5 Tips for Nailing a Salary Negotiation

Drinks industry experts share their top strategies for sealing the deal—from quantifying your worth to making the ask

Ashtin Berry
Ashtin Berry. Photo by Justin Sisson.

According to Monster.com, people who negotiate their salaries earn $1 million more over their careers than those who don’t, while data gleaned from a Glassdoor Know Your Worth salary estimator tool suggests the average American is paid $7,500, or 13.3 percent, less annually than his or her market worth.

Yet according to SevenFifty and SevenFifty Daily’s 2018 Salary Survey, 29 percent of beverage industry workers surveyed hadn’t received a raise in more than two years.

Why is that?

Mary Allison Wright, the co-owner and founder of RiNo Yacht Club and the Proper Pour in Denver, explains, “Hospitality has only recently become widely accepted as a career, and we haven’t done a good job of educating people on how to discuss money.” Ashtin Berry, a bartender, an activist, and a cofounder of the Radical Xchange food, beverage, and arts collective, also points out that “many [hospitality] employees still work on an hourly basis, and there isn’t a lot of content out there about how to negotiate rates in those circumstances.”

Compounding that lack of information may be uncertainty as to the requirements of various jobs.

“Employers rarely have standard metrics or processes to evaluate staff,” says Berry, “so people are often unclear on their job expectations and what they’re being held accountable for if they do want to ask for more money.”

In such circumstances, “the [onus] falls on you to ask for more money and evaluations,” explains Wright, “so you need to do your due diligence.”

Here, Wright, Berry, and other drinks industry experts discuss how to determine your worth and quantify your accomplishments, and they also suggest strategies for nailing your next salary negotiation.

Know Your Worth

The first step to negotiating a better salary is to determine your worth. Patrick Schultz, the bar manager at Minero in Atlanta, recommends checking online sites like Glassdoor to determine what people in similar positions are making in your area. He also suggests asking people directly how much they earn. “I know it’s a little bit taboo,” he says, “but I think it’s really important for informational purposes to know how much your peers make. That knowledge gives you power.”

Jordan Zimmerman, a single-malt specialist at Whyte & Mackay, a whisky producer in Glasgow, also emphasizes the importance of understanding your worth. “I’m a woman in the Scotch whisky business,” she says, “and while there are more of us [nowadays] and we are doing the same work as men in these roles, equal pay for equal work is still not guaranteed. The last thing you want to do is sell yourself at a lower cost than what you’re really worth.”

Another consideration is the number of hours you work each week. As a single-malt specialist, Zimmerman’s workweek is not capped at 40 hours, which is the case for many people working in the drinks industry. When analyzing your worth, she suggests “putting pen to paper and doing some math” to help define your value. “For example,” she says, “if you’re working 70 hours a week, figure out what that would equate to for 40 hours, and pitch that number to your employer.”

In other words, if you want an hourly wage of $25, you should multiply that number by the 70 hours you work and ask for a salary of $1,750 a week, not the $1,000 you would get for 40 hours.

Schultz also thinks it makes sense for hourly workers to negotiate different compensation structures for different types of job responsibilities. “Most high-volume cocktail bars require three to four hours of prep work per bartender per shift,” he says, “so you need to factor that into your hourly wage. Before I was a manager, I negotiated a wage for work before service in addition to the tip-based model of compensation I received during service.”

Mary Allison Wright
Mary Allison Wright. Photo courtesy of Mary Allison Wright.

Build Your Case

The ability to demonstrate why you deserve the salary you’re asking for is key. “When asking for a certain salary or a raise,” says Wright, “you also need to think of it in terms of what you can offer your employer and why you specifically deserve that amount.”

Berry elaborates, saying that “business is about metrics, so you need to be able to measure your contribution.” For example, she says, “Did you create a best-selling cocktail? Are you taking on leadership or managerial responsibilities that you’re not being compensated for?” She advises pulling sales reports and researching “how much you’re [contributing to] the business versus costs and margins.”

When you’re preparing for an annual review, Schultz also recommends that you focus on your accomplishments and use them to lead the conversation—especially any that have saved the company money. Kevin Fox, the Southeast on-premise director for Founders Brewing Co., based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, suggests a similar strategy. “I keep a dry-erase board in my home office and jot down my accomplishments throughout the year,” he says, “then come to my review with specific sales figures, contributions to the company, and new responsibilities I’ve taken on to support my case.”

Practice Your Pitch

Knowing your worth and being prepared with a list of your contributions and accomplishments puts you in a good position to make your case, but your delivery is important, too. As the saying goes, Practice makes perfect. Outline your plan of attack and rehearse.

Zimmerman says that engaging in role-playing conversations about salary with a valued mentor can be helpful. “I’ve found that when I do that,” she explains, “I notice the ways in which I qualify myself. When I hear those conversations and get a second opinion, it helps me project confidence when talking about money.”

Wright often does the same. “I firmly believe in being as prepared as possible,” she says, “so find a mentor who can give you guidance and help you determine how you sound and what you want to say before you talk to your employer.”

Don’t Forget Nonmonetary Compensation

Compensation isn’t necessarily restricted to to money. Zimmerman says she’s learned to be creative about other forms of compensation. When you’re preparing for a negotiation, she suggests that you consider ways in which your salary can be augmented with nonmonetary compensation—“whether that’s asking for a clothing allowance, a relocation package, a signing bonus, or reimbursement for car or parking expenses.” Fox concurs, saying that asking for phone or car allowances, extra paid time off, relocation packages, and stipends for gas, parking, and meals are reasonable ways to add to your overall compensation package. Such ancillary remuneration can be especially significant if your employer can’t meet your specific salary request.

Make the Ask

When making the ask, keep in mind timing, tone, and presentation.

“Don’t surprise your supervisor by asking at the wrong time—like, after a few too many at a company party,” says Fox. “Also, some companies are more inclined to give raises midyear when they’ve had good years, while others only give raises at the beginning of a new year, so the timing of your request is important.”

Zimmerman recommends “being clear in your request, projecting confidence, and showing that you’ve done your homework” when asking for a raise or negotiating the salary for a new job.

Schultz again stresses that you should emphasize your accomplishments, particularly ones that have saved the company overhead or streamlined operations for your team. “Basically,” he says, “managers want to see that you’re keeping costs down and revenue up and taking on more responsibilities that make the business run more smoothly.”

Fox agrees and says, “If you’re producing and creating value and you’re prepared, you should have no problem projecting confidence in a negotiation.” He also warns against sounding entitled or defensive but recommends being calm in presenting evidence of your accomplishments and your value.

In addition, Wright and Berry say it’s important to prepare for hearing a no and to plot your next steps. “If you’re excelling and your employer isn’t noticing or compensating you in any way,” Berry says, “then maybe you need to leave, even if that’s three months or a year [away].”

Ultimately, when it comes to salary negotiations, says Zimmerman, “you have to advocate for yourself because no one else is going to do it for you.”


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Laura Scholz, a writer and editor based in Atlanta, has covered food, spirits, wellness, and travel for the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, the Atlantan, Eater Atlanta, Liquor.com, Tales of the Cocktail, VinePair, and other publications. She is currently the fitness editor of Atlanta magazine. Follow her on Instagram @lbscholz.

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