The restaurant business is exceedingly competitive. Although the industry continues to flourish, the percentage of culinary school graduate is high and growth is slow. The possibility of becoming the next celebrity chef is slim; most head chefs average $30,000 – $50,000 annually. However, most culinary school graduates have sticker shock when looking for employment after graduation, only to discover the typical pay for a recent graduate is $10.00 per hour for prep work or dishwashing. It takes years of real-world, hands-on experience to achieve the higher paying positions – and some require additional education. There are many other important factors for budding chefs to consider beyond finances – such as growth potential, career possibilities, education (on-the-job) and benefits such as retirement, health and dental (if offered). That being said, here are the top three most profitable culinary careers in terms of annual salary alone.
A personal chef typically works for a private employer (or multiple private employers). Because of this, a personal chef has greater flexibility, more control and creativity and less overhead. A personal chef provides meals for individuals or families. They are in charge of the entire process from prep to clean up and delivery. A personal chef does all the planning and shopping and must be knowledgeable about nutrition and food safety as well.
Personal chefs work very closely with their clients, tailoring menus based on their client’s preferences and dietary restrictions or medical needs. Chefs cook in their client’s homes, as laws prohibit the cooking of food elsewhere for safety issues. Therefore the chef is in the client’s home, often for long hours.
For personal chefs that define a niche for themselves (such as vegetarian/vegan, gluten free or whole foods), there can be a wide-open market available. While salary is largely dependent on locale, the average annual income for personal chefs is $40,000 – $60,000 and above in some cases.
The duties of a restaurant manager are different for every business, but there are some similarities across the board. Typically, duties involve overseeing food preparation, checking the quality and size of portions, managing stock, ordering supplies, ensuring that equipment is maintained and records are kept up to date. In addition, the manager makes sure that all safety and health precautions are adhered to and documented for inspectors and manages all personnel issues.
First and foremost managers must have excellent customer service, communication and leadership skills. The manager ensures the customer is pleased and satisfied so they will return again and again. To accomplish this, the manager provides adequate coverage in the kitchen as well as the front of the house, that all employees are knowledgeable and well trained and that the product being presented is high quality and portioned appropriately. In addition, the manager must have patience and the expertise to deal with conflict and unhappy customers and staff as well.
Managers are usually salaried and work longer hours than the typical forty hours per week. They work in a wide variety of environments from privately owned restaurants to corporations, resorts, gaming facilities, international and chain restaurants and small family-owned enterprises. Salary is dependent on venue and locale, with the average ranging from $50,000 to $85,000 or more in some instances.
Chef-Owners and executive chefs are the highest paid employees of any restaurant. They are the person in charge of the kitchen and everything that comes out of it. They ensure that the dishes prepared and served are timely and of the highest quality. They approve all meals before leaving the kitchen and also make sure all safety procedures are adhered to and food safety guidelines are followed.
Beyond service, executive chefs and chef-owners are responsible for the menu, new recipe development and tasting and staff education and training on the menu items. They also perform a wide variety of business, administrative and human resource tasks associated with the kitchen management, reporting to the general manager or owner.
Salaries differ depending on experience and location, as well as the size and reputation of the employer. To reach the highest end of the pay scale, an executive chef would need to have accrued close to (or over) twenty years of kitchen experience. Salaries range from $30,000 to $70,000 annually.