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Features 2009 Salary Survey Results
 
2010 · 2009 · 2008 · 2007 · 2006 · 2005
2009 StarChefs.com Salary Survey June 2010

If you’re consulting the Financial Times, latté prices, or your neighborhood psychic for signs of economic recovery, you might want to peek your head into the nearest restaurant kitchen. Okay, so chefs aren’t playing catch with surplus foie lobes or topping everything from the mineral water to the dessert course with shaved truffle and edible gold, but by and large the restaurant industry seems to be maintaining, and in some cases even improving, its financial health in these less-than-salutary economic times—and at least a few paychecks are showing it.

Sure, our 2009 Salary Survey confirmed some of what we already know—white executive chefs make the most per year—and some of what we suspected—women are still paid egregiously less than men—but it also taught us a few new things about the industry, from its unique fiscal geography (stay out of California, sous chefs) to its apparent neutrality towards culinary degrees (feel free to skip class, you can make as much without one).

So whether you’re a chef de cuisine looking for a change of scenery (head to a hotel or catering operation, preferably in Massachusetts) or a woman concerned about her comparative earning potential as a female executive chef (get ready to be 24% angrier at gender inequity), peruse the results of our 2009 Salary Survey—from almost 1400 respondents—and check the fiscal temperature of an industry that continues to surprise, frustrate, reward, and, as ever, moderately to severely overwork its employees.

Salaries

In the real-time Monopoly marathon that is making a living, the guys on top tend to stay there. And it’s no different for executive chefs, who made a healthy rebound in 2009 after a slight dip in 2008, with salaries averaging 6.1% increase. Pastry chefs had their own sweet year, with salaries showing a 5.7% increase after taking a veritable nosedive in 2007. (Apparently the American sweet tooth dulls in times of economic crisis.)

Job Title

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

% Change from 2008

Chef/Owner

-

-

-

$94,288

$85,179

$85,685 up 0.6%

Executive Chef

$74,696

$75,596

$73,260

$77,611

$74,869

$79,402 up 6.1%

Chef de Cuisine

-

$57,890

$60,993

$59,896

$56,367

$57,417 up 1.9%

Sous Chef

$39,275

$39,305

$40,375

$42,104

$44,205

$42,266 down 4.4%

Line Cook (hourly)

$11.2

$12.64

$12.40

$13.07

$12.90

$29,662 down 2.6%

Pastry Chef*

$47,865

$50,581

$48,818

$53,017

$46,228

$48,861 up 5.7%
*Includes “Pastry Chef” and “Executive Pastry Chef”

Meanwhile sous chef and line cook salaries took a dive, down 4.4% and 2.6% respectively, widening the gap between the upper and lower rungs of the professional ladder in the kitchen. And chef-owners, that brave population without a fiscal buffer between themselves and the cold, hard hand of the Recession, saw a slight increase in their salaries, not as much cause to celebrate as sigh in relief. And considering the creative freedom of the chef-owned restaurant, we’re glad to know the operations we’ve seen are capably enduring, if not yet thriving, in these less-than-sunny times.

Salaries by Restaurant Type

Not every kitchen is created equal; some will pay you a good deal more for the same work. For sous chefs and chefs de cuisine, the end of the rainbow, and its promised pot of gold, is apparently at a hotel or catering company. Last year sous chefs and chefs de cuisine made markedly more than they did in standalone restaurants, an almost $10,000 increase—hardly chump change. Executive chefs and pastry chefs, on the other hand, fare best in the kitchens of private country clubs, where steep membership dues apparently don’t deter healthy and consistent restaurant spending.

Job Title Restaurant
(Stand Alone)
Hotel Restaurant/
Catering/Banquet
Private or
Country Club
Executive Chef $71,063 $87,713 $91,860
Chef de Cuisine $56,868 $65,171 $59,286
Sous Chef $38,560 $47,681 $42,857
Pastry Chef* $47,491 $50,450 $61,167

*Includes “Pastry Chef” and “Executive Pastry Chef”


Salary Averages by Location

As many a beleaguered, broken chef-owner can testify, location means a lot in the restaurant business. And the same holds true for salaries, although not always consistently. For instance, in 2009, an executive chef in New York state made almost $4,000 more than an executive chef in Florida, as likely as not a reflection of the enduring triumph of fine dining in New York City (as opposed to an actual statewide trend).

Job Title

California

Florida

Massachusetts

New York

Executive Chef

$88,195 $87,475 $88,175 $91,356

Chef de Cuisine

$62,261 $49,300 $67,938 $65,955

Sous Chef

$39,400 $43,950 $48,625 $50,150
Pastry Chef $49,125 $55,000 $52,643 $52,059

But despite its overall largesse, New York doesn’t pay its pastry chefs as well as Florida does, where professional sweets-slingers made nearly $3,000 more than their New York-bound counterparts in 2009. In the same vein, the chef de cuisine did reasonably well in the Empire State, but the same job in Massachusetts earned him $2,000 more per year. Sous chefs in California finished the year with the lowest average salary across the board, making around $10,000 less than their East Coast counterparts and $4000 less than reported last year. It’s uncertain whether the prestige of having a movie-star governor or the thrill of intermittent celebrity sightings made up for the difference.

Graphs: Executive Chef Salaries by City
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If you’re an executive chef looking to plot your professional course according to average salary, it’s a safe bet to work your way towards New York City and Miami, where salaries are highest (with San Francisco coming in at a close third place). Beantown ranked egregiously lower for executive chef salaries in 2009, registering slightly more than a $14,000 gap between its own and New York City salaries—quite a few beans’ difference. Meanwhile, as the Chicago dining scene continues its expansion, executive chef salaries may likely rise to the levels of San Francisco or Miami.

Education and Experience

In an age of tight belts and tighter wallets, that age old question—“Should I go to culinary school?”—is even more pressing. Sure, average salaries for college graduates are higher than for professionals without degrees, so liberal arts majors can keep rationalizing a hundred-thousand-dollar investment until their penny-pinched parents stop them. But would-be chefs and pastry chefs should take care to look into their options, and bank accounts, before taking the student loan plunge, because the difference is almost negligible.

Graphs: Education and Experience
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In fact there’s a mere $300 difference in salary between degree-holders and non-degree-holders. And like last year (2008 Salary Survey Results), it looks like working as an unpaid stage actually does pay off eventually, to the tune of a $2,000 higher salary. Working outside of the states is an even more profitable investment—chefs who’ve quit the continent to work abroad made around $13,000 more than their patriotic, home-bound peers in 2009. The restaurant industry seems to be rewarding experience over education; ambitious youngsters and career-changers might do better to spend culinary school tuition on racking up unpaid experience in foreign kitchens.

Average Years of Experience by Position

Position

Chef/Owner/
CEO

Executive
Chef/Chef

Chef de
Cuisine

Sous
Chef

Line
Cook

Pastry
Chef*

General/
F&B Manager

Years of Experience

19

21

14

11

8

14

20
* Includes “Pastry Chef” and “Executive Pastry Chef”

Of course, starting from the bottom as a stage or line cook can often be a long road. For those on top of the industry playing field—executive chefs, CEOs, owners, and F&B Managers—it took about 20 years on average to get there. In fact our sous chefs and chefs de cuisine respondents had more than a decade of experience behind them, so young chefs trading the classroom for the kitchen should be in it for the long haul.

In most jobs, the logic goes the longer you stay there, the higher your salary will be. But the restaurant industry, in its professionally idiosyncratic glory, defies conventional logic in this as in so many other ways. An executive chef can expect a steady climb from his or her first fledgling years in the business, but after a quarter-century, the bottom seems to fall ever-so-slightly out, with an average $9,000 drop.

Years of Experience

2 to 4

5 to 8

9 to 12

13 to 15

16 to 20

21 to 25

26 to 30

31 to 40

Executive Chef

$51,500

$51,750

$69,456

$70,185

$81,521

$89,863

$80,888

$89,222
Chef de Cuisine $72,000 $44,690 $57,333 $59,821 $65,071 $67,833 $50,750 $58,667
Sous Chef $38,364 $41,286 $42,688 $35,917 $49,286 $34,500 $47,000 $76,250
Pastry Chef* $33,917 $43,125 $47,188 $51,813 $55,750 $70,050 $70,000 -
* Includes “Pastry Chef” and “Executive Pastry Chef”

The same holds true for the chef de cuisine, whose salary starts strong at an average $72,000 but falls almost immediately by nearly $30,000. From there it’s a steady uphill climb, again topping out at a quarter century before falling, quite drastically, in their next five years in the business. And if sous chefs can endure a reported dip in salary between their 21st and 25th year, they’ll see a light at the end of the tunnel—granted, a 40-year-long tunnel—to the tune of $76,250 on average.

Gender and Ethnicity

Like most major players in the American workforce, the restaurant industry still exhibits a few strong prejudices towards, well, white guys running the show. And this is especially surprising for an industry that should be, at least philosophically, merit-based: the food either tastes good or it doesn’t. But socioeconomic factors being what they are, fiscal inequity among races and between the sexes endures.

Graphs: Gender and Ethnicity
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Of our executive chef respondents, 91% were male and a mere 9% were female. Either female executive chefs have a stronger work ethic—i.e. they don’t take time out of their busy schedules to answer online surveys—or, and far more likely, the gender gap pervades in chef salaries. A male executive chef makes $15,000 more than his female counterpart, and the industry average reaches nearly $17,000 between blue and pink paychecks, or 24%.

Only among sous chefs is there any reasonable similarity in salary, so male and female sous chefs can celebrate the progressive triumph of being almost equally underpaid. As for pastry chefs, who rank at nearly half male and half female, salaries are slightly closer—and even there, males are still paid 22% more. If the pastry chef ratio predicts anything, it’s likely if more women become executive chefs in the coming years, the salary gap between the sexes will decrease.

Executive Pastry Chef/Pastry Chef

Executive Chef/
Chef

Chef/
Owner

Sous
Chef

Line
Cook

Chef
Instructor

Owner/
CEO/
President

General/
F&B
Manager

Private
Chef

Chef de Cuisine

Pastry Cook

14%

13%

13%

6%

5.5%

5.5%

5%

5%

4.5%

4%

4%

Of the women surveyed, 14% are pastry chefs, 13% are executive chefs, and a healthy 13% are chef-owners, meaning as many women are running their own restaurants as are running their own restaurant kitchens. A narrow margin indicates women were slightly more inclined to pursue pastry over savory arts, while a smaller percentage of them rank among the nation’s private chefs, CEOs, and chef-instructors.

Women in the Industry: Race Profile
African American
* American Indian or Alaskan Native
Asian
Caucasian
Hispanic or Latino
Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander
Prefer not to answer
*0 respondents
Graphs: Women in the Industry: Race Profile
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Even among women, supposedly the more progressive (and certainly the fairer) sex, the industry profile for 2009 was largely Caucasian. While Asian women made up 8% of our respondents and Latina or Hispanic women ranked in at 6%, the majority—a 76% majority—of our respondents were white. Women being an industry minority themselves, it’s possible that as the population of female restaurant professionals grows, their ranks will diversify.

 

Chef/
Owner/
CEO

Executive Chef/Chef

Chef de Cuisine

Sous
Chef

Line
Cook

Private Chef

Pastry
Chef*

General/F&B Manager

Chef Instructor

African American

5%

2%

1%

5%

7%

7%

5%

0%

4%

American Indian or Alaskan Native

2%

0%

0%

1%

0%

0%

0%

0%

0%

Asian

1%

5%

12%

7%

15%

0%

10%

2%

2%

Caucasian

80%

82%

74%

75%

62%

79%

67%

84%

87%

Hispanic or Latino

10%

8%

9%

8%

9%

3%

9%

8%

6%

Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander

0%

0%

2%

2%

0%

0%

2%

0%

0%

Race not specified

4%

3%

2%

3%

8%

10%

7%

7%

0%

* Includes “Pastry Chef,” “Executive Pastry Chef,” and “Pastry Cook”

Kitchens in 2009 were populated largely by Caucasians, not simply in the executive chef or owner role (where they ranked in at 82 and 80%, respectively) but as line cooks (62% of respondents were white) and sous chefs (62%). But the numbers show room for growth among a wider racial population, with Hispanic or Latino respondents making up 10% of chef-owners/CEOs and 8% of executive chefs, with similar numbers across the board, while Asian respondents made up 12% of chefs de cuisine and 10% of pastry chefs. Another interesting figure: among African American respondents, as many are private chefs as line cooks (7%).

Graphs: Gender and Ethnicity
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In kitchens, at least, money matters do seem to be black and white. Caucasian chefs made the most on average in 2009, just a hair over $80,000, while African American executive chefs made the least of our respondents—around $26,000 less. Both Asian and Hispanic or Latino executive chefs had salaries last year much closer to the top of the charts than the bottom.

Time Spent at Work

Nobody becomes a restaurant chef for the paid holidays, summer vacations, or inconsequential sick leave. The life of a chef is spent, by and large, in a kitchen, and in 2009 respondents from across the board spent over 10 hours a day at work. Only private chefs and chef instructors made out with a traditional eight-hour work day—a vestige of professional regularity that a relatively small population of chefs embraces.

Position

Executive Chef/
Chef/CEO

Chef de Cuisine

Sous
Chef

Line
Cook

Private
Chef

Pastry
Chef*

General / F&B Manager

Chef Instructor

Average Number of Hours Worked per Day

11

12

11

10

8

10

11

8

* Includes “Pastry Chef,” “Executive Pastry Chef,” and “Pastry Cook”

Chefs de cuisine spent the most time in the kitchen, clocking in at 12 hours a day, an hour more than the sous chef, F&B manager, and the executive chef. If trends stay the same, aspiring chefs working from the ranks of line cook upwards should be committed to at least ten hours in the kitchen.

Average Number of Hours Worked per Week

Position

Chef/
Owner/CEO

Executive Chef/Chef

Chef de Cuisine

Sous
Chef

Line
Cook

Private
Chef

Pastry
Chef*

General /F&B Manager

Chef Instructor

Average Number of Hours Worked per Week

60

60

62

57

49

45

56

58

43

* Includes “Pastry Chef,” “Executive Pastry Chef,” and “Pastry Cook”

Weekly rates were about the same, with chefs de cuisine spending 62 hours at work every week, two hours more than executive chefs, owners, and CEOs. Pastry chefs spent just a few hours less in the kitchen last year, clocking in at 56 hours per week on average, while line cooks made out with 49 hours, somewhere in the neighborhood of feasible quality of life. But the chefs place is in the kitchen, so while chef-instructors enjoy the professional regularity and gratification of training and private chefs tend to make more money in less time (45 hours per week), chefs are in the trenches—and it looks like they’re staying there.



 
 

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