How Much Do Chefs Earn?

The culinary industry has a reputation for underpaying and overworking their staff. However, experienced cooks and chefs working in high-end restaurants can earn a lucrative income, and the industry primarily promotes from within, giving strong opportunities for advancement.

Following are the average wages and job prospects for each level of chef within the culinary industry:

Assistant Station Chef

Assistant station chefs assist the station chefs in areas with sauces, fish cooks, or vegetable cooks. Employees in this role earn an average of $23,000 per year. The job outlook for assistant station chefs is excellent as promotion tends to be rapid.

Station Chef

Station chefs cook in a particular section of the kitchen. They may be in charge of vegetables, sauces, poultry or seafood. Station chefs earn an average of $27,000 per year. Job growth is excellent for those employees with culinary training, as advancement tends to be quick.


Sauciers are the highest level of station chef, and are in charge of sauces in the kitchen. This position typically becomes available after an advanced culinary education program. A saucier earns an average of $29,000. Sauciers typically get promoted to sous chefs, which is a significant shift in responsibilities. Employment as a sous check is much more difficult to obtain, so while job outlook is average, competition for promotion is consistent.

Sous Chef

Sous chefs essentially run the kitchen in a restaurant. Staff, procurement, pricing, timing meals, and keeping menu items tasting fresh and delicious are all responsibilities of a sous chef. This is a high-pressure position, which earns an average of $63,000 per year. Sous chefs work very hard and need extensive training in all aspects of running a restaurant. For employees with highly trained skills in culinary arts, promotion to sous chef takes an average of 8 years. Thus, while there is a high turnover rate in the restaurant field, employment as a sous chef can be a challenge.

Executive Chef

An executive chef has primary responsibility for everything involved in a restaurant, from staff development to menu design to restaurant décor. Many executive chefs own the restaurant they work in. Executive chefs design the menu, creating each meal and training the sous chef to produce the meals when needed. This position is the most important in the restaurant and indicates success or failure. Executive chefs must be highly trained in meal preparation and design, employee relations, client support and all areas of business. An executive chef’s salary can earn an average of $89,000 per year. In certain cases, profit sharing or incentive bonuses can be added to a base salary. Finding a position as an executive chef takes years of hard work and learning the industry, or opening a new restaurant.

Other positions in the culinary industry include:

Caterer: Caterers prepare food in a commercial space and bring it to an event or party. Caterers earn an average of $25,000 per year. Anyone may open a catering business, so job prospects are commensurate with experience.

Pastry Chef: Pastry chefs do not follow typical protocol of other members of the restaurant industry. Pastry chefs specialize early in their careers, moving from assistant pastry chef to pastry chef in several years. Salaries for pastry chefs are an average of $45,000 per year. Job prospects are excellent, as pastry chefs can work in restaurants, bakeries and gourmet food stores.