Was Being A Chef A Good Career Choice For Me?

Trying to decide if a chef career is right for you is not easy, especially with all the misinformation out there. Here I share my personal view using my years of experience as a chef to answer the ultimate question, is being a chef a good career?

My experience as a chef taught me that being a chef is a good career for those that love to cook, enjoy meeting new people, are happy to work long hours and want the potential to work anywhere in the world.

Those who are looking for a career that is well paid or with lots of traditional job benefits may be better suited pursuing other career paths.

In this post I attempt to answer whether being a chef is a good career or not, with a fair and unbiased view, looking at all the factors a person would look at when considering any new career.

I could just give my overall option, but I am confident that many readers would like a more detailed breakdown so they can make their own decision! I wrote an article regarding why I left the industry after many yearsOpens in a new tab. which will make a great accompaniment to this article.

So without further ado let’s take a dive into the pros and cons of being a chef compared with other career options, and keep a score card as we go!

Do Chefs Have Long Working Hours?

Chefs are famous for their long and unsociable working hours. I wrote an article about this topic which I will link hereOpens in a new tab. for those interested, but I shall sum it up here as well.

Chefs typically work between 50 – 60 hours per week. As most chefs are on a rota system their days off change so a chef can find themselves working 10 days in a row before having a day off. This equates to around 100 – 120 hours in between days off.

Chefs tend to work unsociable hours. Most chefs are busiest in the evenings usually finishing work around 11pm. Add to that the fact that the busiest days in catering are usually the ones where everyone else is off work, such as bank holidays, Christmas, mothering Sundays etc and you can see why the hours chefs have to work are unsociable.

There are lots of other career paths available where the working hours are a standard Monday – Friday, 9am – 5 pm. Most jobs are considered to be full time if they are 37 hours or above. Add to this the fact that lots of other career paths the employees get weekends off as well as all the additional public holidays.

Unfortunately, when it comes to working hours compared with other careers being a chef is not a good career, and loses a point.

Chef CareerOther Career

How Much Do Chefs Get Paid?

Pay is a difficult topic to discuss broadly as there are so many factors determined by where you are in the world, the level of cooking you are at, and whether the job is hourly paid or salary.

I will link to my detailed article where I compare chef wages across the UK here!Opens in a new tab.

I think the fairest way is to discuss broadly the pay scale in the UK (as this is the country I know best).

  • Apprentice chef pay is around £13,000 per year
  • Trainee / Commis chef pay starts at around £18,000 per year
  • Chef De Partie (qualified chefs) earn around £25,000 per year
  • Head Chefs earn around £35,000 per year

These numbers can vary widely. For example, a Head ChefOpens in a new tab. at a Michelin starOpens in a new tab. restaurant will earn considerably more than a Head Chef at the local pub restaurant.

When compared with other careers these pay scales are about average. However, if the working hours are taken into account then the hourly rate of pay for chefs is pretty poor in comparison.

As a side note, some chef jobs pay hourly. Due to the large number of hours done this can be a great way for chefs to earn quite a large amount of money.

Overall, anyone beginning a career as a chef will not be doing it for the money as it is poor in comparison to other careers for the amount of working hours involved.

However, if a chef goes on to have a successful career and becomes a head chef of a high end restaurant or opens their own restaurant then the payoff can be quite substantial.

For these reasons being a chef is a good and bad career depending on the level you reach, therefor on the basis of pay I am going to award a draw.

Chef CareerOther Career

Do Chefs Have High Job Satisfaction?

In my experience, being a chef has high levels of job satisfaction. Those that choose a career in catering do so because they have a love of food and cooking. Our role as chefs allows us to spend each and every day doing what we love.

This passion is also shared by everyone that they work with, and as such some close friendshipsOpens in a new tab. can form.

Chefs tend to be allowed a lot of freedom to create their own dishes and put their own spin on menus. This allows them to feel valued and like they are contributing in a meaningful way.

Another good point of being a chef is the instant feedback. There’s nothing quite like the feedback (& potential tipsOpens in a new tab.) from a happy diner issuing their sincere thanks for a wonderful meal.

This happens on a daily basis (if the chef is doing their job well!) and is a great pick up after a long shift.

Whilst I’m sure other careers provide great job satisfaction I feel like this daily direct thanks from customers to the chef is hard to beat.

Job satisfaction makes being a chef a good career choice, there for this point goes to a being a chef.

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Do Chefs Get Job Benefits?

As a chef we don’t typically receive many traditional job benefits. Excellent pension contributions, bonus structures, commission payments, or company vehicles are not common benefits given to chefs.

Whilst not every other career comes with all these benefits there is the opportunity to look around and find those that do.

Although I’m sure that there are some chefs jobs out there that do have these benefits I was definitely not able to find any of them!

This means that on the comparison of additional benefits, being a chef is not a good career so the point must go to other careers.

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Do Chefs Get To Travel A Lot?

As chefs we are very fortunate, our training allows us to work anywhere in the world that we choose. A love for food and cooking is universal throughout the world and our skills are always in high demand.

Unlike other careers, a chef can pack up their things and head of to another countryOpens in a new tab. knowing that they can use their existing skills. It’s hard to think of many other careers like this.

Most careers would require at least some additional training, while some would mean effectively starting over again, because one countries qualification is not recognised by another.

Many chefs spend years travelling around the world and not only do they have great experiences their cooking dramatically improves because of it!

Due to the great travel opportunities being a chef is a great career and easily takes this point.

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Do Chefs Have Good Career Progression

In my experience working in many kitchens, chefs are some of the most career focused people I know. The good news is that with hard work the career progression opportunities are unlimited for chefs.

The way a kitchen is set upOpens in a new tab. to run, with it’s clear rank structure, makes it easy for all chefs to see the career ladder that they are able to climb.

As chefs move around jobs relatively frequently there are constantly new chef de partieOpens in a new tab. and sous chefOpens in a new tab. positions opening up for the new chefs to move into.

Another bonus of this fluid work force, is that chefs can move restaurants to progress and climb the career ladder as often as they see fit (within reason; leaving a job every 6 months would probably be frowned upon)

It’s not just the possibility of climbing the up through the kitchen ranks, but also the ability to climb the ladder with regard to the standard of cuisine that makes being a chef a great career choice for determined people.

By this I mean a commis chefOpens in a new tab. could stay a commis for years but go from a non Michelin starOpens in a new tab. restaurant, then onto a 1 star place, then a 2 star etc. No one could argue that they were not progressing their career in this instance!

To give a balanced view, one negative about the career progression opportunities of a chef, are that they can be limited if you are restricted to the hours in which you are able to work.

For example, if you are only able to work day shifts (no evenings) a chef will find their progression is not so easy, as they are limited to the amount of places they will be able to work.

Overall though, In terms of career progression being a chef is a great career choice, there for the point has to go to being a chef!

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Do Chefs Get On Well With Other Chefs?

In my experience, most chefs get on very well with other chefs. In all the kitchens I have worked in, the camaraderie and team ethos is excellent. There are so many opportunities to make lifelong friends within the catering industry.

Chefs are notorious for spending their days off together and getting up to fun activities in their split shifts.Opens in a new tab.

The work atmosphere in the kitchen itself is usually great as well. There is a shared vision where everyone has to truly work together as a team. This makes for a sometimes stressful, but more often than not, fun place to be – The banter among chefs is always great.

The variety of people is another large perk of being a chef. Kitchens attract people of all different backgrounds from all over the world. It is a real eye opener to work with so many different people and all the various cuisines they bring with them.

For me, work colleagues and the great people you meet is one of the most important points as to why I enjoyed my time being a chef and why I think being a chef is a good career choice, in fact it’s one of the things I miss most.

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Do Chefs Receive Good Training?

In my experience as a chef, the training we receives is very much dependent on the places that we work, or where someone goes to culinary school. Being a chef has such a wide range of job roles that the training can vary greatly depending upon where you work.

For example, a person who works in a chain pub/restaurant may qualify as a chef but their training is clearly not going to be as good as a chef that has trained at the best restaurants around the world. (The difference between a chef and a cook)Opens in a new tab.

The great though, is that a chef can decide where they would like to train and design their career to suit! If a chef is happy cooking pizzas in a restaurantOpens in a new tab. – then they can. If another wants to experiment with the latest foamsOpens in a new tab. and cooking techniques – then they can.

An individual chef has a huge amount of control over where their career takes them.

As with most careers, location plays a large part in a chef’s ability to train to the standard that they would like. In order to find the best jobs and receive the best training a chef may have to travel quite far from home.

As a side note, a lot of chef positions come with accommodationOpens in a new tab. included to help them attract the best talent from outside the area.

One negative of the trainingOpens in a new tab. which I think is worth mentioning is the fact that being great chef is not really transferable outside of the hospitality industry. Other career experiences and qualifications can be used in many different industries.

For example, if a person trained as a lawyer and gained a law degree they can use this in multiple fields, as lots of employers recognise the value of this qualification. Chefs are a lot more pigeon holed into the hospitality sector.

However, The ability to carve out your own training path makes me believe that being a chef is a good career and should win the final point.

Chef CareerOther Career
Chef Career wins 6 points to 3!

The final score (in our very scientific study) shows that a career as a chef is a good career to choose!

Although it is fun to compare the different factors on a points basis, I feel I should sum it up with a fair description from my experience and one that is shared by many of my colleagues in the industry.

Being a chef is a great career with lots of positive points that are hard to find in any other industry.

The buzz of the kitchen and endless progression opportunities really are unparalleled . That being said, the trade-off for all these great factors is the unsociable and long hours that are the norm in the industry.

Now all that’s left to doo is discover how to become a chef!Opens in a new tab.

Dave Nicholas

Having spent around 10 years working as a qualified chef in high end restaurants, my mission is to use this experience to help others as they begin their career in catering!

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