How much do chefs make? A 2024 guide

A great chef can make or break a restaurant. Sure, customers want good service and a delightful ambiance, but people are ultimately there for the food. Your head chef is responsible for making sure that food is both drool-worthy and Instagram-worthy—but that’s not all they do.

Chefs are responsible for prepping a menu, hiring a team of sous chefs or line cooks, managing the kitchen, and cooking the food. With so many duties on a chef’s plate, you may be wondering: How much do chefs make?

A lot of factors go into chef salaries in 2024, and we explore them in depth in this article. Whether you’re an aspiring chef, a seasoned pro, or a manager who’s in charge of hiring, read on to learn what contributes to how much chefs make and the green flags—or red flags—to look out for.

Can you make good money as a chef?

The short answer is, yes, chefs can make good money. Of course, everybody’s got a different idea of what ‘good money’ means, and rates vary highly depending on the establishment and position. According to Indeed, chef salaries range from $31,432 to $125,000 and beyond.

If you’re wondering what takes a chef from the lower end of that pay scale to the higher end, the difference usually comes down to experience and responsibilities. A line cook at a summer camp might not break the bank with their income, while a chef de cuisine at a fine dining establishment is held to a higher standard—and compensated accordingly.

How do chefs make more money?

If you’re just starting out as a chef, you may be wondering how to bring in more dollars. The pay range for chefs is so varied because so many different factors play into what earns chefs money! Below, we talk about a few changes chefs can make that could have positive results for your paycheck.

Gain experience and move up the line.

All chefs have to start somewhere. Even if you’ve gone to culinary school, you’re still expected to put in the time to build your experience. Many chefs start at the bottom of the food chain (pardon the pun) as prep cooks. Once you’ve paid your dues, you can seek out positions that require more experience, from line cook to sous chef—and eventually even executive chef.

It’s the same logic as any promotion progression. The more experience you amass, the further up the line you move, the more money you make!

Go back to school.

You can learn a lot on the job, but surveys have found that hiring managers pay an average of 21% more for Culinary Arts graduates, and 20% for Pastry Arts graduates. This means that heading to Culinary school can go a long way to increase your earning potential as a chef.

Bonus tip: The more training and certifications you get, the higher your income can grow. There are lots of great courses with local community colleges you can take to upgrade your skills.

Niche down with special skills.

Do you love making the perfect croissant? Maybe your specialty is in presenting incredible plates that wow. Or are you all about developing a secret sauce to create that one-of-a-kind flavor?

These special skills can all set you apart. Chefs with specialized skills can earn more the more they niche down because it makes them in higher demand. Whether it’s perfecting a soufflé or mastering the art of sushi, specialization pays off. It can be a great way to make a name for yourself in the food industry.

Head to the big city.

The bigger the city, the bigger the salary—at least in theory. A metropolitan area or region with a high cost of living may offer higher wages to match. Chefs in New York City or San Francisco will often earn more than those in smaller towns.

Because there are more restaurants in big cities, there may be more opportunities to get hired at a restaurant. So not only can your location can make a big difference to your paycheck, it can also help ensure you have the experience you need to land a higher paying job down the road.

Of course, keep in mind that wages are higher in cities because the cost of living is higher. A higher salary may not always mean you have more money available to you. Be sure to do your research before committing to a major move, especially if you don’t know anyone where you’re moving. Sometimes breaking into an industry in a new city is harder than it looks, and your new salary might not meet your expectations off the bat.

Build a reputation.

Reputation and name recognition matter in the culinary industry. This is true for contestants on Master Chef as much as Gordon Ramsay himself!

If you’re not a reality star, don’t worry—there are plenty of ways to build a reputation. Working for a famous restaurant or chef can build you a reputation as someone to watch, as can developing specialities and signature dishes.

If none of these methods sound accessible to you, there’s one more easy way to build a good reputation in the industry: by working hard and being reliable. You can build your own kind of name recognition by being a strong and consistent worker, performing your job with integrity, and taking advantage of networking opportunities. 

Does the type of restaurant affect a chef’s salary?

We mentioned that different establishments might offer different salaries. For example, fine dining establishments often pay more than casual dining or fast-food places.

That doesn’t mean chefs should pass up these less prestigious roles. Here’s how the type of restaurant can affect your paycheck.

Fast food chains

Working as a cook at a fast food restaurant is, typically, the lowest-paying position for cooks. Some may not consider fast food work to be a cheffing position, but fast food workers learn countless skills highly relevant to working as a chef. 

By working at a fast food chain, you can learn critical cheffing skills, including:

  • preparing food to order in a timely fashion;
  • working with a team in a food prep context;
  • cooking on a line to prepare different aspects of an order; and
  • food safety standards and compliance.

If you’re looking for an introduction to working with food, don’t count out fast food as a great point of entry.

Casual dining restaurants

With more responsibilities in the kitchen, a chef for a casual dining restaurant is coming up in the cheffing world. These positions will pay in the mid-range of the salary expectations for a chef, with responsibilities ranging from prep, cooking on a line, and kitchen organization and delegation.

The bonus of a casual dining restaurant is that often the kitchen will get tipped out by the waiters, which means a higher income for these chefs in ways not reflected by their salary range. Working at a casual dining restaurant gives chefs a little more responsibility while also offering opportunities to gain experience managing a team.

Fine dining restaurants

Fine dining restaurants pay their chefs well because they know their patrons are there for the creative menu and quality of food. Chefs at a fine dining restaurant have specific culinary skills. The further up the chain of command these chefs move, the more management responsibilities they’ll have—and the more they’ll get paid.

How much do chefs make per year?

Now that we know the ‘how’ of making more money, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty numbers of how much money chefs make per year. We’re going to break it down into specific chef types to be as specific as possible.

How much does an executive chef make?

An executive chef is spinning a lot of plates. Also known as the head chef, these chefs oversee kitchen operations in a restaurant or hotel. As they develop experience managing staff and menus, executive chefs may have their eye on someday opening their own restaurant.

Main responsibilities of an executive chef:

  • Menu planning: Design and update the menu, making sure it goes above and beyond quality and customer expectations.
  • Kitchen management: Supervise the kitchen staff, schedule shifts, and maintain a well-organized kitchen.
  • Food prep: Make sure all dishes are prepared properly and are consistent in taste and presentation.
  • Inventory: Manage the inventory of the kitchen, order supplies, and keep the kitchen well-stocked with fresh ingredients.
  • Budget: Control food costs, managing the budget to maximize profits.
  • Training the team: Hire, train, and mentor kitchen staff to develop new talent and keep the food consistent.
  • Quality control: Make sure food safety and sanitation standards are met.

To be an executive chef you need the culinary know-how and ability to manage mayhem in the kitchen. It’s no easy feat.

Salary: According to Indeed.com, executive chefs earn on average $79,796, with top salaries reaching $125,000 or more.

How much do sous chefs make?

A sous chef is second in command in a kitchen. They’re in charge of keeping the kitchen running smoothly and up to the standards of the head chef. Communication is a sous chef’s great strength.

Main responsibilities of a sous chef:

  • Assist the executive chef: Support the executive chef in everything they need for kitchen management.
  • Supervise staff: Oversee line cooks and kitchen staff to keep the kitchen flowing.
  • Quality control: Maintain high standards for food preparation and presentation in line with the executive chef’s expectations.
  • Manage inventory: Assist with ordering and inventory control.
  • Training: Train and mentor junior kitchen staff.
  • Handle issues: Problem-solve kitchen or patron issues with the food that heads out onto the floor.

Sous chefs are messengers and enforcers of what the executive chef wants, reinforcing kitchen protocols. They are often on their way to becoming head chefs.

Salary: According to Indeed.com, sous chefs make $61,780 on average, and top out at around $80,000 in salary.

How much do pastry chefs make?

A pastry chef, also known as a pâtissier, specializes in creating desserts and baked goods. They’ll either have specifically studied pastry cheffing at culinary school or will have apprenticed under another pastry chef to learn the skills they need.

Main responsibilities of a pastry chef:

  • Bake and create pastries: Prepare a variety of pastries, desserts, cakes, and breads.
  • Develop a menu: Design and update the pastry dessert menu.
  • Quality control: Keep consistency with high-quality baked goods.
  • Manage ingredient inventory: Order and manage inventory of baking ingredients.
  • Decorating: Decorate pastries and cakes to create beautiful dessert presentations.
  • Train staff: Teach and mentor junior pastry chefs and bakers.

The special skills needed to make delicious pastries and desserts is usually in high demand for high-end restaurants. Who doesn’t love a signature dessert?

Salary: According to Indeed.com, pastry chefs make $46,015 on average, topping out at around $60,000.

How much do private chefs make?

A private chef creates menus and cooks meals exclusively for an individual or family. They cater to the specific dietary needs and preferences of a person or family and allow their clients to stop cooking their own meals.

Main responsibilities of a private chef:

  • Customized meal planning: Create personalized menus based on their clients’ tastes and dietary requests.
  • Grocery shop: Select and purchase high-quality ingredients for weekly menus.
  • Meal prep: Cook meals at the client’s home or another designated location.
  • Present and Serve: Present and sometimes serve meals to clients. 
  • Organize and store meals: Organize and store meals in the fridge or freezer, since not every private chef client will want meals plated.
  • Kitchen maintenance: Clean and organize after meal prep.

Private chefs tend to step it up a notch by bringing restaurant-quality food into private homes. Special duties a private chef might meet include building a menu for special events or providing regular, repeating weekly meals for busy (and picky) clients.

Salary: According to Indeed.com, private chefs have a wide range for their salary. The average salary for a private chef is $94,394, with the top of the range being $165,000. Private chefs have the bonus of flexibility: by taking on multiple clients, the earning potential for private chefs is higher.

How much do hibachi chefs make?

A hibachi chef, also known as a teppanyaki chef, specializes in cooking and entertaining guests at a Japanese-style hibachi grill. These chefs prepare specific types of meals right in front of the patrons, so they need an extra flare to their cheffing.

Main responsibilities of a hibachi chef:

  • Cook: Prepare meals on a hot grill in front of guests, typically including meats, vegetables, and rice.
  • Entertain: Perform cooking tricks and interact with the patrons to create an entertaining dining experience.
  • Food prep: Get all ingredients ready and make sure they’re fresh for each performance.
  • Quality control: Maintain high standards for food quality and presentation.
  • Safety and cleanliness: Stick to food safety regulations and keep the cooking area clean and organized. This is especially important when you don’t have the sanitation standards of being in a closed kitchen.

Salary: According to ZipRecruiter.com, hibachi chefs make $63,994 on average and can make up to $95,000 per year.

How much do sushi chefs make?

A sushi chef, also known as an itamae, works specifically with Japanese sushi dishes. The biggest skill a sushi chef needs is being able to properly filet raw fish.

Main responsibilities of a sushi chef:

  1. Sushi prep: Create different types of sushi, including nigiri, sashimi, and maki rolls.
  2. Handle fish: Select, fillet, and prepare fish and other seafood to keep freshness and quality.
  3. Rice preparation: Cook and season sushi rice.
  4. Presentation: Arrange sushi on plates with decorative garnishes to make a beautiful presentation.
  5. Manage ingredients: Order and manage inventory of fresh ingredients, particularly seafood.

Being a sushi chef isn’t as easy as it looks. Anyone who’s tried to make sushi from scratch at home knows the pain of rice that just won’t stick. Sushi chefs combine specialized cooking skills with the art of presentation.

Salary: According to Indeed.com, the average annual salary for a sushi chef is $84,631 with the highest reported salaries in the $120,000 range.

Don’t undervalue the skills of a chef

Whether you want to be a kitchen team member or a restaurant looking to add a chef to your payroll, it’s important to know in advance how much money chefs should make. There’s more than meets the eye—or the stomach—when it comes to being a well-paid chef. From location and skills to establishment and education, a lot of different factors contribute to how much a chef makes.

If you’re a manager looking to bring on the best chefs at competitive salaries, make sure they love working with you right from the start with a strong salary and smooth processes. Homebase is a great resource to ensure your onboarding is easy. It can also track team performance with specialized HR tools so when the time comes to promote someone from sous chef to that next level, you’ll have everything you need.

Bon appetit!

How much do chefs make FAQs

What is the highest-paying chef job?

If you were to put all of the things together—going to culinary school, working your way up to an executive chef or becoming a private chef, working in a large city center, and niching down—you can pull one of the highest-paying chef jobs. The chef job with the potential for the highest earnings is private cheffing for high-net-worth clients. This role combines experience, specialization, and reputation.

Is it hard to become a chef?

Truthfully? Yes, it can be hard to become a chef—but it’s also incredibly rewarding. Becoming a chef involves intense training in formal culinary education, apprenticeships, and extensive on-the-job experience. Chefs work long and odd hours, including nights, weekends, and holidays, and face physical demands like standing for long periods and lifting heavy pots. They need to manage stress, especially during peak hours when the restaurant is in the weeds, and stay updated on culinary trends, always improving their skills. We don’t want to dissuade you though because these challenges are often worth it for people who have a passion for the career.

What career paths can chefs take outside the kitchen?

Chefs can take their skills and pursue other career paths. Careers like food writing, teaching chef skills, consulting restaurants, food styling for photo shoots, and working as a personal chef. These roles allow chefs to use their expertise in different ways, increasing their potential to earn more money and avoid burnout in the high-stress kitchen environment.

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