Do Chefs Make a Good Living?

Anyone who’s considering earning a degree in culinary arts is likely to be wondering whether chefs earn a good living. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to that question. The truth is, some chefs earn more than six figures; others struggle financially with low salaries, sometimes even working for minimum wage. Let’s take a look at some of the factors that distinguish a top-earning chef from one who has less earning potential.

Related resource: Top 10 Best Culinary Schools in Pennsylvania

Industry, Establishment, and Location

Chefs can work in a variety of different industries, establishments, and locations. Most chefs work for restaurants or hotels in the hospitality industry. There are also chefs who work in the military, healthcare facilities, academic institutions, and other industries.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), $45,950 is the median annual salary for a chef or head cook working in the United States. Chefs working in restaurants tend to earn less than that average, with median annual salaries of only $42,210.

As of 2017, performing arts companies paid chefs the highest wages out of all industries tracked by the BLS. This group of chefs earned mean annual salaries of $82,200 in 2017. It’s worth noting that this industry is a small one, employing only a small number of chefs in proportion to the totals.

Chefs working for the Las Vegas casinos and restaurants have the opportunity to do well financially, according to As of 2011, they were reporting average annual salaries of $86,911 per year for chefs working in Las Vegas, Nevada. This figure was derived from their annual poll. Their findings are apparently not representative of all chefs working in the area, as the BLS reports the most recent mean salary figure for Las Vegas chefs as being $56,630.

Surprisingly, Las Vegas isn’t currently the most lucrative metropolitan area for chefs to live and work in, according to the BLS. That distinction goes to the Sebastian – Vero Beach, Florida area, where mean annual chef salaries amount to a respectable $77,670. The top-paying state in the USA is Hawaii, where chefs earn mean annual salaries of $70,480.

The Chef’s Education

A chef’s education might also play an important role in his or her earning potential. This is an industry where it’s possible to obtain work without any formal education, but education can open doors for a chef to obtain better jobs at high-end establishments. Food and Wine reports that three out of the four chefs they spoke with agreed that culinary arts school was absolutely worth the price in terms of financial return on investment.

Work Experience, Job Title, Reputation, and Personal Brand

A chef’s work experience is one of the most important factors influencing his or her earning potential. Inexperienced chefs are paid notoriously low wages. An entry-level line cook will earn far less than a senior-level head chef. Having gained experience and developed a reputation for excellence go a long way toward increasing salaries in this vocation.

Having a personal brand is also helpful for obtaining the most lucrative chef positions working in high-end establishments. It is the chefs who cultivate their personal brands who tend to earn the best living in this line of work.

Those are the main things that distinguish a well-paid chef from a low-paid one. Location, industry, type of establishment, job title, education, work experience, and personal brand are the factors that can help a chef earn higher wages. It is certainly possible to earn a good living as a chef, and we hope this information is helpful to aspiring chefs who are hoping to do so.