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Cooks, Restaurant Career Overview

Prepare, season, and cook soups, meats, vegetables, desserts, or other foodstuffs in restaurants. May order supplies, keep records and accounts, price items on menu, or plan menu.

Salary for Cooks, Restaurant

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U.S. $18,230
Annual figures are on top. Hourly figures are below in parentheses.
N/A = Information not available

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Career Outlook for Cooks, Restaurant

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.

Employment change. 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.

Job prospects. 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.

Employment Overview

Cooks and food preparation workers held 3.0 million jobs in 2008. The distribution of jobs among the various types of cooks and food preparation workers was as follows:

Cooks, restaurant 914,200
Food preparation workers 891,900
Cooks, fast food 566,000
Cooks, institution and cafeteria 391,800
Cooks, short order 171,400
Cooks, private household 4,900
Cooks, all other 18,000

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 Zone Description

Job Zone 2 - Some preparation

Overall Experience
Some previous work-related skill, knowledge, or experience maybe helpful in these occupations, but usually is not needed. For example, a drywall installer could benefit from experience in installing dry wall, but an inexperienced person could learn the job fairly easily.

These occupations usually require a high school diploma and may require some vocational training or job related course work. In some cases, you may need an associate's or bachelor's degree.

Job Training
Employees in these occupations need anywhere from a few months to one year of working with experienced employees.

Drywall installers, fire inspectors, flight attendants, pharmacy technicians, retail salespersons, and bank tellers.

In these occupations you can often use your knowledge and skills to help others.

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Additional Resources for Cooks, Restaurant Job Seekers

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

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

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

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

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