Number of Cooks and Chefs Employed in the U.S. Reaches All-Time High

The number of cooks and chefs employed in the U.S. has reaches an all-time high, according to a Chef's Pencil's report based on the latest Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics at the end of April 2023.

Key takeaways include:

  • Employment in the Food Preparation and Serving category is down seven percent compared to pre-pandemic levels, and recovery is very uneven within the professional groups.
  • San Francisco, (down 18 percent), Detroit, (down 17 percent) and Portland, Oregon (down 17 percent) metro areas are among the slowest recovering metros, with employment in the sector performing substantially worse than the national average (-seven percent).


  • On the other hand, the metros of Phoenix, AZ (up three percent), 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.


  • 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 seven percent 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 percent), with the number of waiters and waitresses down 18 percent compared to 2019.
  • Waiters, waitresses and bartenders have enjoyed the biggest pay increases compared to pre-pandemic levels (up 23 percent compared to 2019) among occupations with at least 500,000 employed workers.


  • Dishwashers' wages rose 21 percent compared to 2019, but this was not a strong enough incentive as their number was down 16 percent compared to 2019.
  • Employment of fast food and counter workers was down 17 percent compared to 2019. Earning on average $13.53 per hour, this is the lowest paid professional category in the food and beverage serving industry.