of the restaurant, while Barbacks typically take care of the drinks for those dining in the restaurant versus the bar.


Aka a Waiter/Waitress, they take your orders + serve as the liaison between the diner + the kitchen. Servers work primarily for tips so hospitality is at the top of their mind. They prevent avoidable mistakes by communicating the diner’s requests from start to finish.

Runners + Bussers

Actual workhorses, they make sure everything arrives + leaves your table without you even noticing. They maintain the pacing of the meal alongside the server.


Making sure there is room for everyone at a restaurant is not easy work, but the Reservationist makes sure nothing goes wrong. 

Catering + Events

Not every restaurant has a catering + events team, but many do. Catering is both on-site when rooms or the entire restaurant is rented. Off-site catering is also popular. Personally I am biased, but this team tends to have the most fun.

Food for Thought // There you have it, your introduction to the roles in a professional kitchen. Restaurants differ in size so there know that you won't always find the roles this clearly defined. There might be anywhere from two to a few dozen people working at one time. Again, the best way to understand what makes a restaurant tick is to spend time in one. Have you worked in restaurant? Feel free to share your favorite story from your experience below!

Finding the time to create when you work full-time

Tip for creatives that work full-time // a little gathering

For ambitious makers there is never enough time (+ sunlight!) in the day to get everything done. It is especially difficult for those of us who work full-time on top of building a creative brand.

Personally I commute over two hours a day to my full-time day job. I love my job, but I also love my blog--so I've had to work hard to find the balance that works for me.

Let's remember that we all have the same 24 hours in a day, so luckily it is all about prioritizing what matters at any particular time.

Rome was not built in a day, but it might have been built while someone was brainstorming on their commute. That's how the phrase goes, right? Nonetheless, here is how I make the most of my free time to make everything I want to.

5 tips for making time when you work full-time

Take advantage of the time you do have

If you work Monday-Friday you have Friday PM to Monday AM for you. That's plenty of time to create some great things! Some weekends might be busier than others, but there are no excuses if you have those days off for creative fun.

Brainstorm on your commute

You now what I do on my commute? I make lists. There is nothing more stressful than sitting on a train catapulting along with nothing to do. It's especially tough on us creative types who want to keep creating. Some of my favorite ideas for my blog have been part of commuting brainstorm sessions. I sometimes also edit my blog posts on my commute (guilty!)

Plan ahead (but really)

Anything + everything you can do to prep ahead is better. For me this means making sure I have all the supplies necessary before I want to even get started. Since most of my creative projects are made for this blog, sunlight is so important. When is the sunlight best? Around noon. This means that anything that needs to be prepped has to be planned ahead.

Online ordering is your friend

Shops are not open all of the time for those that work full-time. You know what's always available? Once you plan + brainstorm you know exactly what you need + that doesn't include waiting on a checkout line. A few clicks + have everything you need for your next project sent to your doorstep.

Take a break

You have time, but you should also spend time on other pursuits than creative. Hang out with family, eat a meal out or even take an online yoga class. These activities give me more inspiration than staring at a list could.

Food for thought // Do you have some good tips for others than work full-time? Please share in the comments below!