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How Much Money Can You Earn Per Year When You Are a Chef?

by Aurelio Locsin, studioD

The delicious dishes available at restaurants and other dining establishments most likely spring from the culinary expertise of chefs. These cooking professionals take charge of their kitchens by determining menus, choosing ingredients and hiring kitchen staff. If they own their establishments, they may also tend to business matters. The money you can earn as a chef depends on who hires you and where your job is located.


The country’s 90,300 chefs earned a mean $46,600 per year, as of May 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The lowest earning 10 percent made less than $24,770 yearly, while the best-paid 10 percent received over an annual $74,060. These jobs require long hours, with many executive chefs working 12-hour days. They must be in the kitchen in the early mornings to accept deliveries, and stay late at night to supervise clean-up and closing. Because many restaurants experience their busiest periods on the weekends and holidays, chefs must often work those days as well.


Almost half of all chefs work in full-service restaurants, where they average an annual $44,870. Other big employers are traveler accommodations and special food services such as caterers. The highest-paying industry is "deep sea, coastal and Great Lakes water transportation" at a mean $73,010 yearly, followed by amusement parks and arcades, at an average annual $67,580. Most chefs learn their skills by working on the job, perhaps starting as line cooks and moving up with experience. Formal training is available in two and four-year programs at culinary arts schools, community colleges and universities.


Not surprisingly, the areas with the most population offer the most job opportunities for chefs. Topping the state list is California with 11 percent of the total jobs and mean wages of $48,490 per year. For metro areas, New York City boasts the most opportunities with 4 percent of the jobs and mean wages at an annual $80,000. The state with the highest pay for the profession is New York, averaging $67,950 yearly. New York City shows the highest wages among cities. Following are Birmingham, Alabama, at $65,800 a year, and Nassau and Suffolk Counties in New York, averaging an annual $64,180.


Jobs for chefs are expected to fall by 1 percent from 2010 to 2020, according to the BLS, while jobs for supervisors of food prep will rise by 9 percent. A growing population will demand more and better dishes. To cut costs, though, restaurants are employing lower-level cooks to perform chef-level tasks. Chefs with many years of experience will find the best opportunities. Competition will be stiff at places with high salaries, such as upscale restaurants and hotels.

About the Author

Aurelio Locsin has been writing professionally since 1982. He published his first book in 1996 and is a frequent contributor to many online publications, specializing in consumer, business and technical topics. Locsin holds a Bachelor of Arts in scientific and technical communications from the University of Washington.

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