Is workplace gender discrimination alive and well in the restaurant industry?

Click to enlarge.

A recent survey by the American Culinary Federation shows that’s likely the case.

The survey (conducted by the Dublin, Ohio-based federation, whose membership is made up of chefs, educators and culinary students) was taken by 2,711 foodservice professionals and revealed a troubling disparity between salaries earned by male chefs and those earned by female chefs.

According to a story in Nation’s Restaurant News, the base salary of male executive chefs was $17,950 higher than female executive chefs—$68,000 vs. $50,050.

I had no idea it was that bad!

Call me a naïve man, ladies, but I’m shocked to find the imbalance that profound.

Maybe that’s because pay wasn’t something openly discussed in that business when I cooked professionally almost 30 years ago. Hell, the pay was so disappointing for both genders, it’s likely no one dared say much for fear of having to face the rotten truth they worked for so little!

Not only were there so few women in kitchen leadership positions at the time, most I worked with didn’t aspire to an executive level as many do today. Most were “just there for the job” and planned to move on to other things.

Those who did want greater things knew one simple truth: If they were going to maximize their earnings, they had to have their own place. Cases in point: Debbie Keller (who later went on to found, run and sell Sweet Surrender), Susan Stevens (who, with husband Mark Stevens, owns Stevens & Stevens Deli) and Cindy Rubino (who co-owns The Cafe with husband, Salvatore).

Interestingly, I just did a story for Edible Louisville about three women chefs from the area. None said they ever encountered a glass ceiling in the business or complained about being underpaid compared to men. But one, Ouita Michel, chef and co-owner of Holly Hill Inn, said exactly what I stated above: she knew she had to have her own place if she ever was going to make some money.

One bright finding in the survey was kitchen personnel are making far more money than they did in my day. The average cook, for example, makes about $23,000. In the 1980s, it was half that. Same for sous chefs: about $39,000 now, a little less than double that when I was one.

Still more impressive is this finding: Restaurant chefs, on average, make far less than their peers in private clubs and healthcare.

On a salaried basis, restaurant chefs average $51,208, compared to $65,415 paid to chefs in education, $63,994 paid to those in healthcare and $83,753 for those working at private clubs.

Still think you want to achieve that star chef dream working through the restaurant mills?

Fact is, nearly all those chefs working outside of restaurants learned the trade in restaurants. At some point they gave up the star chef dream and decided they wanted to work a few less hours for better pay—and many I talk to love the non-restaurant foodservice world.

Click here to see the key results from the survey. Quite eye-opening.