Cooks, Chefs Jobs Reach All-Time High, While Food & Beverage Serving Jobs Way Below Pre-pandemic Levels
For a brief summary of the report, please see below the key takeaways:
- Employment in the Food Preparation and Serving category is down 7% compared to pre-pandemic levels, and recovery is very uneven within the professional groups.
- San Francisco, CA (down 18%), Detroit, MI (down 17%) and Portland, OR (down 17%) metro areas are among the slowest recovering metros, with employment in the sector performing substantially worse than the national average.
- On the other hand, the metros of Phoenix, AZ (up 3%), Jacksonville, FL (up 1%), Dallas-Forth Worth, TX and Riverside-Bernardino, CA have seen their employment levels in the sector matching or surpassing pre-pandemic levels.
- The number of cooks and chefs employed in the U.S. reaches an all-time high.
- Wages for chefs and head cooks pass $60k for the first time, but real pay increases was negative for the last two consecutive years.
- Cooks have enjoyed substantially larger pay increases in the post-pandemic years compared to chefs (18% and 7% respectively from 2019 to 2022), reversing an almost decade-long trend that saw a growing pay gap between the two categories.
- Food and beverage serving jobs were still well below pre-pandemic levels in 2022 (down 16%), with the number of waiters and waitresses down 18% compared to 2019.
- Waiters, waitresses and bartenders have enjoyed the biggest pay increases compared to pre-pandemic levels (up 23% compared to 2019) among occupations with at least 500,000 employed workers.
- Dishwashers’ wages rose 21% compared to 2019, but this was not a strong enough incentive as their number was down 16% compared to 2019.
- Employment of fast food and counter workers was down 17% compared to 2019. Earning on average $13.53 per hour, this is the lowest paid professional category in the food and beverage serving industry.
While employment in the food and beverage service industry is still, on aggregate, down compared to pre-pandemic levels, the most recent data set published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows un uneven picture among various professional groups and geographies.
More than 1.3 million food preparation and service related jobs were added between 2021 and 2022, but that was not enough to offset the massive loss of jobs in the sector seen at the beginning of the pandemic. Thus, employment in the sector is still down 7% compared to 2019.
The recovery is very uneven on a national level with some metros experiencing growth (i.e. Phoenix, AZ and Jacksonville, FL), while others are substantially down, for example, San Francisco, CA is down 18% and both Detroit, MI and Portland, OR are down 17%.
The number of Chefs and Head Cooks employed in the U.S. reached an all-time high in 2022, up 29% Y-o-Y and up 25% compared to 2019.
The number of cooks employed in 2022 also reached an all-time high at 2.61 million, up 9% from pre-pandemic levels. There is a similar trend in the larger segment of cooks and food preparation workers, which rose to 3.5 million strong in 2022, up 7% Y-o-Y and up 5% compared to pre-pandemic levels (i.e. 2019).
Despite this growth, employment in the industry is still down 7% compared to 2019. This is due to a massive shortage in food serving personnel, hosts and hostesses, as well as dishwashers.
Close to 700k food and beverage serving jobs were added between 2021 and 2022, but that was not nearly enough to fill the gaps, as employment for this segment was down 16% compared to 2019. Among this segment, waiters and waitresses were the lowest performing group, where the number of those employed was down 18% compared to pre-pandemic levels (2.5 million in 2019 and 2.1 million in 2022).
This is despite the highest yearly pay increase in a decade as the hourly pay for waiters and waitresses increased 14% Y-o-Y in 2022 compared to an average of 4% per year in the previous decade.
Another category where employment is nowhere near pre-pandemic levels are dishwashers. Employment for this category was up 14% Y-o-Y in 2022, but the 431,000 registered dishwashers’ jobs in 2022 were a far cry from the 514,000 jobs recorded prior to the pandemic in 2019.
A dishwasher earned on average $14.21 in 2022. Wages were up 8% Y-o-Y for this group, higher than in previous years, though just enough to offset 2022’s inflation rate.
A similar story emerged for Fast Food and Counter Workers. Employment is up 7% compared to 2021, but down 17% compared to 2019. Earning on average $13.53 per hour, this is the lowest paid professional category from the food and beverage serving industry.
Automation has helped fast food chains to offset some of the staff shortages, and employment for this category was on a downward trending prior to the pandemic (down 4% in 2019 compared to 2018).
Real Wage Growth for Chefs and Head Cooks Negative for Two Consecutive Years
The average wage for chefs and head cooks was $60,210 in 2022. This is up 6% Y-o-Y, but below 2022’s inflation rate, while in 2021 it actually took a hit compared to 2020 and was down 3% Y-o-Y. Altogether wages for chefs and head cooks have increased just 6.9% compared to 2019 while the inflation rate was 14.7% over the same time period.
There are large pay differences among chefs and head cooks. The top 10% earn above $90,000, while a quarter earn less than $43,000. The state or city you work in matters a lot in this equation, as chefs in San Francisco, New York City and Hawaii earn substantially more than the national average. But even in these places, there’s a big pay difference between the best and lowest paid chefs.
On the other hand, wages for cooks have increased at a substantially faster rate. Compared to 2019, wages for cooks (all types) has increased by 16%, and wages for restaurant cooks, the highest paid cooks, has increased 18%.
This reverses a long-term trend that saw the pay gap between chefs and cooks almost double between 2001 and 2019. In 2019 the average salary for chefs and head cooks was twice as much as the average salary for cooks (104% higher to be more specific), while in 2022 the wage difference fell to 88%.
Among occupations with at least 500,000 employed workers, the largest wage gains were seen in the Food and Beverage Preparation and Serving category.