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What Should I Expect as an Annual Salary as a Chef?

Career News July 23, 2014

People love food, and since cook books, food shows and networks, and the resulting celebrity chefs have become popular, what was once a working class job has become something people are looking at as a career in which they can live their passion.

More About a Chef Yearly Salary

Due to the changing American palate, high-quality foods have become everyday fare and the availability and range of foods from great cheeses to organically farmed meats and vegetables have increased greatly.

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the median yearly wage for a chef is $42,480. To put that in perspective, the median income for all Americans is $51,017 a year, according to 2012 United States Census Data.

Granted this is generally for dual income families, so being a chef puts you in a fairly good earning position, if you share the wage earning in your home. What makes this hard is that being a chef is not a full-time job, it’s an all-the-time job.

There is not a time when you are not either planning for or dealing with fallout from your kitchen. Many people get the idea that being a chef means owning a business, and in some case it does; however, in these cases, you can expect your salary to be eaten up by the business for the first three to five years while you establish your restaurant.

Many chefs end up working for a corporation or an owner. Often, a chef has little or no control over menu items, which can be frustrating for someone who has a great love of food.

Chef Yearly Salary — Outside the Box

There are, however, various ways that chefs are branching out and making a place for themselves. One of these is food trucks, which offer the attractiveness of low overhead and mobility. If a location is not working out for a truck, it can move. Small menus make it easier to do a few things really well and gain customer loyalty. In addition, food trucks are still somewhat of a novelty, and people are excited to try them.

The drawbacks can be licensing and code compliance as well as no bathrooms. The lack of bathrooms are one of the top listed things that food truck owners talk about as a drawback. Another is the need for a prep kitchen, which often is rented from another space. Running out of food can be the death of a business, so having enough food and a kitchen away from the truck to prep can make the difference between a thriving business and a lucky fad.

Other places that chefs are making a place for themselves are Farm to Table restaurants. These types of establishments provide a home-like experience wherein the food is grown on or near the same property as the restaurant, harvested fresh, and served to customers.

This business model is popular with customers who appreciate freshness, but especially affords the families of chefs who are owners to live and work close together. This family atmosphere pays a bit better as currently organically grown vegetables and meats and home produced cheeses are at a premium. The ability to involve the entire business in the final product while labor intensive is often more rewarding for the chef.

For the most part, however, chefs across America can still expect to earn a yearly salary starting around $25,000 and topping out at about $75,000. They are doing it the old school way. They graduate from culinary school and do their time as a sous chef until they work their way up to head chef in a kitchen that someone else owns. Or, they skip the culinary school and learn on the job.

It is still a job that can be done with no higher education. Skill is its own merit. It is a job that pays enough to be middle class, but it is also one that requires the love of food because like a farmer, there are few vacations, and when things go wrong, the chef is the one who is ultimately responsible.

The payback, however, is the food, tradition, and camaraderie that comes from working day in and day out in a kitchen. There is no better place to get to know somebody. And, for many, there is no other place they would rather be.

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