Thinking about going to culinary school? Here's some basic employment information for future chefs.

We know: All About Becoming a Chef

What do chefs do?

Executive chefs and head cooks coordinate the work of the kitchen staff and direct the preparation of meals. They determine serving sizes, plan menus, order food supplies, and oversee kitchen operations to ensure uniform quality and presentation of meals.

Where are chefs commonly employed?

According to the U.S. government's Occupational Outlook Handbook, chefs, cooks and food preparation workers held nearly 3.0 million jobs in 2002. The distribution of jobs among the various types of chefs and cooks includes:

Chefs and head cooks - 132,000
Cooks, restaurant - 727,000
Cooks, fast food - 588,000
Cooks, institution and cafeteria - 436,000
Cooks, short order - 227,000
Cooks, private household - 8,000

How are chefs trained and educated?

Here is a list of common career paths:

  • Some chefs and cooks may start their training in high school or post-high school vocational programs.
  • Others may receive formal training through independent cooking schools, professional culinary institutes, or 2- or 4-year college degree programs in hospitality or culinary arts.
  • Some large hotels and restaurants operate their own training and job-placement programs for chefs and cooks.
  • Most formal training programs require some form of apprenticeship, internship, or out-placement program that is jointly offered by the school and affiliated restaurants.
  • Professional culinary institutes, industry associations, and trade unions also may sponsor formal apprenticeship programs in coordination with the U.S. Department of Labor.
  • Many chefs are trained on the job, receiving real work experience and training from chef mentors in the restaurants where they work.

What is the future job outlook for chefs?

According to the government's Occupational Outlook Handbook, job openings for chefs are expected to be plentiful through 2012; however, competition for jobs in the top kitchens of higher end restaurants should be keen.

The number of higher-skilled chefs and cooks working in full-service restaurants - those that offer table service and more varied menus-is expected to increase about as fast as the average. Much of the increase in this segment, however, will come from more casual rather than up-scale full-service restaurants.

How much do chefs make?

Wages usually are highest in elegant restaurants and hotels, where many executive chefs are employed, and in major metropolitan areas.

Median hourly earnings of chefs and head cooks were $13.43 in 2002. The middle 50 percent earned between $9.86 and $19.03. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $7.66, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $25.86 per hour. Median hourly earnings in the industries employing the largest number of head cooks and chefs in 2002 were:

  • Other amusement and recreation industries - $18.31
  • Traveler accommodation - $17.03
  • Special food services - $13.98
  • Full-service restaurants - $12.70
  • Limited-service eating places - $10.49

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