What Should I Expect for a Salary as a Chef?

What Should I Expect for a Salary as a Chef?

Mar 30, 2015 | 11:00 am

Salaries for chefs vary widely across the country, through industries, and even within a single city. The salary you can expect is heavily dependent on many factors starting with your culinary training. We’re going to explore some of the factors that can influence your salary and give you some tips on how to maximize your earning potential.

It All Starts at Culinary School

Without an associate’s degree in culinary arts, you are not likely to get a position as a chef, and will work as a line cook earning $12 – $15 per hour ($18 if you’re lucky and get a job at a casino). Starting salaries for line cooks are even lower, usually around $10 per hour. So, if you’re interested in approaching the $46,620 median annual salary for a chef reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you’ll need to get yourself into culinary school.

The culinary school you choose also matters, to a certain extent. More respected schools can open doors that smaller, lesser known, schools cannot. A lawyer who earned their degree at Harvard is not necessarily better than one trained at a public University, but the degree can make them more desirable and unlock doors to firms that would otherwise be difficult to open. The same applies to culinary schools and you should always strive to attend the best school that you can.

Even if you aren’t able to attend the top ranked culinary school, it doesn’t mean you can’t be a great chef. Your abilities will take you farther than a degree alone. If you don’t have the skills to match your degree, the degree won’t be worth much.

Location and Industry Matter

You’ve got a culinary arts degree under your belt and some mad skills in the kitchen, but the location and industry makes more difference in the salary for chefs than any other factor. $46,620 is the median annual salary for chefs in the United States as of 2012. What this means is that one-half of all chefs make more than $46,620 and one-half of all chefs make less than $46,620 annually.

Chefs working in Washington DC have an average annual salary of $60,590 (the highest average in the country). If you happen to be in Myrtle Beach, you can expect about $33,190 in salary per year. Some cities pay well above the national median, while others pay considerably less than the national median.
Industry is also a big factor in determining the salary you can expect from being a chef. On the high end are the hotels and casinos where chefs can expect to earn about $6,000 more on average than chefs as a whole. On the other end of the scale are chefs who work in grocery stores and earn about $6,000 less than chefs as a whole.

Specialty can also play a part in determining your salary. Pastry chefs in Washington DC earn about $50,000 a year, while in Las Vegas pastry chefs enjoy salaries of about $70,000 per year.

The key factors in determining your salary as a chef is education, the quality of your work, location, industry, and specialty. The more of these factors you have in your favor, the higher salary you can expect.