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Payscale for Professional Cooks


chefette
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The Food service salary median is $35-$42K per year, long hours, few benefits, work weekends and holidays. The average hourly salary for entry level people is $6.50 to $8 an hour.

Cooking schools will give you this dire information in the FAQs on their data sheets and web sites but they go on to add that the more expert you are, the higher your starting wage will be (which is questionable and is not frequently proven out).

They say that wages/pay scales depend on the place of employment (benefits offered), and the education of the applicant (you might interpret this to mean that since you graduated from high school, college, and possibly hold a graduate degree and have other job and life experience you might make more, but you would be really really lucky to find that it did).

They also usually try to highlight that an Executive Chef can expect to make approximately $40,000 to $75,000 per year and that Experienced Executive Chefs working a large or famous hotels and resorts around the United States can make from one to two hundred thousand dollars per year.

My question is WHY? Why is there almost no difference between what you make working at Denny’s slicing up cheesecake and what you make at the finest restaurants in New York City?

I understand that the food costs and space costs and decorating and all that is more expensive at a top restaurant, but the prices paid by the consumer are much greater. I think that the profit margin is higher in a fine dining establishment than it is at a Denny’s. How can this possibly be justified?

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Why is there almost no difference between what you make working at Denny’s slicing up cheesecake and what you make at the finest restaurants in New York City?

Are you seriously comparing Denny's to the finest restaurants in New York City?

Drink!

I refuse to spend my life worrying about what I eat. There is no pleasure worth forgoing just for an extra three years in the geriatric ward. --John Mortimera

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I think the reason is simple--supply and demand. People working at Denny's have the best job they can get most of the time. People working at the French Laundry are there to learn and put the French Lanundry on their CV. They'll take a paycut in the hope of advancing their careers down the line. Am I wrong?

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Very good question.

However, your supposition seems to rest on this:

I think that the profit margin is higher in a fine dining establishment than it is at a Denny’s.

I'm not sure this is true.

Larger dinner checks don't automatically mean larger profits. Also, given that food cost is almost certainly higher in a top restaurant, I don't think bigger checks necessarily mean the margin (expressed as a percentage of sales) is higher, either.

Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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The January issue of Pastry Art & Design is devoted to a report on the "State of the Industry: 2002". In the section on restaurant pastry chefs, their research indicates the average pastry chef salary is $50,250. From everything else I've read this seems a little high. I don't see where they describe their research methodology, but I assume it was a survey of some kind?

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Larger dinner checks don't automatically mean larger profits. Also, given that food cost is almost certainly higher in a top restaurant, I don't think bigger checks necessarily mean the margin (expressed as a percentage of sales) is higher, either.

Good observation

I'd speculate that rent is one of the largest numbers in a Manhattan restaurant, perhaps even equalling labor costs in a few locations. If you're paying $150 per revenue sf (total rent divided by revenue producing space), you have to turn a lot of tables before you pay light, heat, insurance, wages, workers comp (big number, btw), etc.

In many chain operations, the franchisee (local operator) bears the operating costs, forking over a share of gross revenues to the franchisor (McDonald's, BK, Wendy's, etc).

Apparently it's easier still to dictate the conversation and in effect, kill the conversation.

rancho gordo

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Really nice - no, this has nothing whatsoever to do with comparing Denny's to anything. The POINT is that regardless of your skill levels, the quality of ingredients you work with, the cost to patrons of the plates you produce, the responsibility you have etc there is virtually NO DIFFERENCE in how much money you are paid. This is very very sad. This is not conducive to improving the state of the art in the US.

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....there is virtually NO DIFFERENCE in how much money you are paid.  This is very very sad.  This is not conducive to improving the state of the art in the US.

Is this to say that someone at Denny's is earning pay similar to someone at an upscale joint?

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....there is virtually NO DIFFERENCE in how much money you are paid.  This is very very sad.  This is not conducive to improving the state of the art in the US.

Is this to say that someone at Denny's is earning pay similar to someone at an upscale joint?

Doubtful.

One interpretation is the value added by the local chef is minimal in some cases. If the owner can find somebody who cooks well, can follow a recipe, and is willing to work for $15 an hour, that's the end of the story.

In NJ, several ($50 pp) restaurants have eliminated the "named chef" and allow relatively lower skilled cooks to produce the goods every night. Similar to many NYC restaurants, I suspect. A consulting chef stops by occasionally. Customers don't notice a difference.

Does Ducasse cook every night in each of his places? Or Vongerichten?

Apparently it's easier still to dictate the conversation and in effect, kill the conversation.

rancho gordo

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Really nice - no, this has nothing whatsoever to do with comparing Denny's to anything.  The POINT is that regardless of your skill levels, the quality of ingredients you work with, the cost to patrons of the plates you produce, the responsibility you have etc there is virtually NO DIFFERENCE in how much money you are paid.  This is very very sad.  This is not conducive to improving the state of the art in the US.

I'm not sure if I'm seeing the point of the original post. Could you be a bit more specific about what you mean by "very, very sad". Is it your starting premise that if you work at AD(insert city), Jean Georges, Lespinasse, etc..., you should naturally earn more than a cook in a foodservice establishment? (Cheescake factory, Applebees, Marriot Canteen).

A Kitchen Manager( they do not call them chefs) in a Cheesecake Factory earns 75,000 dollars a year plus all kinds of additional incentives. Company BMWs and equity sharing and bonuses (for hitting goals/numbers) can probably bring that into six figures. On the other hand the executive ability to manage the kitchen in an 8-12 million dollar a year environment is what's being paid for, *not* a particular cooking skill or michelin training.

I think it has to do with the context of the individual operation. For Foodservice as well as Fine Dining, the bottom line is the profit line. How the various managements choose to get there is there own business. If paying X position Y dollars is something that they feel will lead to a certain outcome (profit), then they will do so.

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The difference is that at Dennies it is a job. To cooks at the FL its an addiction. A lifestyle. Whats scarier is that restaurants like Denny's have higher food costs than high end restaurants. But High end restaurants have higher operational costs. Those cool chairs and beautiful plates cost a lot. And in terms of comparing restaurants. The reason a chef hat has pleats is for all the ways a chef is be able to prepare eggs. Whats funny is how many cooks at high end restaurants have skipped the beginning steps and can't cook eggs well.

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Very good question.

However, your supposition seems to rest on this:

I think that the profit margin is higher in a fine dining establishment than it is at a Denny’s.

I'm not sure this is true.

Larger dinner checks don't automatically mean larger profits. Also, given that food cost is almost certainly higher in a top restaurant, I don't think bigger checks necessarily mean the margin (expressed as a percentage of sales) is higher, either.

Only in the case of a fine dining restaurant with a fair amount of sales in wine/beer/spirits would I concur. Many establishments may have more or less stringent bookkeeping polices also when dealing with cash. A multi-chain establishment would need to audit things more closely in order to get an accurate rating of how profitable the operation in compared with other such stores

Edited by GordonCooks (log)
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hmmmm, so many interesting points...

Several of you alluded to the difference between cooking as a job (ack what can I do except hack up tomatoes and thaw burgers?) and a love fest/obsession.

This might be true for maybe a week - but as they say love don't pay the rent. You might put in a little time at one of the best places in the known universe at a net loss, but where do you go from there? and the fact is that you are still faced with the good ole $6.50-$8 an hour. Work for a year and then maybe you will get benefits.

The Cheesecake Factory $75K plus BMW plus profit sharing thing is also an issue. Talented hardworking people (even those full of love for their craft) have to pay the bills and attractive opportunities like this do not exactly enhance perfecting that craft.

All over the eGullet Board people talk about food and cooking and the chefs that create the recipes and the food - do you ever think about the fact that most of the people who are making these meals possible are making less--and often much less-- than $40K a year? Yet you demand that they display skill, dedication and superior levels of cleanliness with the preparation and presentation of your food.

Exactly where do you see the future in this type of business model?

Suzanne, I obtained some figures on payscale from: http://www.payscale.com/research/vid-5293 and the other numbers come from cooking school propaganda (oops, I mean pamphlets)

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All over the eGullet Board people talk about food and cooking and the chefs that create the recipes and the food - do you ever think about the fact that most of the people who are making these meals possible are making less than $40K a year?  Yet you demand that they display skill dedication and superior levels of clenliness to the preparation and presentation of your food.

Exactly where do you see the future in this type of business model?

Suzanne, I obtained some figures on payscale from:  http://www.payscale.com/research/vid-5293  and the other numbers come from cooking school propaganda (oops, I mean pamphlets)

I think the future is very obvious. A few talented people will create and invent recipes, following which hundreds of people will execute them precisely, night after night. Works in the French Laundry, Ducasse, etc as well as it works in Pizza Hut or Cheesecake Factory.

McDonald's succeeded in part because of all the unpredictable dreck out on the highway. Get something that's consistent, clean, and won't kill you. It's not a bad business model, but it's a terrible model for creative, challenging, and, yes, expensive, dining.

A few people will retain the affluence to regularly dine in expensive, customized places and will be able to pay for the experience. The same people who can both appreciate and pay for a $25 dessert that leaves you in awe...

Apparently it's easier still to dictate the conversation and in effect, kill the conversation.

rancho gordo

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A few talented people will create and invent recipes, following which hundreds of people will execute them precisely, night after night. Works in the French Laundry, Ducasse, etc as well as it works in Pizza Hut or Cheesecake Factory. 

McDonald's succeeded in part because of all the unpredictable dreck out on the highway. Get something that's consistent, clean, and won't kill you. It's not a bad business model, but it's a terrible model for creative, challenging, and, yes, expensive, dining.

A few people will retain the affluence to regularly dine in expensive, customized places and will be able to pay for the experience. The same people who can both appreciate and pay for a $25 dessert that leaves you in awe...

In other words, the future looks very much like the present.

Still, chefette has brought up some interesting thoughts.

I just wish there were more data. The payscale.com link is based on a sample of eight that doesn't include New York City, Washington, D.C., Boston, Chicago, Miami, etc. It could be very misleading to make assumptions on so few facts. For instance, it's plain wrong to state that the average salary for an EC is $37,000, when you have only one data point. By definition, that's not even an average. Same for Pastry Chef -- average salary of $39K, based on one report from Colorado.

I am willing to be convinced that the situation chefette describes actually does exist, but so far, the case is not compelling.

Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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Allow me to assure you this is not a figment of my imagination. Resaurants and hotels are offering $30-$40K for Pastry Chef (lead person), $6-$15 per hour for pastry cooks and this is in DC and NYC. $12-$15/hour is considered pretty amazing pay. Receiving benefits is considered really really nice. Hotels pay more than restaurants ($12-$15 as opposed to $6-$8) and tend to give you benefits (usually after 6 months to 1 year on the job).

And we are not talking lame nothing puny restaurants either. This is Citronelle, Four Seasons, the nicest top of the market places in an elite food city.

My issue here is the difficulty of sustaining a skilled and talented workforce when fair compensation is not forthcoming. I am sure you are familiar with the plight of Elizabeth 11 - hard time even finding someone to pay her $6 an hour after working for free for several weeks (in Chicago.) This is not unusual, it is not a reflection of her training or longevity in cooking.

This is about the economy of the food industry. This is why restaurants are moving to commissary systems this is why they outsource and purchase parcooked, vacuum sealed foods. This allows them to dramatically cut and control food costs as well as kitchen labor costs. People who slice and drop and who drop a baggie in boiling water, or cut open a baggie and finish a chop on the grill before slipping it onto your plate allow them to stick with wages of less than $9 an hour.

Go into any kitchen anywhere - why do you think that you need to speak Spanish to work in the food industry? Because people are so smart and bored they thought it would be fun and challenging to spice things up conversationally by trying a multi-lingual approach? Why do you think the INS is the biggest hazard kitchens face? Come ON!!!!!!!!!!!!! People are just not getting PAID!

(ohmygod i sound like Karl Marx or Lenin or something - yikles! still, I have a point)

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This is also why the people who are working in kitchens are so welcoming and happy when upper middle class yuppies bored with their careers in medicine, law, and IT decide to join them. Please note that I am being as sarcastic as I can be here. These people do not like you, they HATE you, they will do everything they can to help you (help you OUT the door that is). They do not have the option to cook because they love it--it's how they get by, how they can survive and feed their family. The notion that this is news that cannot possibly be believed on this board is astonishing. :hmmm::sad::angry:

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Suzanne F, on December 29 you posted in another thread the follwing "I really loved the line about graduates only making $30,000 a year: do you realize that's $15 per hour? Puh-leeze. How about half that? "

So you know this....

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Yes Suzanne--you worked in several very good restaurants at some point after you went to cooking school--I'm not sure if you do at the moment--but what kinds of hourly rates and restaurants salaries were you seeing in NYC at the time? Did it surprise you? It certainly hasn't gotten better since. Wingding/Meredith as we all know is working, she's a very experienced lead restaurant pastry chef in NYC in a hot restaurant and she says that Pastry Art & Design salary figure is a crock--I take that to mean it is much higher than reality--and she's in the one restaurant city potentially capable of paying that figure! I, as well, have little confidence in PA&D's methodology or accuracy.

NickN--I wouldn't say "that someone at Denny's is earning pay similar to someone at an upscale joint" I'd say in many cases they're earning the same or more after benefits are considered.

DC is worse than NY hourly and salary-wise--decent restaurant bakers and pastry chefs make 32-35K if they are lucky and hotel pastry chef salaries have been reduced simply by firing older workers and replacing them with younger workers who'll take a pay cut--if not by eliminating pastry departments entirely and outsourcing. Lelsey C has said pastry chef salaries are coming down and/or being eliminated in Montreal--a city one might expect would have the critical mass to support paying a premium for good work--and the skill it takes to produce it.

Nick--what do you pay your staff hourly and how in line are these numbers?

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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I've always considered cooking as more craft than livelihood. As with many artistic occupations - speed and quantity are the new vanguards, replacing quality and uniqueness.

I, myself, have always had the delusions of grandeur of running my own restaurant. I have the business know-how, the connections, the culinary ability (in my small market), but realize that I would seriously have to make some lifestyle changes to make it.

Mores hours for less money – also, I really prefer to cook for people I like.

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Weeeelllll . . . I'm afraid the school I was accepted to is a little misleading about this aspect. In their propaganda (the initial "interview"/sales pitch) they hand out a little piece of paper, which claims that exec. chefs who hold a degree from this institution can expect--no, can command $350K/yr. They also claim that a sous chef can expect upper-70s, and they have similar, apparently lofty, projections for other kitchen positions.

When I initially visited the school (during the sales pitch) what appealed to me most of all--other than the tables and tables full of free bread--was how happy all the students seemed. I suppose this is because they're there because they love it, and are not in it for the money. This appealed to me at the time, now I am not so sure. The salesman/admissions rep also mentioned that some huge number--like 45%--of the student body are dissatisfied lawyers and exec-types. Interesting.

Noise is music. All else is food.

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chefette: I didn't say I didn't believe you. I said you hadn't made your case. But since anecdotal evidence is all we have (and I do remember SuzanneF's $15/hour post), I'll accept it.

You do sound a little like Marx, and it's understandable. This is the sort of situation that often leads (eventually) to unionization -- except, as you point out, there are almost always people willing to do the job for less.

OTOH (and not meaning to make light of Elizabeth 11's plight, or the numerous people she symbolizes), one might take the view that the American public gets the cuisine it deserves. Either it's willing to pay the price associated with higher food service wages or it's not.

Low pay usually means that there are plenty of applicants to take your place -- supply and demand, you know. So one could also be hard-hearted and suggest that if you are not happy with the wages offered, you are not compelled to accept the job (sounding like JP Morgan).

(Jason, we need a devil's advocate smilie!)

Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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