Full plate, empty bank account? This is how much a chef earns at the start of their career
Everyone knows that cooking can make you happy. But can it also make you rich? In most cases the answer is no. However, what role does really play? Studies have shown that attitudes about money are changing. Young people don’t want to be rich above all else – they want to be happy. Generation Y is looking for a job that is personally interesting and meaningful. As a chef you can be creative, and achieve a sense of self-fulfillment. That’s why this career is attractive to many people – despite late shifts, working on weekends and overtime. In the US, chefs earn around 11 dollars an hour in the first few years of their training, in the UK the salary is about 9.47 pounds per hour. In Germany, trainees in the first year receive between 660 and 710 euros gross per month, but their salary increases per year of training. An apprentice is still in training – who knows right from the get-go what monosaccharides are or how long a steak should rest? A good establishment forgives mistakes, invests time and effort (and therefore money) in a future chef, who in turn develops routine and refinement.
Because the kitchen itself is hard currency: It’s about gaining invaluable knowledge that turns a simple sauce into an aromatic adventure. Most people only learn the secrets and tricks of the trade on the job. Although a chef’s wages are quite meagre in the beginning, this changes once training has finished and experience is gained. For example, a “Commis de Cuisine” (junior chef) becomes a “Demi Chef de Partie”, who takes on more responsibility and can become a “Chef de Partie”. The “Chef de Partie” already heads their own position and is responsible for a kitchen section such as soups, side dishes or fried food; this increased responsibility is also reflected in the salary. The next step on the career ladder is the kitchen manager, also known as the “Sous Chef “. At this level, a chef can earn up to 19.55 dollars, 10.66 pounds or 17.13 euros per hour. Of course, the matter of needing professional experience does not only apply to chefs; therefore it makes sense that trainees and beginners generally do poorly in the salary ranking. But who earns comparably little?
From dishwasher to millionaire – is it possible to climb the salary scale without training?
Who hasn’t heard the saying “from dishwasher to millionaire”? Dishwashers and kitchen help earn little for hard work. The job is physically demanding, not especially creative and above all extremely busy and never-ending. Everything has to be done very fast. However, there is one clear advantage to this position: Unlike a position as chef, no training is required. In traditional kitchens, as they often are in Germany or France, dishwashers stay dishwashers. But in the USA and Canada, the principle of merit is often applied: Those who work timely, reliably and quickly often get the chance to take on further tasks, and in this way gradually work their way up..
Hard work and further training, combined with a bit of luck, will ensure that waiters improve their salaries and are able to advance. In many cases, entering the profession is also possible without official training. Nevertheless, in Germany, like in Austria and Switzerland, it is possible to complete a three-year training course as a restaurant specialist – but this does not automatically mean a higher salary. When it comes to higher positions or shift management, years of experience as a waiter often count just as much.
When tips are deducted from minimum wage in the gastronomy sector
When it comes to waiter salaries, the key word around the world is “tips”. It adds an extra dash to low wages and is sometimes even tax free. But how much in tips a waiter takes home does not only depend on the quality of the service. Other factors often play a role, such as the waiter’s attentiveness or the guest’s mood. The allocation of tips is also handled differently. Does each person keep their own tips or is it divided among the service personnel? Does the kitchen staff get a portion of the tips? In some establishments there is also a Tronc system in which the staff receive a percentage of the turnover and income from tips..
All in all, the issue of tips is often too uncertain to be used as a basis for solid planning. However, in the US, tips are dealt with as follows: the minimum wage in gastronomy is offset against the expected tip. This means the hourly wage without tips is sometimes only two or three dollars. With that money, waiters couldn’t even afford to cover their rent. No wonder tipping at least 20 percent is standard in the States.
By the way, in many countries there is a minimum wage limit for waiters, kitchen helpers, cooks – as well as for all salaries and wages in the gastronomy sector as a whole. In Germany, the statutory minimum wage is 9.35 euros gross per hour. In the UK, the National Minimum Wage (NMW) ensures a minimum wage of 8.21 pounds. In the USA, the minimum wage is 7.25 dollars, and this is deducted from the tips received.
Less money, more benefits: benefits in gastronomy that pay off
Rustling bills sound pretty darn good, no question about it. But a fat salary is not the only thing that attracts employees and makes them happier in their job. Depending on the country and establishment, there are numerous benefits in the hospitality industry that make life better for employees. These include subsidies for daycare as well as traditional company retirement plans or vacation and Christmas bonuses. In the US and Canada dental insurance and other supplementary medical insurance are popular, as is a subsidized food budget for private consumption. Professional training is also popular – after all, chefs all over the world are asking themselves whether they still want to cook à la carte at 50 or if they want to take on other roles in gastronomy instead.
In higher management positions you can even receive your own company car or live in an apartment paid for by the business. Farewell annoying rent prices! Bonus payments for exceptional achievements are also not unusual. Sometimes the salary is even nearly doubled. However, for those who have not yet reached the top of the career ladder, smaller benefits offer some consolation: in most establishments, staff get to eat onsite for free. In a restaurant with world-class cuisine, this is not only easy on the wallet, it will also provide culinary delights.
Top salaries in gastronomy: the highest pay is served up here
On the stage of the gourmet scene, chefs are celebrated and hailed like film stars or concert pianists in other places. Their fans are lining up all over the world and ravenously waiting months to savor one of their star’s menus – and paying high prices to do so. It goes without saying that a renowned head chef can demand more pay in top gastronomy than anywhere else. However, it is not only the pay that is high – pressure and expectations also go up.
In addition to sophisticated cuisine, celebrity status also helps with salary negotiations. Famous Michelin-starred chefs are a real draw, attracting media and customers before the first course is served as opposed to a no name that has yet to cook up their reputation (and get their first Michelin star). In top gastronomy, monthly pay checks of 8,000 euros are therefore sometimes shelled out over the kitchen counter for a star chef. However, the highest salaries are paid to managers, board members and CEOs of large gastronomy businesses. They are particularly responsible for staff as well as ensuring economic success. Their annual salary can be in the seven-figure range.
Switzerland and other “best places”: why other countries have such a draw
The hospitality industry is booming in many cities, and motivated professionals are in demand worldwide. So why not go abroad for a few months or years? How about spending some time in Mexico City, Malmö or Singapore? You can explore other countries, get to know foreign cultures and cuisines and gain a lot of experience. Skills such as intercultural competences and foreign language proficiency are becoming increasingly important. A job abroad offers a lot – sometimes even a higher salary than in your homeland – and can give your career a boost. For example, in many countries you can climb the career ladder faster than in Germany. Experience abroad can also be helpful for opening doors if you later want to switch from gastronomy to another field.
In some cases, salaries vary considerably. An executive chef, for example, earns the most on average in Switzerland:
- in the UK £39,604 (around $50,998.33 / €46,319.55)
- in the US $60,083 (around £46,658.93 / €54,570.76)
- in Singapore $68,000 (around £38,655.21 / $49,773.94 / €45,207.75)
- in Germany €45,700 (around £39,029.44 / $50,306.07)
- in the United Arab Emirates AED 179,593 (around £37,988.08 / $48,902.11 / €44,419.67)
- in Switzerland CHF 76,000 (£59,147.69 / $76,166.59/ €69,190.88)
Additional personnel is especially needed for seasonal work. In winter, for example, German-speaking chefs can spend time in Switzerland or Austria if the demand for staff increases in the ski resorts. However, a stay in Switzerland can also be lucrative for non-German-speaking workers, because the wage level is high. Admittedly, the cost of living is by no means low – still, most manage to leave the country with extra money in their wallets. But even if it doesn’t pay off immediately, a stay abroad is definitely a plus at their next salary negotiation.