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Chefs and Head Cooks Career Overview

Direct the preparation, seasoning, and cooking of salads, soups, fish, meats, vegetables, desserts, or other foods. May plan and price menu items, order supplies, and keep records and accounts. May participate in cooking.

Salary for Chefs and Head Cooks

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U.S. $29,050
Annual figures are on top. Hourly figures are below in parentheses.
N/A = Information not available

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Career Outlook for Chefs and Head Cooks

Job opportunities are expected to be good, despite slower than average employment growth, due to the large numbers of workers who leave the occupation and need to be replaced. However, keen competition is expected for jobs at upscale restaurants that generally pay more.

Employment change. Employment of chefs, head cooks, and food preparation and serving supervisors is expected to increase by 6 percent over the 2008-18 decade, which is more slowly than the average for all occupations. Growth will be generated by increases in population, a growing variety of dining venues, and continued demand for convenience. As more people opt for the time-saving ease of letting others do the cooking, the need for workers to oversee food preparation and serving will increase. Also, there is a growing consumer desire for healthier, made-from-scratch meals that chefs and head cooks can better prepare. Growth, however, may be tempered by slowing economic conditions as some restaurants and food preparation facilities close.

Job prospects. Job openings for chefs, head cooks, and food preparation and serving supervisors are expected to be good through 2018; however, competition should be keen for jobs at the more upscale restaurants that tend to pay more. Workers with a good business sense will have better job prospects, especially at restaurant chains where attention to costs is very important. Although job growth will create many new positions, the majority of job openings will stem from the need to replace workers who leave the occupation. The fast pace, long hours, and high energy levels required for these jobs often lead to high turnover.

Employment Overview

Chefs, head cooks, and food preparation and serving supervisors held 941,600 jobs in 2008. Food preparation and serving supervisors held 88 percent of these jobs and chefs and head cooks held the remaining 12 percent. Nearly half of chefs and head cooks were employed at full-service restaurants (those that had table service). About nine percent each were employed by hotels and the special food services industry that includes caterers and food service contractors. Eight percent were self-employed.

Forty-three percent of food preparation and serving supervisors were employed by limited-service eating places, made up mostly of cafeterias and fast food restaurants and other places that offer simple carry-out food items. Another 25 percent were employed by full-service restaurants. Supervisors are also found in schools, the special food services industry, and a wide variety of other places that serve food.

Job Zone Description

Job Zone 3 - Medium preparation

Overall Experience
Previous work-related skill, knowledge, or experience is required for these occupations. For example, an electrician must have gone through an apprenticeship program or several years of vocational training to perform the job.

Most occupations in this zone require training in vocational schools, related job experience, or an associate's degree. Some may require a bachelor's degree.

Job Training
Employees in these occupations usually need one or two years of training, including both on-the-job experience and informal training with experienced workers.

Dental assistants, electricians, fish and game wardens, legal secretaries, personnel recruiters and recreational workers.

These occupations often involve using communication and organization skills to manage and train others.

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First-Line Supervisors/Managers of Food Preparation and Serving Workers

Additional Resources for Chefs and Head Cooks Job Seekers

Information about job opportunities may be obtained from local employers and local offices of the State employment service.

Career information about chefs, cooks, and other kitchen workers, including a directory of 2-year and 4-year colleges that offer courses or training programs is available from:

Information on the American Culinary Federation's culinary apprenticeship and certification programs and a list of accredited culinary programs is available from:

For information about becoming a personal or private chef, contact:

For information about culinary apprenticeship programs registered with the U.S. Department of Labor, contact the local office of your State employment service agency, check the department's apprenticeship web site:, or call the toll free helpline: (877) 872-5627.

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