Guide to Culinary Career Paths

Finding your Niche in the Food Industry in and out of the Kitchen

Although most people associate cooking as the central occupation in the culinary industry, the industry itself is actually distinctly wide-ranging. It includes professional routes in several sectors, such as wine, beverage and mixology; events management; food writing; catering; food styling; research and development; product development and sourcing; public relations; corporate dining; and much more.EXPERT CONTRIBUTOR

 

Culinary Arts: A Snapshot

  • There are more than 173,000 bakers working in the US
  • 1.7 million new jobs are expected to be created in the restaurant industry by 2025
  • 46% of chefs work in restaurants and other eating places
  • There are 14 million restaurant industry employees in the US
  • 13% of chefs are self-employed

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics and National Restaurant Association

Career Paths in Culinary

According to the National Restaurant Association, the restaurant industry is a $709 billion dollar industry. The careers within the industry are varied and specialized. Below is an overview of potential occupational options open to individuals interested in pursuing a career in the culinary arena. 

COOKING & PASTRY

The professional kitchen is a world reliant on structure, hierarchy and experience, requiring individuals to advance up the chain of command—from line cook to executive chef. However, it also a world engenders entrepreneurship, creativity and flexibility—allowing those with a passion for food to explore any number of employment paths.

  • Executive Chef Executive chefs use their technical cooking, organizational, and creativity skills to establish menus, direct staff, and operate a kitchen. They oversee each component of kitchen operations, including scheduling kitchen staff, ordering supplies, selecting ingredients, and ensuring the kitchen meets health and sanitary guidelines. They typically work their way up the ladder professionally, serving in various roles, such as chef de partie and sous chef.
  • Baker Bakers use their creative skills to make a variety of baked goods, from breads to pastries, which are sold by restaurants, wholesalers and grocers. The occupation falls into two categories—commercial and retail. Commercial bakers work in manufacturing facilities to produce mass quantities of baked goods, and retail bakers work in smaller shops (e.g. pastry shops, grocery stores).
  • Chef de Partie The chef de partie is a cog in the wheel of a busy kitchen. They follow set recipes and instructions to prepare and assemble dishes in a commercial kitchen. The chef de partie may handle one specific area of the kitchen such as sauces and sautéed items (sauté chef); fish (fish chef); grilled foods (grill chef) or cold items (pantry chef).

MANAGEMENT

The culinary and hospitality world consists of a mixture of restaurants, bars, luxury resorts, food trucks, retail stores, hotels, craft and boutique shops, and food manufacturers. It requires organized processes around purchasing, ingredient sourcing, price negotiation, marketing, accounting, staff management, and events.

  • Restaurant Manager Restaurant managers are the central nervous system of a restaurant, overseeing each aspect of the establishment’s operations. They coordinate a range of activities across business (e.g. budgeting and marketing), front of the house (wait staff schedules, customer service), and housekeeping (sanitation, inventory management).
  • Lodging Manager Lodging managers work in settings across the hospitality industry, such as hotels, motels, and resorts. They oversee the day-to-day operations ensuring the establishment operates effectively and efficiently. Lodging managers may manage individual departments (e.g. housekeeping, maintenance), coordinate and monito room reservations and assignments, inspect rooms, train staff, and organize events.
  • Food and Beverage Director Food and beverage directors use their knowledge of food planning to create and manage menus for a variety of establishments (e.g. hotels, casinos, restaurants), supervise staff, manage food costs and inventory, and develop and organize events (e.g. conventions, banquets).

SPECIALTY

A culinary career is traditionally associated with cooking, yet chefs and cooks are not the only occupational path in the field. It is a growingly diverse industry, with opportunities in both traditional (e.g. catering), emerging (e.g. mobile food) and related (e.g. food writing, public relations) areas.

  • Sommelier Sommeliers and wine stewards possesses unique expert knowledge of wine, from regions where grapes and grown to wine ratings, vintages to which food pares best with a particular wine. In their role, they create wine lists for restaurants, order and maintain inventory, and train employees about wine knowledge.
  • Caterer Caterers call on a multi-disciplinary skill set, combining business savviness with culinary know-how to arrange, prepare and deliver food for clients in a variety of settings. Caterers typically work in corporate settings (e.g. restaurants, hotels) or independently as private operators. Responsibilities vary, but traditionally include each aspect of food preparation at an event—such as table set-up, menu preparation or even staff scheduling.
  • Food Truck Operator Food truck operators are entrepreneurs who set the creative vision and menu for mobile culinary creations. Food trucks span the culinary genre, from standard fare such as hamburgers and sandwiches, to specialized food such as cupcakes and crepes. Most food truck operators handle each aspect of the truck’s operation, including food preparation, marketing, customer service, truck location, menu selection, budgeting and inventory control.

The Foodie's Life: Attributes & Skills for Working in the Culinary Arts & Hospitality

The diverse nature of the culinary arts and hospitality professions requires professionals in the field to possess similarly diverse skill sets that complement their selected occupation. Below is an overview of the unique skill sets required for three occupations in the industry: chef, restaurant manager and baker. 

Executive Chef  Executive chefs oversee all aspects of a restaurant’s kitchen, often managing several locations at once. They set the creative vision by planning and directing food preparation and menus.

SKILLSDESCRIPTION
LeadershipThe ability to coordinate the work of others, manage personnel resources, and motivate staff members.
CommunicationChefs must be able to communicate clearly with their staff and colleagues, in both creative and business-focused discussions.
Food ProductionKnowledge food production, food types and food storage, along with technical cooking methods-such as working with knives or appliances.
CreativityDesign skills are important for a chef to possess as they create new menus, recipes, and food presentations.
Detail-OrientedThe ability to multi-task, organize, and manage high standards of cleanliness and hygiene in the kitchen.

 Sous Chef In French, this title means “the under chief.” The second in command position supervises and mentors the kitchen staff and may help plan menus, cook meals or specialty foods.

SKILLSDESCRIPTION
CreativityA strong knowledge of ingredients helps sous chefs create new dishes for menus.
LeadershipFrom the dishwashers to the specialty cooks, this position should know how to motivate workers in high stress environment.
CommunicationThe ability to communicate effectively helps this position be assertive, manage stress and even be a better listener.
Attention to DetailAttention to detail is important in everything from making sure the kitchen meets health standards to quality control on the food served.
Time ManagementRestaurant kitchens are busy places. The ability to manage one’s time as well as others prevents burned food and unhappy customers.

 Chef de Partie Otherwise known as a “senior chef” or “demi chef,” this position is assigned one particular section of the kitchen in which they excel: pastry, butchery, fish, sauces, vegetables, etc.

SKILLSDESCRIPTION
ExperienceThis position is not entry level. Chefs are expected to have learned from fully trained chefs, rising through the ranks in the kitchen.
DelegationIn order to meet the high demands, the ability to delegate to other chefs is necessary.
FlexibilityKitchen hours often begin at 9 am for lunch and can last until late into the night for dinner. While schedules may vary depending on the size of a restaurant, flexibility is a must.
LevelheadednessRestaurants are intense places to work, making cool headed kitchen staff preferable.
OrganizationThis skill is key as chefs are expected to get large quantities of food delivered to guests in a short amount of time.

 Restaurant Manager Restaurant managers are responsible for operating and managing restaurant operations, ensuring quality food preparation and customer service.

SKILLSDESCRIPTION
Customer ServiceAn understanding of the customer's point of view, along with listening skills, to address and resolve customer issues and complaints.
InnovativeAn understanding of industry trends and the skills to innovate and implement new ideas to stay ahead of the competition.
Stress ManagementThe ability to stay calm under pressure, identify issues before they arrive, and create unique solutions to problems (e.g. with suppliers, staffing shortages).
OrganizationalThe ability to multi-task and coordinate efforts both in the front (dining) and back (kitchen), including strong skills in task delegation.
CommunicationRestaurant managers need to communicate clearly and effectively with staff, employees and vendors.

 Pastry Chef Known as the boss of the bakers, pastry chefs manage the sweets section of a restaurant kitchen. While the responsibilities vary depending on the size of the restaurant, the pastry chef is responsible for creating baked goods and desserts.

SKILLSDESCRIPTION
LeadershipManaging the pastry staff requires being able to hire the right people, assign tasks, and motivate the staff.
InnovativeBeing in charge of the pastry menu requires the ability to think of new dessert and baked goods.
Business AcumenThis job requires more than culinary skills. Pastry chefs must have knowledge of design basics, business, and management skills.
OrganizationalThe ability to multi-task and coordinate efforts both in the front (dining) and back (kitchen), including strong skills in task delegation.
CommunicationPastry chefs need to be able to communicate in clear, quick, professional manner.

 Baker Bakers work in both commercial and retail establishments and use a variety of methods to develop and produce baked goods, such as pastries and breads.

SKILLSDESCRIPTION
CreativityThe ability to think creatively and craft a unique approach to pastry decoration, developing new products, or solving problems.
OrganizationalThe ability to manage time effectively and work out precise baking times, as well as manage multiple ingredients and supplies at a time.
MathematicsThe knowledge of mathematical principles to calculate ingredient measurements and think spatially about the shape and dimensions of a baked product.
TechnicalProficient baking skills, including specialized knowledge of baking products, ingredients, and production.
Eye-Hand CoordinationPhysical capabilities to work with a diverse array of baked ingredients and operate both smaller kitchen-based equipment and larger, industrial-based baking appliances.

Q & A with Robert Bowden, Vivere Chocolates

What should prospective students consider before enrolling in a culinary/hospitality degree program? Understand that you need to find a program that offers you more than just cooking or hospitality training. The profession is built on networks and relationships and your success in this as a career depends on that. Visit the program and discuss alumni, externships, and continuing education opportunities.
What advice do you have to students considering working in the culinary/hospitality fields? Find an aspect of the industry you love and start from the beginning: Develop yourself as a specialist in your field. It will position you as an expert and assist in developing your brand and style.
The culinary world embraces creativity and entrepreneurship. As a culinary professional and business owner, what are some of the biggest hurdles/challenges you've encountered during your career? One area I work the hardest on is staying focused on my brand and niche. It is easy to get sidetracked when studying and observing activity in your industry or market space. As a chocolatier, I understand my product is not for everyone. I operate from a quality over quantity standpoint. This sometimes conflicts with my business owner experience of looking at the bottom line. I'm finally settling into my groove, embracing that neither quality nor bottom line have to be sacrificed at the other's expense.
Why were you drawn to working with chocolate? What does a chocolatier actually do? I've always been a foodie and—being from the South—I love to make desserts. Working with chocolate is as much a symbolic choice about my life as it is about the food. How can you have a bad day when you wake up knowing you get to create new things with chocolate? However, most of the time when people ask me "Why chocolate?" I simply say "Why not?" A chocolatier takes chocolate (aka Couverture) melts, mixes, and pairs it with other ingredients to make creations, such as truffles, ganache, bars or dipped items. We are different from chocolate makers that buy, roast and grind cacao beans turning it into chocolate. However, the origins of my chocolate are very important to me, so I spend a great deal of time researching the sources of my suppliers.
The culinary world is extremely competitive. How does someone stand out in the field? Find your voice, develop a clear concept on who you are as culinary professional and what your brand stands for. Then create a plan to achieve it: you need to be flexible yet persistent. Also, understand there is space for all of us to be successful as the restaurant industry alone is a $700 Billion industry.
What's the most exciting part of working as a chocolatier? Seeing the smile on a person’s face when they taste one of my products. We work hard to bring a level of quality and service to our clients and no amount of awards can compare to the wow factor when they see our packaging or the "HMMMM" moment when the chocolate melts in their mouth.

Culinary Salary & Employment Growth Snapshot

Employment projections across the culinary, hospitality and food service industries are expected to be tepid between 2014 and 2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Industry-wide, 6 percent growth is expected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015. Below is a snapshot of the career outlook for three culinary arts careers—food service manager, baker, and chefs and head cooks.

OccupationMedian SalaryJob GrowthGrowth OutlookEducation Required
Food Service Manager$48,5605%averageHigh school diploma or equivalent
Baker$23,6007%AverageLess than high school
Executive Chefs$41,6109%Faster than averageHigh school diploma or equivalent

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015

Annual Median Wage By State, Culinary Professions

Culinary salaries vary by location, experience, employer and professional industry. The map below outlines the salaries of three specific culinary occupations—food service manager, chef and head cook, and baker—and demonstrates the impact location has in different states.

2016 Annual Median Wages, Food Service Managers, Chefs and Head Cooks, & Bakers 

[US map]

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016

Culinary - Related Careers

The culinary, food service and hospitality industries are some of the broadest, most diverse industries today. They offer a multitude of potential career avenues in areas spanning from cooking to travel and tourism, lodging and hotel management to pastry arts. Below is a list of related occupational opportunities in this professional space.

Waiter and Waitress

Median Salary: $19,250

Job Growth: 3%

Education: No formal education

Dietitian/Nutritionist

Median Salary: $57,910

Job Growth: 16.0%

Education: Bachelor's degree

Bartender

Median Salary: $19,530

Job Growth: 10%

Education: No formal education

Butchers and Meat Cutters

Median Salary: $29,130

Job Growth: 5%

Education: No formal education

Short Order Cook

Median Salary: $21,720

Job Growth: 4%

Education: No formal education

Private Chef

Median Salary: $21,720

Job Growth: 4%

Education: No formal education

Dining Room Attendant

Median Salary: $19,040

Job Growth: 10%

Education: No formal education

Food Preparation Worker

Median Salary: $19,040

Job Growth: 10%

Education: No formal education

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015

Culinary Career Resources

Getting started in the culinary world can seem daunting. However, there are numerous resources available to prospective and current students. Associations and professional organizations exist in each area of the profession (e.g. baking, cooking, and management) and support students through memberships, scholarships, networking events, and other forms of help to encourage their educational and professional development.

American Academy of Chefs

The honor society of the American Culinary Federation, the American Academy of Chefs is dedicated to supporting the educational and professional development of culinarians. The AAC offers both scholarships and mentoring opportunities to chefs looking to advance their career.

American Culinary Federation

A professional organization for chefs and cooks, the American Culinary Federation has more than 17,500 members across 200 chapters in the United States. The organization offers training, educational resources, apprenticeships, and certification programs for chefs and cooks.

American Hotel and Lodging Association

The national association for the US lodging industry, the American Hotel and Lodging Association offers educational resources and memberships for individuals working in every corner of the hospitality industry.

American Personal and Private Chef Association

The country's largest professional trade association for private and personal chefs in the United States, the American Personal and Private Chef Association provide career training programs, memberships, and networking opportunities.

Association of Nutrition and Food Service Professionals

A nonprofit organization, the Association of Nutrition and Food Service Professionals has over 15,000 members, offers pre-professional memberships to students, as well as certification programs.

International Association of Culinary Professionals

A professional association, the International Association of Culinary Professionals offers pre-professional memberships to culinary students, as well as an online educational speaker series, conferences, certification programs, and scholarships.

International Luxury Hotel Association

A nonprofit association, the International Luxury Hotel Association offers a range of resources, including a magazine, research whitepapers, a career center, and networking opportunities.

James Beard Foundation

A national nonprofit foundation, the James Beard Foundation focuses on supporting culinary culture through educational initiatives, national conferences, culinary scholarships and industry publications and awards.

Les Dames d' Escoffier New York

An international organization, the Les Dames d' Escoffier New York is comprised of women professionals working in the wine, nutrition, food, and hospitality industry. The organization supports future professionals through education scholarships and mentoring programs.

National Restaurant Association

A national trade association for the foodservice industry, the National Restaurant Association supports more than 500,000 restaurant businesses. Besides advocacy, the organizational also conducts research, provides professional development opportunities, and offers a range of educational programs for individuals interested in restaurant careers.

Professional Chef Association

A professional association for practicing chefs, the Professional Chef Association provides educational training, professional certification programs, and memberships.

Research Chefs Association

An association with more than 2,000 members, the Research Chefs Association is comprised of a diverse membership, with food scientists, chefs, and other industry professionals among its ranks. It partners with colleges to provide educational opportunities and has special student memberships, committees and training programs for students.

Society for Hospitality and Foodservice Management

A national association, the Society for Hospitality and Foodservice management has members from across the workplace hospitality and corporate foodservice industries. The association offers both student- and young professional memberships, networking opportunities, research publications, and hosts regular conferences.

World Food Travel Association

A nonprofit organization, the World Food Travel Association provides educational, training, and networking opportunities to individuals in the food, drink, travel, and hospitality industries.

Popular Resources

Whether you’re looking to earn your online degree or you’re a parent looking for answers, you can find all of your questions covered here. Explore these resources to help you make informed decisions and prepare for whatever is thrown your way.

See All Posts

AccreditedSchoolsOnline.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Shape your future with an online degree

Connect with a community of peers, and find a program that will allow you to continue your education in a fast and flexible way.