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chef-salaries-pre-covid.jpg Thomas Barwick / Stone

Chefs' salaries saw the largest increase in almost two decades before COVID-19

The average salary for a chef or head cook went up 8% to $56,310, according to data released in March by the Bureau of Labor Statistics

Before COVID-19 hit, chefs were seeing the largest salary increases in nearly two decades, according to a report this week from culinary website Chef's Pencil.

Based on 2019 data released at the end of March by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, chefs and head cooks’ salaries were up 8% (or 6% when adjusted for inflation) year over year for an average salary of $56,310. In comparison, the average American year-over-year wage increase is 2.9% when adjusted for inflation.

Although the unemployment numbers released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics at the end of March are now very much out of date, wages for head restaurant chefs and cooks had been on a growth trajectory since 2015 when the average chef salary was $45,000, with an average salary increase of 3%-4% per year, when adjusted for inflation.  

But in comparison, restaurant cooks, that work under head chefs and outnumber them 19 to 1, have not been so lucky in terms of average salary growth. Over the past year, restaurant cooks had an average salary increase of 4% to $28,700 — half of the growth of head chefs and cooks — although their salary growth still outpaced the national average. Compared to chefs, restaurant cooks have not seen their salaries grow as rapidly over the past several years and over the past 18 years, the gap between cooks and chefs’ salaries has grown from 58%-96%.

In terms of geographical differences, Hawaii ($78,640), New Jersey ($76,060) and Rhode Island ($71,230) have the highest average chef salaries nationwide, while Wyoming ($61,120) also makes the top 10 list of statewide average chef salaries, coming in front of California ($61,040) and New York ($59,380).

The highest paid metropolitan areas for chefs, meanwhile, include urban Honolulu ($91,770), San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif. ($83,490), and Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla. ($74,470). Two out of the 10 cities with the highest salaries for the top 10% highest-earning chefs are in Hawaii, making it a very popular state for lucrative cooking careers.

The New York/Newark metropolitan area also made the top 10 list for top salaries for the top 10% highest-earning chefs at an average salary of $112,200, nearly double the average head chef’s salary in New York. The lowest paid chefs, meanwhile — pulling in less than $20,000 per year — hail from cities including Alexandria, La.; Eau Claire, Wisc.; Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach, S.C. and N.C., and Manhattan, Kan.   

It remains to be seen how these numbers will change in the wake of COVID-19.

Graph courtesy of Chef's Pencil.

Contact Joanna Fantozzi at [email protected] 

Follow her on Twitter: @joannafantozzi

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