How do you survive on a cook's salary?

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Joined Jul 23, 2012
About four months ago I posted in this forum about the concerns of entering a culinary program and the costs associated with it, and I will return to you the same advice that Chef Dave gave me, and it was probably the most well timed, well received advice of my life. Do NOT spend one cent on anything culinary related until you get into a kitchen and work your brains out first. 

Even coming straight out of culinary school you are going to have to prove yourself in almost any kitchen, which means prep / pantry, or even washing dishes for some amount of time, I promise you this is going to happen regardless of what type of certificate, or diploma you have. Here is how my boss (the owner of the highest rated, most successful restaurant in our area) explained it to me, and I hope this gives you a little insight. 

"You will learn far more if you get straight into a kitchen instead of going to school first, and instead of going X amount of money in debt, you'll actually be putting a little in your pocket. At least get in the kitchen of a busy restaurant and make sure it's for you before you shell out X amount of money for tuition. Let me hire you, I'll kick your ass in my kitchen for a while and you can see how it really is, then if you still want to go to school in a year, at least you will have the real world skills and knowledge to apply it to, which will make school that much more valuable."

As far as the money goes, yeah it can be rough at times and you're going to learn how far a dollar can stretch, but if this is REALLY what you want to do, and it's not just some "new found hobby" then you'll make the sacrifices neccessary. I would sleep in my car if that's what it meant I had to do to keep my job in the kitchen. 

I wish you the best of luck man, and over anything else that anyone has posted in response, get your ass in a kitchen and work your guts out before you spend a cent on school, that was the best advice that was given to me. Thanks Chef Dave!
 
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Joined Apr 25, 2015
If you want to make a good living as a cook, have little stress or backbreaking work, this is what you need to do: Do at least 4 years in the military as a cook, then when you think you're at least somewhat accomplished and established as one, get on usajobs.gov, and apply for a cook on the government Wage Grade system, usually in grades 5-8. THAT is decent money! Depending on where you live and how long you've worked for the government, you make anywhere from $15 to $30 an hour. Most places that hire Wage Grade cooks are Veterans Affair's dining halls, Air Force Base or Army Post dining halls, or Department of the Interior, which is usually seasonal work.

Screw the real world in the culinary arts. Exceptions: working in a remote environment for weeks at a time, then home for weeks, or on a boat cooking for a small group. They average $50,000 to 70,000 a year
 
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Joined Apr 11, 2020
I've posted my intentions about going to culinary school in another post. But before I go through with this I can't for the life of me figure out how I'm going to survive.

I've already put my apartment on the market for sale, I'm going over all my expenses, I'm prepared for the long hours, and while I understand the low pay ... I can't seem to get prepared for it.

I'll put it in perspective, this might help anyone else in my situation.
After school you'll make about $25,000.
Living in NYC making $25,000 year ... how? For A $700/month apartment in NYC you will be living in squalor. With a $25,000 salary you will bring home, after taxes, $1,563 each month, that's $360/week in your pocket. On top of your $700 month rent add another $800, this will be $500 food, $300 utilities/public transportation/laundry. That's $1500/month in expenses ... $63/month left over or $15/week savings.

$15 a week left over to splurge on whatever you want. 1 beer at happy hour ... $4 ... do you smoke? You get the point.

Oh and I forgot ... your culinary school loans. And don't cut yourself too bad in the kitchen ... your health insurance won't help you out here, because you won't be able to afford it.

Even with all this, I'm still looking for a way to make cooking a reality. But passion and emotion WILL NOT pay bills, or stop the eviction, or get you out of debt. If you can't afford the subway pass to get to work something is wrong with this picture.

If my tone is angry, I apologize, It's just very frustrating. I'm writing this in hope that someone can offer some advice on how to make this work.

(Disclaimer: I'm born and raised in NYC. Just in case anyone is questioning my expense figures and assumptions.)
 
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Joined Apr 11, 2020
I believe you've hit the nail on the head of the plight of a large percentage of Americans and Canadians (not just people working in the kitchens). When you live in countries with such a large income gap this is what inevitably happens and why so many people are in backbreaking debt.

However, you have to understand that with a bit of fancy arithmetic you will find that you have more money than you actually have. At the end of the tax year you should find that you are getting a portion of that money back in the form of a tax refund for being in the low income bracket (at least we get some money back in Canada). Secondly, if you're spending 500 dollars on food a month and working in a restaurant then you are spending too extravagantly... I would budget 200, which combined with staff meals will keep you well fed (no, you will not be eating at Per Se or scarfing down foie gras... and you will cook a lot at home but it will rustic). Thirdly, I think you can find places for rent that is lower than 700... the key is to think "living with roommates" and "choose very cheap neighbourhoods in the boroughs". Student housing here in Ottawa averages 400-425 per person... it may feel like living in a slum (you're probably living with 4 other people sharing two bathrooms and your basement palace may flood after a good storm) after being used to a life of comfort, but c'est la vie.

Assuming you can reduce your rent by another 100 or more dollars and your food bills by up to 300, you suddenly have another 13 dollars of disposible income a day, which combined with your tax return should allow you to save maybe a couple thousand dollars a year.

I joined as an apprentice in the kitchen when I was 19 years old and I have worked around the kitchen for 1 year before changing my career, and to be honest, my monthly pay was 131.71$ where I need to pay 118.31 for my rent and my electric city bill and with the rest of balance money, I need to survive for a month and even sometimes I walk to the restaurant due to I don't have enough money to buy the ticket.so I think if I survived with 30 or 40$ month Same for a year then I think anyone can, but at last, I finally had enough with this and left the restaurant industry completely.
 
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Joined Jan 21, 2020
I've posted my intentions about going to culinary school in another post. But before I go through with this I can't for the life of me figure out how I'm going to survive.

I've already put my apartment on the market for sale, I'm going over all my expenses, I'm prepared for the long hours, and while I understand the low pay ... I can't seem to get prepared for it.

I'll put it in perspective, this might help anyone else in my situation.
After school you'll make about $25,000.
Living in NYC making $25,000 year ... how? For A $700/month apartment in NYC you will be living in squalor. With a $25,000 salary you will bring home, after taxes, $1,563 each month, that's $360/week in your pocket. On top of your $700 month rent add another $800, this will be $500 food, $300 utilities/public transportation/laundry. That's $1500/month in expenses ... $63/month left over or $15/week savings.

$15 a week left over to splurge on whatever you want. 1 beer at happy hour ... $4 ... do you smoke? You get the point.

Oh and I forgot ... your culinary school loans. And don't cut yourself too bad in the kitchen ... your health insurance won't help you out here, because you won't be able to afford it.

Even with all this, I'm still looking for a way to make cooking a reality. But passion and emotion WILL NOT pay bills, or stop the eviction, or get you out of debt. If you can't afford the subway pass to get to work something is wrong with this picture.

If my tone is angry, I apologize, It's just very frustrating. I'm writing this in hope that someone can offer some advice on how to make this work.

(Disclaimer: I'm born and raised in NYC. Just in case anyone is questioning my expense figures and assumptions.)
 

Dre

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Joined Nov 23, 2020
All I can say is roommates...
It's a hastle sometimes but when you find the right ones, it's pretty cool.
I'm 31 and since I moved out at 17 I've had roommates all but once, and that was when I first moved out...
I mean, a lot of what I love is the kind of people you work with. I've worked in food, finance, insurance, and engineering. Not many jobs have the same kind of people that tend to go into the culinary field. If you're not having fun, having some crazy conversation, or listening to the wildest stories you've heard while working in a kitchen, what are you doing? 😅
I guess it's a blessing and a curse that all too often, we have to split rent with those same type of people.
Either you make it and you're able to afford a decent living working for the rich and famous, or you're that one guy that's 40, smokes like a freight train, and still lives with like, 4 other people that also probably work there bussing or something. 😂
Good luck to you, sir. NY would be an awesome place to cook.
 
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Joined Dec 18, 2020
That's a very old post. Now the situation has changed and salaries are much better in the cooking industry than it used to be 10-15 years ago.
 
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Joined Nov 9, 2020
It's a little better, but it's still difficult to make it on your own unless you are either well up the food chain, you live in a city that has a liveable minimum wage, or are doing this as a second career (or a returning career) with a good nest egg to fall back on.
 
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Joined Dec 30, 2020
I thought the chef's salaries are really high because it is very difficult to meet a person who knows how to cook. People don't cook at home anymore they all eat in restaurants.
 
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Joined May 5, 2010
I thought the chef's salaries are really high because it is very difficult to meet a person who knows how to cook. People don't cook at home anymore they all eat in restaurants.


Sure...when they see commercials on tv

"We don't have to cook anymore."
 
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Joined Oct 10, 2005
That's a very old post. Now the situation has changed and salaries are much better in the cooking industry than it used to be 10-15 years ago.
Not really... While minimum wage has increased so has the cost of housing and transportation.. Servers are still taking home 2-$300 in tips on good nights ( well, pre-covid anyway) while the cook is still earning under $20/ hr. Nothing will change until some level of gov't grows a pair of orbs and addresesses the tipping situation, the lack of qualifications for the hospitality industry, and might as well address delivery platforms like Uber and skip the dishes who teally shouldnt be earning as much as they do.
 
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