Chefs are lead cooks who direct food preparation in restaurant kitchens and other food service establishments. Chefs typically supervise line cooks and other kitchen personnel working under them, and they usually earn the highest salaries among food service workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that about 90,000 chefs and head cooks worked in the United States as of May 2011.
Chefs reported an average yearly income of $46,600 per year and mean wages of $22.40 per hour, according to the May 2011 report of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. By comparison, restaurant cooks working under chefs earned an average of $23,410 per year and $11.25 per hour. Prep cooks earned an average of about $20,950 per year, or about $10 per hour.
Pay by Industry:
Approximately 4,880 chefs were employed at limited-service establishments, such as fast-food restaurants, and reported earning about $35,000 per year, the lowest average category earnings for the occupation. By comparison, chefs employed by full-service restaurants, those where customers are attended to by a wait staff, earned about $45,000 per year. Chefs employed by hotel restaurants earned even more on average, nearly $53,000 per year.
Culinary chefs employed in the northeast United States earned the highest salaries, led by New York at an average of nearly $68,000 per year and New Jersey at about $60,500 per year. Chefs in Hawaii, Nevada, California and Florida also earned salaries above the national average. More chefs work in the metropolitan corridor comprised of New York City, White Plains and Wayne, New Jersey, than in any other area, and earn the highest average salary of any part of the country, $80,000 a year.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts little to no change in the employment of head cooks and chefs in the decade to come. In fact, the bureau predicts a net loss of about 800 jobs by 2020, largely because some restaurants will attempt to replace chefs with lower-level kitchen personnel in an effort to reduce overhead. This means that most job openings will result from chefs who are retiring or looking for work elsewhere. However, the occupation has a high rate of turnover, and a fair number of job openings remain. Competition is expected to be strongest for higher-paying jobs, such as those at upscale restaurants or at hotels.