What is the Salary Range for a Chef?
Mar 30, 2015 | 8:00 am
Being a chef is one of the hottest careers right now. Celebrity chefs are everywhere and their restaurants are praised and renowned the world over. Top chefs, who don’t quite make it to the celebrity level, can still pull down six figure salaries and are stars in their own rights. The range of chefs’ salaries within the United States is quite vast; we’re going to look at the most influential variables and how you can move yourself to the positive side of the bell curve.
What is a Chef?
Before we can get into the meat of chefs’ salaries, we need to know exactly what we mean when we say “chef.” A chef and a cook are not equivalent, and cooks earn significantly less than chefs. The term and distinction between a chef and a cook has its roots in Medieval France when the first chef’s guilds were formed. In today’s world, a chef is almost always someone with a culinary arts degree or other formal culinary training. A cook is someone who cooks in a restaurant, normally doesn’t have formal culinary training, and works for the chef – the boss in nearly all professional kitchens will be a chef.
The biggest place you will find a difference between a cook and a chef is in their pay. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the median annual wage of cooks at $20,550, while they list the median annual wage of chefs at $42,480. Chef salaries are more than double those of cooks.
Overall Salary Range for Chefs in the United States
Within the United States, and indeed in the world as a whole, there is no upper limit on chef salaries. Celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsay ($33 million in 2013), Wolfgang Puck ($20 million in 2013), and Todd English ($11 million in 2013) earn astronomical sums of money. At more down to earth levels, we have already seen that the median annual wage for chefs in the United States is $42,480, but what does this really mean?
Median annual wage is not the same thing as the average. The average just adds up all the salaries and divides by the number of salaries that were added together. The median is the amount where 50% of all chefs earn more and 50% of all chefs earn less. On the positive side, the BLS indicates that the top 10% of all chefs earned more than $74,120, but the bottom 10% of all chefs earned less than $24,530.
The biggest factors that influence whether you’re in the top 10%, the bottom 10%, or somewhere in the middle are: your location (big cities typically pay more than small cities), the industry (hotels and casinos typically pay more than freestanding restaurants), the quality of the restaurant (high end establishments typically pay more than average places), and your culinary education (the holder of a culinary arts degree typically earns more).
While salaries vary widely, being a chef is a good career choice if you love to cook and thrive under pressure. If you are considering a career as a chef, the first step is to contact your local culinary school for more information on their culinary arts program.