If you’re passionate about preparing or serving food and drinks, a career as a cook, chef, or barista can be a good choice for you.
We will provide you with information about salaries, job prospects, education requirements, and many other relevant factors about some of the most sought-after culinary arts professions.
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Workers in culinary professions may find employment in restaurants, hotels, fast food, and a variety of other food serving and preparation establishments.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, cooks held approximately 2.3 million jobs in the United States in 2020, most of them working in restaurants and other eating places.
Other cooks work in the healthcare and social assistance field or for schools.
Chefs and head cooks held 110,700 jobs in 2020, mostly in restaurants and other eating places.
They may also find employment in the field of special food services, travel accommodation, amusement, gambling, and recreation industries.
Approximately 5 percent of all chefs and head cooks in the United States were self-employed.
Owning a restaurant or catering business comes with additional stress and self-employed chefs spend many hours managing the business aspects of their establishment and making sure that the bills and salaries are paid and the business makes a profit.
Working in a kitchen has its associated risks, such as hot ovens or slippery floors.
Depending on the place of employment, there may be additional dangers.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, cooks, all others, have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations.
This “all other” category includes cooks excepting those who work in restaurants, fast food, institutions, and cafeteria, short-order cooks, or cooks that work in private households.
The most common hazards cooks may face are slips, falls, cuts, and burns.
To reduce these risks, cooks wear special equipment, such as gloves, aprons, long-sleeve shirts, and nonslip shoes.
In this section, we have also included butchers, who usually work in food and beverage stores or the field of animal slaughtering and processing.
Workers in this profession face different work environments and are exposed to dangers such as cold rooms, dangerous tools, slippery floors, and heavy carcasses.
To avoid risks of injury butchers also have to wear protective equipment.
Education requirements for culinary careers vary depending on the position and role within the establishment.
For a position as a cook or a food preparation worker in a restaurant, there are no formal educational requirements.
A high school diploma or equivalent is usually required for first-line supervisors of food preparation and serving workers.
The same type of credential is needed for positions as food service managers.
Some chefs and head cooks complete training on the job, while others complete a mentorship program where they work under the supervision of an experienced chef.
Executive chefs, head cooks, and sous chefs who work in upscale restaurants usually have many years of training and experience.
Formal education programs are also available at community colleges, culinary arts schools, or technical schools.
These programs usually last between two and four years, depending on the type of program.
The American Culinary Federation accredits more than 200 academic programs around the country.
Apprenticeship programs that last two years are also available and combine instruction with paid on-the-job training.
Classroom instruction for culinary arts professions usually includes food sanitation and safety, knife skills, and equipment operations.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 18 percent of all chefs and head cooks held a degree in 2018.
The same report shows that 2 percent of these workers held an advanced degree, which includes master’s, doctoral, or professional degrees.
Certification for chefs and other culinary professions is also available through the American Culinary Federation.
The federation offers 15 certification levels, in culinary and pastry professions, such as:
- Certified Fundamentals Cook
- Certified Culinarian
- Certified Sous Chefs
- Certified Chef de Cuisine
- Certified Master Chef
- Certified Executive Chef
- Personal Certified Chef
- Personal Certified Executive Chef
- Certified Culinary Administrator
- Certified Fundamentals Pastry Cook
- Certified Pastry Culinarian
- Certified Working Pastry Chef
- Certified Executive Pastry Chef
- Certified Master Pastry Chef
- Certified Culinary Administrator
Besides formal education and experience, workers in the culinary arts field needed a variety of skills:
- A good sense of taste and smell is required for any food preparation career, especially for chefs and cooks.
- Business skills – these are important especially for chefs who run their restaurants
- Physical stamina – working in a kitchen is physically demanding because you may have to stand most of the day.
- Time-management skills – workers in culinary arts need to manage their schedules efficiently and those who have management positions are also responsible for managing their staff’s schedules.
- Dexterity is important especially for chefs, cooks, chocolatiers, confectioners, baristas, and other professions who are involved in preparing and serving food and beverages.
A report published by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the median annual wage for food preparation and serving related occupations was $25,500 as of May 2020.
Wages in the culinary world vary widely depending on the profession, experience, type of establishment, and a multitude of other factors.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage reported by chefs and head cooks was $53,380 as of May 2020 with salaries ranging between less than $30,000 and more than $90,000.
Pay is typically higher at five-star hotels and upscale restaurants.
One of the top-paying industries for chefs and head cooks is the travel accommodation sector where workers in these professions earned $60,330 per year, on average.
Many chefs and head cooks work overtime and some work in shifts.
However, before becoming a chef or head cook you will typically need a few years of experience as a cook.
The median hourly wage for this profession was, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, $13.10 as of May 2020, with salaries varying widely depending on the industry of employment.
The median rate for restaurant cooks was $14.20 which translates into a median annual wage of $28,800.
Some cooks earn a fixed wage paid weekly or monthly while others are remunerated on an hourly rate basis which means that the total salary will be directly determined by the number of hours worked.
Higher hourly rates were reported by cooks who worked in private households, for whom the calculated median hourly rate was $15.69 in May 2020.
Fast-food cooks usually have some of the lowest hourly wages, with the median calculated at $11.72.
Salaries for other types of foodservice workers also vary depending on experience, local economy, employer, and so on.
The median annual wage for butchers was $32,900 in May 2020 with salaries ranging between less than $23,000 and more than $50,000.
Salary by Region
As mentioned before, salary for culinary careers is influenced by the region of employment and the local economy, among other factors.
For example, the median annual wage reported by restaurant cooks in the District of Columbia was $37,040 while those in Mississippi earned $23,680 per year.
The top-paying states for chefs and head cooks were New Jersey, Hawaii, and Rhode Island, where the reported median annual wages in May 2020 were $83,700, $74,150, and $73,950 respectively.
Median wages were below the $50,000-per-year mark in Idaho, Iowa, Nebraska, Utah, Wisconsin, Tennessee, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Kansas.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for food preparation and serving occupations is projected to grow 20 percent from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations.
This will result in approximately 2.3 million jobs.
Prospects vary, however, depending on the worker’s field of specialization and the region of employment.
The demand for cooks is projected to grow 26 percent by 2030, which means that this profession will work much faster than most of the other professions.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that about 432,000 job openings for cooks will appear each year, many of these resulting from the need to replace workers who chose to change careers or retire.
The demand will vary depending on the occupation and specialization of the cook.
For example, the demand for restaurant cooks will grow by 49 percent while the demand for fast food cooks will decline by 2 percent.
The demand for chefs and head cooks is projected to grow 25 percent from 2020 to 2030, resulting in 18,800 new jobs per year.
Most of the employment growth for culinary careers is a result of the recovery from the COVID-19 recession.
As the income grows, there will be greater demand for high-quality dishes, which will result in new restaurants and dining places.
There are also culinary arts careers that are projected to decline in the next decade.
For example, employment for butchers is projected to decline 5 percent by 2030.
Approximately 15,400 new jobs for butchers will appear in the next decade, but most of these will result from the need to replace workers who retire or leave the occupation.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where may I find employment as a culinary arts worker?
The answer to this question depends on the exact profession you are targeting.
Chefs, cooks, and workers who serve food or drinks usually work in restaurants and other eating places.
Butchers usually work in stores or animal slaughtering facilities.
What prospects do culinary arts professions have?
Many culinary professions will grow in the future, mostly due to the recovery after the COVID-19 crisis.
For example, the demand for chefs and head cooks will grow 25 percent by 2030, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Other culinary arts occupations will decline in the next decade.
One such example is butchers, a profession that will see a decline of 5 percent from 2020 to 2030.
Are culinary art professions well remunerated?
Salaries in the food serving and preparation industry vary widely depending on the place of employment and the worker’s specialization.
For example, chefs and head cooks in the travel accommodation field earned $60,330 per year, on average while those who work in restaurants earned $50,380 as of May 2020.
How do I begin a career in culinary arts?
Education requirements vary widely depending on the employer and the field of employment.
Some food preparation workers have a degree in culinary arts while others learn on the job or through an apprenticeship.
Training programs are available at technical schools, culinary arts schools, community colleges, and four-year colleges.
Programs usually cover all the aspects of kitchen work: from menu planning to food sanitation procedures and most training programs require students to complete an internship or apprenticeship.