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What Should Chefs Expect for a Starting Salary?

Career News July 23, 2014

If you’re a good cook, chances are you’ll never have a problem finding a job. We all have to eat, but what we prefer is food that is tasty, safely prepared, and appealing to the eyes. Gaining a reputation as a good cook can come as quickly as the first meal you set down for a dinner with family and guests.

From the ground up of professional cooking, your reputation becomes energized with learning all the stations of a kitchen, from soups and salads to appetizers, main courses, and desserts. Management wants to see their trainees not only deliver their plates according to specifications, but also do so in a timely manner.

What the Food Industry Offers

The starting salary for chefs is highly dependent on a number of factors: location, type of food business, size of the industry, success of the industry, the chef’s position you’re acquiring, and your years of previous experience.

If you began your career working for a major restaurant, learning the function of the individual stations, you will probably start out with a wage of eight to ten dollars an hour. You will receive pay raises as you progress, and become eligible for benefits such as the 401k retirement plan, life insurance, paid vacations, and other options.

Once you reach management level, the restaurant may require you to take culinary arts classes before qualifying as a chef. They may pay for the classes themselves, and agree that at their completion, you will receive a salary as head chef or executive chef. At the management level, the starting salary for chefs averages between $25,000 and $75,000 a year.

Preparing for your Career as a Chef

There are very few food services that will accept an applicant for a chef’s position without completion of culinary arts courses; however, cooking at the highly professional position of a chef is a very competitive business. The more experience you gain in the cooking industry, the better your chances of receiving a high-end starting salary for chefs.

Cooking experience can begin as a teenager, working for the fast food industry, as an assistant cook in a small restaurant, at the school cafeteria, or other public places. It can help you determine if cooking professionally is really the path you wish to take or if you’d rather save your skills for family holidays.

The turn-over rate for kitchen assistants is high; at entry- level jobs such as server, line cook, prep cook, and head cook assistant, the average length of time to remain in the industry is two to four years. Management and executive positions, such as head chef and executive chef, often have a long record of company employment and are not likely to move on anytime soon. Your resume should reflect previous cooking experience either in a public or private food service business.

Prior cooking experience will help you decide, which specialization skills you find most appealing. Your specialization will reflect the type of industry you wish to service. If you take a great deal of pleasure from cooking seafood and arranging it on a platter in an artistic manner, and love living in coastal towns, you might wish to consider directing your training toward catering to tourism. Your training could provide you with a chef’s job at a hotel or restaurant, a lodge, or with cruise ships. You could expect a beginning chef’s salary of around $60,000 a year.

Choosing Your Enterprise

Your starting salary as a chef will depend greatly on the type of establishment that hires you. If you are working for a small, private restaurant, in a cafeteria, or a bed and breakfast, your average starting salary might be around $20,000 to $30,000 a year. If you work in catering, you could receive a low-end starting salary of $25,000, up to $200,000, depending on the business and your level of expertise.

As a chef who is able to deliver delicious food set attractively on a platter, your options in the food industry become unlimited. You can work at the international level, for high-power food service corporations, in the tourism industry, or at a five-star restaurant. You can even become your own business, opening a café, restaurant, or catering service, with your name as the main attraction. Cooking is an art and the test is in how well you deliver it.

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