Culinary Employment Trends in North Carolina

North Carolina Culinary Jobs, Employment and Salary Trends, Job Opportunities; Culinary Schools and Colleges in North Carolina 

Overview of Culinary Careers in North Carolina

Real barbecue. Don’t use the word “barbecue” unless you mean it, according to the entire North Carolina populous. That is, unless the meat is cooked with heat and smoke from burning wood, you are doing what’s called “grilling”. So loyal are North Carolinians to this idea that “The Campaign for Real Barbecue” was developed, and the organization even awards True ‘Cue certification to observant restaurants.

Obviously celebrated for her extraordinary barbeque, North Carolina is also home to Krispy Kreme Doughnut (originally 1937) and Pepsi (founded 1898). State staples include fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, tomatoes with mayonnaise and collard greens. Although this traditional southern regimen is here to stay, up-and-coming culinary cities like Charlotte are introducing a modern slant plus new styles to the state’s edible fare.

The opening of the renowned Johnson & Wales’ culinary school in 2004 is said to be the impetus to the expanding food scene in Charlotte. Focus turned to use of local ingredients and although Charlotte has been typically known for chains and steakhouses, she now has a great reputation for more diverse menus among her restaurants.

Don’t miss Asheville either, appointed to take company among “Six Small Cities with Big Food Scenes”, according to USA Today. Restaurants there increasingly stick to local ingredients, offer relief for vegans and vegetarians as well as providing interesting meat dishes like pork tongue and local rabbit.

And finally, try the eclectic cuisine offered in Winston-Salem, whether classic Italian, Moravian or vegan. Bourbon & Boots called the city “the #1 most overlooked foodie town in the South”.

North Carolina claims four of the 100 Best Restaurants in America (according to OpenTable):

  • Artisanal Restaurant, Banner Elk, NC
  • Fearrington House Restaurant, Pittsboro, NC
  • McNinch House, Charlotte, NC
  • Second Empire Restaurant and Tavern, Raleigh, NC

North Carolina’s burgeoning culinary arena can declare agriculture as its backdrop. The variety of commodities range from eggs to broilers to tobacco. The state is number one nationally in the production of sweet potatoes and second in hogs, pigs, trout and turkeys. Wine production is ranked #7 in the nation and the state’s Biltmore Winery is visited more than any winery in the country.

Capitalizing on both her agricultural products and food profile, North Carolina affords culinary professionals:

  • the opportunity to work at a wide scope of occupations, ranging from work at barbecue diners to casual cafés to 4-star restaurants. 
  • a cuisine steeped in tradition, but constantly growing in new directions
  • work in a field expected to grow by 4.7% over the next year. Over the next ten years, restaurant cook and food service supervision jobs are expected to grow more than 10%.

North Carolina employs 114,590 culinary professionals. The number comprises food service managers, chefs and head cooks, food service supervisors, line cooks, bakers and bartenders throughout the state’s hotels, country clubs, restaurants and other venues. The variety and number of open food prep jobs means entrants into the field can hold more than one job at a time. A cook may work at an athletic club during the day, a fine dining establishment at night and food festivals on the weekends.

Employment and Salary Trends in North Carolina

As mentioned above, North Carolina employs 114,590 food workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Professionals can easily work a number of types of culinary jobs throughout their careers, eventually gaining the experience to advance to management positions after several years’ dedication.

North Carolina chefs, cooks, bartenders and their managers earn an average of $28,457 per year. But as you’d expect, there is quite a bit of variability among job types and employees. 

Food service managers earn the most with an average salary of $ 60,540 (BLS May 2015 Data), which is up from $ 57,370 a year ago (BLS May 2014 data). North Carolina food service managers’ salaries rank 12th among the 50 states, ahead of Massachusetts and behind Maryland. The top 10% of food service managers earn nearly $92,000, well above the average. Food service managers also have the most wage variability.

Chefs and head cooks earn the next highest average salary of $ 47,470 which is down from $49,360 a year ago. The top 10% of chefs earn a lot more than the average, at nearly $70,000 per year.

Restaurant cooks’ salaries rank 43rd in North Carolina among the 50 states, ahead of Alaska and behind Louisiana. Chefs and head cooks’ salaries rank much higher nationally at 15th, ahead of Connecticut and behind Alabama. Experienced cooks, at the top 10% of the pay scale, earn over $30,000 per year.

Generally speaking, culinary jobs in North Carolina tend to hover around the average for all jobs, with some higher and some lower within each of their categories, but food service supervisors in Ohio are all paid above the national average for all culinary occupations.

Culinary Job Opportunities and Employers in North Carolina

Given the nature of the work, there are not many restaurants in North Carolina that employ hundreds of culinary professionals. Instead, most food service locations will employ a relatively small number of chefs, cooks and food service managers. That said, there are a broad range of employers available, which include:

  • Restaurants and Bars
  • Hotels, B & Bs and Lodges
  • Schools
  • Hospitals
  • Private companies and individuals looking for private chefs

The State of North Carolina maintains a database of jobs through their Department of Commerce called NCWorks at: You can search by keyword, city and radius. Employers offering numerous food service jobs are hotels, casual dining establishments and retirement facilities.

Culinary Training, Schools and Colleges in North Carolina

Although the idea of formal education occurs to numerous would-be chefs and cooks when contemplating a culinary career in North Carolina, many others decide to proceed strictly hands-on with on-the-job training. It’s true they usually must start with entry-level jobs such as dishwashing and even unpaid internships, but they find the free opportunity to learn the business from the ground up irresistible. And managers facing high turnover in restaurant-dense cities like Charlotte welcome the extra help.

Those aspiring chefs who do choose the education route enjoy a broad selection of programs covering culinary arts, baking and pastry or hospitality management schools. Along with its evolving food and restaurant scene, North Carolina provides dozens of culinary schools and programs, some with degrees awarded. However, not all schools provide the same culinary education, with cost, programs, graduation rates and more varying by school. A few of the better known North Carolina culinary schools include:

  • The Art Institute of Charlotte, in Charlotte, North Carolina
  • Johnson & Wales University, in Charlotte, North Carolina
  • The Art Institute of Raleigh-Durham, in Durham, North Carolina
  • Community colleges throughout the state with culinary training programs

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