How Much Money Does a Professional Chef Make?

by E.M. Rawes; Updated September 26, 2017
Female chef chopping pak choi on board, close-up

Chefs prepare food and ensure that their kitchens are sanitary environments. The professional kitchen has a chain of command; the executive chef is the first-in-command, the sous chef is the second-in-command, followed by the head cook, the line cook and junior chef in the starting position. These chefs work together to satisfy customers and make the establishment successful. Their rewards depend on many factors, but their position in the chain of command is the most influential


Three chefs working in commercial kitchen

Most chefs have some education, usually from a culinary institute or a college that has a two-year or a four-year hospitality program. Some large restaurants and hotels also offer training for aspiring chefs. The American Culinary Federation accredits more than 200 formal academic training programs, states the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The Federation also sponsors apprenticeships that combine classroom lectures and on-the-job experience; these apprenticeships usually last two years. Although many chefs have education, a great deal of a chef's training is done on the job, according to the BLS.

Experience and Certification

Young male chef placing dish on counter, looking away, close-up

The more experience a chef has, the better her job outlook is. Higher-level chefs, such as executive chefs, sous chefs and head cooks, have several years of experience. The American Culinary Federation offers certifications to chefs who are trained and experienced. Certified chefs are afforded better employment opportunities, reports the BLS.

Work Environment

Two chefs serving meal in commercial kitchen

A chef works in a hot, crowded kitchen. He also works under pressure; the food orders must be accurate and of a certain quality. The dining room outside the kitchen can range from casual to elegant. The chef works long hours. He may also work holidays and weekends. If he is a higher-level chef, he also does additional work such as planning the menu and overseeing the food delivery. He may take the slower days off to recover from his long work days, according to the BLS.


Although there are many types of professional chefs, "head cook" is used as the base salary figure because the "head cook" position is the mid-level professional chef position. As of May 2008, the median annual salary for chefs and head cooks was $38,770, according to the BLS. Payscale says that as of 2010, the average salary for a head cook is between $30,795 and $49,537. The BLS figure is consistent with the Payscale data.

Earnings by Type

Chef holding chicken entree

The amount of money you earn depends on the type of chef you are. A restaurant executive chef earns the most -- as of December 2010, an average of $68,000 per year, according to Payscale. An executive chef in general earns an average of $55,000 per year. An executive sous chef earns less than an executive chef with an average salary of $51,000 per year. A sous chef earns an average of $43,000 per year, according to Indeed. Line cooks earned around $30,000 per year as of 2008, and a junior chef generally earned no more than $20,000 per year as of 2008, according to Big Gourmet Meals.

2016 Salary Information for Chefs and Head Cooks

Chefs and head cooks earned a median annual salary of $43,180 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, chefs and head cooks earned a 25th percentile salary of $32,230, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $59,080, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 146,500 people were employed in the U.S. as chefs and head cooks.

About the Author

E.M. Rawes is a professional writer specializing in business, finance, mathematical and social sciences topics. She completed her studies at the University of Maryland, where she earned her Bachelor of Science. During her time working in workforce management and as a financial analyst, she reinforced her business and financial know-how.

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