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Cooks and Food Preparation Workers - What They Do


How to Advance (Advancement)
The American Culinary Federation certifies chefs in different skill levels. For cooks seeking certification and advancement to higher-level chef positions, certification can help to demonstrate accomplishment and lead to higher-paying positions.

Advancement opportunities for cooks and food preparation workers depend on their training, work experience, and ability to perform more responsible and sophisticated tasks. Many food preparation workers, for example, may move into assistant or line cook positions or take on more complex food preparation tasks. Cooks who demonstrate an eagerness to learn new cooking skills and to accept greater responsibility may also advance and be asked to train or supervise lesser skilled kitchen staff. Some may become head cooks, chefs, or food preparation and serving supervisors. Others may find it necessary to move to other restaurants, often larger or more prestigious ones, in order to advance.

Employment
Cooks and food preparation workers held 3.0 million jobs in 2008. Two thirds of all cooks and food preparation workers were employed in restaurants and other food services and drinking places. About 16 percent worked in institutions such as schools, universities, hospitals, and nursing care facilities. Grocery stores and hotels employed most of the remainder.

Job Outlook
Job opportunities for cooks and food preparation workers are expected to be good because of high turnover and the need to replace the workers who leave these occupations. The enjoyment of eating out and a preference for ready-made meals from a growing population will cause employment of these workers to increase, but slower than the average rate for all occupations over the 2008–18 decade.

Job Growth
Employment of cooks and food preparation workers is expected to increase by 6 percent over the 2008–18 decade, more slowly than the average for all occupations. People will continue to enjoy eating out and taking meals home. In response, more restaurants will open and nontraditional food service operations, such as those found inside grocery and convenience stores, will serve more prepared food items. Other places that have dining rooms and cafeterias–such as schools, hospitals, and residential care facilities for the elderly–will open new or expanded food service operations to meet the needs of their growing customer base.

Among food services and drinking places, special food services, which include caterers and food service operators who often provide meals in hospitals, office buildings, or sporting venues on a contract basis, are expected to grow the fastest during the projection period. These companies typically employ large numbers of cafeteria and institution cooks and other cooks who perform cooking duties; employment in these occupations is expected to grow 10 percent (about as fast as the average) and 16 percent (faster than the average), respectively.

Full-service restaurants also will continue to attract patrons and grow in number, but not as fast as the previous decade. As restaurants increase their focus on the carryout business, cooks and food preparation workers will be needed to compete with limited service restaurants and grocery stores. Employment of restaurant cooks is expected to show average growth (8 percent).

Limited service eating places, such as fast-food restaurants, sandwich and coffee shops, and other eating places without table service, also are expected to grow during the projection period, as people place greater emphasis on value, quick service, and carryout capability. This will generate greater demand for fast-food cooks. Employment of fast food cooks is expected to increase by 7 percent (average growth).

Employment of private household cooks should grow 4 percent, or more slowly than the average for all occupations, and employment of short-order cooks is expected to grow by less than 1 percent, which represents little to no change.

Food preparation workers are expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations, or 4 percent. As restaurants and quick service eating places find more efficient ways of preparing meals–such as at central kitchens that may serve multiple outlets or in wholesale and distribution facilities that wash, portion, and season ingredients–food preparation will become simpler, allowing these lower-skilled workers to take on more varied tasks in a growing number of eating places. Additionally, foods requiring simple preparation will increasingly be sold at convenience stores, snack shops, and in grocery stores, which also will employ food preparation workers.

In spite of slower-than-average employment growth, job opportunities for cooks and food preparation workers are expected to be good, primarily because of the very large number of workers that will need to be replaced because of high turnover. Because many of these jobs are part time, people often leave for full-time positions. Individuals seeking full-time positions at high-end restaurants might encounter competition as the number of job applicants exceeds the number of job openings. Generally, there is lower turnover for full-time jobs and at established restaurants that pay well.

Earnings
Earnings of cooks and food preparation workers vary greatly by region and the type of employer. Earnings usually are highest in fine dining restaurants and nicer hotels that have more exacting work standards. These restaurants are usually found in greater numbers in major metropolitan and resort areas.

Median annual wages of cooks, private household were $24,070 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $19,030 and $36,590. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $16,230, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $56,280.

Median annual wages of institution and cafeteria cooks were $22,210 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $17,850 and $27,460. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $15,220, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $33,050.

Median annual wages of restaurant cooks were $21,990 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $18,230 and $26,150. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $15,880, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $31,330.

Median annual wages of short-order cooks were $19,260 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $16,280 and $23,450. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $14,740, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $27,630.

Median annual wages of food preparation workers were $18,630 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $16,180 and $22,500. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $14,730, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $27,440.

Some employers provide employees with uniforms and free meals, but Federal law permits employers to deduct from their employees' wages the cost or fair value of any meals or lodging provided, and some employers do so. Cooks and food preparation workers who work full time often receive typical benefits, but part-time and hourly workers usually do not.

In some large hotels and restaurants, kitchen workers belong to unions. The principal unions are the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union and the Service Employees International Union.

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Academic Programs of Interest

Cooking
A Cooking Program will generally teach a student how to prepare and present a variety of different food items. The program will also teach proper food safety standards. Most programs will also teach students how to do proper cost analysis of the dishes they are preparing and help them understand complimentary ...more
Culinary Arts
The restaurant industry is one of the most dynamic in North America today. The service sector is the most rapidly growing part of the North American economy. Career options for Culinary Arts graduates range from employee to owner and from manager to team leader. Culinary professionals need to have skills ...more