Chef, Cooking, and Food Preparation Salary

The salary varies greatly in the food industry. The position of chef, cook, or food prep person can be attractive to many people from many different walks of life for many different reasons. Some like the flexibility of the required hours, though not all restaurants allow a flexible schedule. Others enjoy working weekends as opposed to week days. The pay varies from restaurant to restaurant and from geographical area to geographical area. The job can easily be used to travel from city to city while earning a paycheck. Certain jobs in the kitchen can be down and dirty in the background. Other jobs can be very high profile and prestigious.

Wages for food industry workers vary widely. Top chefs can max out at minimum wage, nine to ten dollars an hour, or even make well over $100,000 per year, but the pay never has been the real reason why someone gets involved in the food business. The reward for a cook is a well prepared meal and a happy customer.

Salary Overview

The salary made by an individual in the food industry depends upon many factors.

The most common factors involved in determining salary are employer size, geographical location, work experience, and education.

The average salary for a chef sits between 41 and 68 thousand dollars annual. A cook’s average annual salary is between 17 and 25 thousand dollars. A food prep worker earns approximately on average between 16 and 23 thousand dollars annually. Normally, these jobs offer no health insurance or other benefits.*

*According to the BLS,

Most defintely, the more rural the area the lower the income. In certain higher profile locales such as New York City, Las Vegas, Las Angeles, and Chicago for example, top chefs are in high demand and can make well over 100k per year and the position will include health insurance coverage, 401(k), and other benefits. Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria located in Seattle, Washington has the added benefit of sending their employees to train in Italy, and this is not uncommon in the higher ended restaurants.

Job Description and Outlook

The chef of a restaurant is in charge of the entire kitchen from ordering food and sometimes even scheduling of other kitchen employees. A chef will make certain of quality of the product as well as consistency. Depending upon the restaurant, the chef may also be responsible for purchasing food at local markets early in the morning before the restaurant opens.

A cook, or more commonly referred to in the industry as a line cook, works underneath the chef at one assigned station. Stations may include fryers, grill, or salad prep just to name a few. All restaurant kitchens are laid out differently according to their specific cooking needs, and thus individual stations within a kitchen can vary greatly from restaurant to restaurant. The line cook cooks the food as orders come in. Other requirements may include prepping dishes and plating.

A food preparation person’s responsibilities happen before the restaurant opens. The individual will come in and prep the recipes and menu items to expedite the line cook’s job.

The outlook for these positions within the food service industry are very positive. Even in tough, economic times, people still need to eat, and many people have moved away from the traditional home cooked meal to the convenience of eating out. Also, during extended recessions, although many restaurants are shutting their doors, successful restauranteurs tend to expand, taking opportunities in low rent and the abundance of used kitchen equipment for sale.*

*According to the BLS,

Training and Education Requirements

In the down and dirty end of the food service industry, the saying goes that the difference between a chef and a line cook is education.

Many culinary arts schools exist throughout the United States and the rest of the world, and there are both two year and four year programs and degrees. Certificates of Recognition are also available, and some vocational high schools offer a program in the culinary arts field as well.

However, a degree is not necessary for employment in the food service industry. Training can be had on the job. The title of Chef can be bestowed because of educational achievements or deference and respect.


Certification for food service workers varies from state to state, although the majority of states do require at least one person within the kitchen to be certified with ServSafe. The Education Foundation of the national Restaurant Association developed and instituted ServSafe, which is a food safety certification class that lasts approximately eighteen hours. Many states are becoming more strict with the ServSafe certification. For example, Ohio food safety law states that at least one person must be in the kitchen at all times with a ServSafe certification.

Professional Associations

Professional Associations for those who work in the food industry abound both on the national and the local levels. The three top associations are the International Association of Culinary Professionals, the National Restaurant Asociation, and the American Society of Association Executives.

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