The American Culinary Federation (ACF), the nation’s largest organization of professional chefs, released its "2011 Salary Study" and salary calculator today, the first since 2008.

Among the study's most surprising findings is the significant salary gap that remains within the foodservice industry. Results show that in terms of total cash compensation, men earned $38,500 more than female corporate executives/managers, something federation leaders say "cannot be ignored."

“As a national organization, we represent America’s culinary professionals, from entry-level cooks to Certified Master Chefs,” says Michael Ty, CEC, AAC, ACF National President. “This study provides us with a snapshot of the state of our industry, both the good and the areas that need improvement.” 

Conducted by Industry Insights Inc., the 2011 study was more in-depth than in 2008. The accompanying Salary Calculator allows professionals to enter specific professional information to determine what the average salary is for someone in a particular position, where they live and in other parts of the country. Here are some of the study’s key findings:

  • The gender pay gap is significant—Men earned substantially higher wages than women. The median base salary for male corporate executives/managers was $28,000 higher than that of a woman. In terms of total cash compensation, men earned $38,500 more than female corporate executives/managers. In addition, the median base salary for male executive chefs was nearly $18,000 more than that of a woman.
  • The industry’s unemployment rate is low—Of those surveyed, only 3% were not employed but actively seeking employment. The national unemployment rate is 8.3%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ January 2012 report.
  • Study confirms long work weeks—80% of respondents worked 41 or more hours per week, with the average executive chef (34%) working 51-60 hours per week.
  • There are many paths to becoming a chef—38% attended private college, 32% attended public college and 39% received on-the-job training.
  • Corporate executives/managers and research chefs bring in highest median base salariesCorporate executives/managers earned $97,000, followed by research chefs ($90,000) and administrators in education ($74,000). Executive chefs earned $66,000.
  • Holding ACF certification increases average compensation—Respondents with at least one ACF certification reported 7% higher average total compensation than those without an ACF certification.
  • Where you live affects how much you earn—The highest median base salary was in the middle Atlantic ($65,000), followed by New England and the Pacific (each at $60,000). The lowest was West North Central ($53,000).


“Some of the encouraging signs from the 2011 ACF Salary Study are that even with the unsteady economic climate, the unemployment rate remains low for culinary professionals. Data also confirmed that those with ACF certification earn higher average total compensations,” Ty says. “The income disparity between men and women is something that cannot be ignored. Equipped with this knowledge, we as a federation are currently developing ways we can help improve gender equality in the professional kitchen.”                     

The 2011 study features responses from 2,711 culinary professionals who are ACF members. The vast majority, 88 percent, were employed or self-employed full time. More than one-third of respondents were executive chefs. Four out of every five respondents were male. More than 52 percent were 45 years or older and nearly 40 percent held an associate degree. The average base salary of all respondents was $63,786.

The last ACF salary study was conducted in 2008 by Readex Research. Some of the findings from the 2008 survey were:

  • The average ACF member made an annual salary of $54,100.
  • On average, chefs who held the Certified Executive Chef (CEC) or Certified Executive Pastry Chef (CEPC) designation or higher earned $10,900 more per year.
  • Corporate organizations typically paid higher salaries than other places of employment.
  • Those employed in the Northeast and Western regions were paid slightly more than in the Midwest and South.

ACF members who responded to the survey will receive the entire report and can access the salary calculator in the member login area of the ACF website. All other ACF members can read the summary and access the salary calculator in the member login area of the ACF website.

The complete study can be purchased for $25 by ACF members and $100 by non-members in the ACF e-store.