Food Preparation Workers

Summary

food preparation workers image
Food preparation workers typically learn their skills on the job from an experienced worker.
Quick Facts: Food Preparation Workers
2012 Median Pay $19,300 per year
$9.28 per hour
Entry-Level Education Less than high school
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Short-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2012 807,800
Job Outlook, 2012-22 4% (Slower than average)
Employment Change, 2012-22 28,900

What Food Preparation Workers Do

Food preparation workers perform many routine tasks under the direction of cooks, chefs, or food service managers. Food preparation workers prepare cold foods, slice meat, peel and cut vegetables, brew coffee or tea, and perform many other food service tasks.

Work Environment

Food preparation workers are employed in restaurants, hotels, and other places where food is served, such as cafeterias, grocery stores, hospitals, and schools. They often work early mornings, late evenings, weekends, or holidays. Nearly half worked part time in 2012.

How to Become a Food Preparation Worker

Food preparation workers learn their skills through short-term on-the-job training. No formal education or previous work experience is required.

Pay

The median hourly wage for food preparation workers was $9.28 in May 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of food preparation workers is projected to grow 4 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. Job opportunities are expected to be very good because of the need to replace workers who leave the occupation every year.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of food preparation workers with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about food preparation workers by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Food Preparation Workers Do About this section

Food preparation workers
Food preparation workers wear gloves for safe food handling.

Food preparation workers perform many routine tasks under the direction of cooks, chefs, or food service managers. Food preparation workers prepare cold foods, slice meat, peel and cut vegetables, brew coffee or tea, and perform many other food service tasks. 

Duties

Food preparation workers typically do the following:

  • Clean and sanitize work areas, equipment, utensils, and dishes
  • Weigh or measure ingredients, such as meats and cheeses
  • Prepare fresh condiments, including lettuce, tomatoes, and onions
  • Cut or grind meats, poultry, and seafood in preparation for cooking them
  • Mix ingredients for salads
  • Store food in designated containers and storage areas to prevent spoilage
  • Take and record the temperature of food and food storage areas
  • Place food trays over food warmers for immediate service

Food preparation workers perform routine, repetitive tasks under the direction of cooks, chefs, or food service managers. To help cooks and other kitchen staff, they prepare ingredients for dishes by slicing and dicing vegetables and by making salads and cold food items.

Although most food preparation workers help prepare food, some also are responsible for retrieving cooking utensils, pots, and pans or for cleaning and storing other kitchen equipment. They also unload and store food supplies and retrieve them for cooks and chefs when needed. Other common duties include keeping salad bars and buffet tables stocked and clean.

Those who work at hotels or restaurants often use soda machines, coffeemakers, and espresso machines to prepare beverages for customers. In fast-food restaurants, food preparation workers may take customer orders and process payments with the use of cash registers.

In some kitchens, food preparation workers use a variety of commercial kitchen equipment, such as commercial dishwashers, blenders, slicers, or grinders.

Work Environment About this section

Food preparation workers
Workers are employed in restaurants, cafeterias, and grocery stores.

Food preparation workers held about 807,800 jobs in 2012. 

The industries that employed the most food preparation workers in 2012 were as follows:

Restaurants and other eating places48%
Grocery stores 14
Special food services 6
Nursing and residential care facilities 6
Elementary and secondary schools 5

Food preparation workers are employed in restaurants, hotels, and other places where food is served, such as grocery stores, schools, hospitals, and cafeterias.

The work is often strenuous and tiring. Food preparation workers may stand or walk for hours at a time while cleaning or preparing ingredients. Some may be required to lift and carry heavy pots or unload heavy food supplies.

The fast-paced environment in kitchens can be hectic and stressful, especially during peak dining hours. Therefore, food preparation workers must work well with cooks and other kitchen staff to ensure that dishes are prepared properly and quickly.

Injuries and Illnesses

Food preparation areas in kitchens are often dangerous, containing hot ovens and slippery floors. As a result, food preparation workers have a higher rate of injuries and illnesses than the national average. The most common hazards include slips, falls, cuts, and burns, but these injuries are seldom serious. To reduce risks, workers often wear protective clothing, such as gloves, aprons, and nonslip shoes.

Work Schedules

Nearly half of all food preparation workers were employed part time in 2012. Because many restaurants are open extended hours, working early mornings, late evenings, weekends, or holidays is common. Those who work in school cafeterias may have more regular hours and work only during the school year, which is usually 9 or 10 months. Some resorts offer seasonal employment only.

How to Become a Food Preparation Worker About this section

food preparation workers image
Food preparation workers clean and sanitize work areas.

Short-term on-the-job training is the most common way food preparation workers learn their skills. No formal education or previous work experience is required.

Education

There are no formal education requirements for becoming a food preparation worker.

Training

Most food preparation workers learn their skills through short-term on-the-job training, which usually lasts several weeks. Trainees typically start by working under the supervision of an experienced worker, who teaches them basic kitchen duties. Training may also include basic sanitation and workplace safety regulations, as well as instructions on how to handle and prepare food.

Important Qualities

Dexterity. Because food preparation workers chop vegetables, cut meat, and perform many other tasks with sharp knives, they must have the ability to work quickly and safely with sharp objects.

Listening skills. Food preparation workers must understand customers’ orders and follow directions from cooks, chefs, or food service managers.

Physical stamina. Food preparation workers stand on their feet for long periods while they prepare food, clean work areas, or lift heavy pots from the stove.

Physical strength. Food preparation workers should be strong enough to lift and carry heavy food supply boxes, which often can weigh up to 50 pounds.

Advancement

Advancement opportunities for food preparation workers depend on their training, work experience, and ability to cook. Many food preparation workers advance to assistant or line cook positions as they learn basic cooking skills.

Pay About this section

Food Preparation Workers

Median hourly wages, May 2012

Total, all occupations

$16.71

Food preparation workers

$9.28

Food preparation and serving related occupations

$9.10

 

The median hourly wage for food preparation workers was $9.28 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $7.92 per hour, and the top 10 percent earned more than $13.84 per hour.

In May 2012, the median hourly wages for food preparation workers in the top five industries employing these workers were as follows:

Elementary and secondary schools    $11.01
Special food services        9.83
Grocery stores        9.66
Nursing and residential care facilities        9.37
Restaurants and other eating places       9.07

Pay for food preparation workers varies by employer and region. Pay is usually highest for workers in elementary and secondary schools and in major metropolitan and resort areas.

Nearly half of all food preparation workers were employed part time in 2012. Because many restaurants are open for long hours each day, working early mornings, late evenings, weekends, or holidays is common. Those who work in school cafeterias have more regular hours and may work only during the school year, which is usually 9 or 10 months. Some resorts offer seasonal employment only.

Job Outlook About this section

Food Preparation Workers

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Total, all occupations

11%

Food preparation and serving related occupations

9%

Food preparation workers

4%

 

Employment of food preparation workers is projected to grow 4 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations.

People will continue to dine out, purchase carryout meals, or have food delivered to their homes or workplaces. In response, more restaurants will open and nontraditional food service operations, such as those found inside grocery stores, will serve more prepared meals.

In addition, because preparing fresh and made-from-scratch meals is labor intensive, many chefs at upscale restaurants will require the help of food preparation workers.

However, a growing number of fast-food restaurants and cafeterias are customizing their food orders from wholesalers and distributors in an effort to lower costs. As more food service establishments use these cost-saving strategies, fewer food preparation workers will be needed to wash, portion, and season ingredients.

Job Prospects

Job opportunities for food preparation workers should be very good because of the need to replace workers who leave the occupation each year.

Those with related work experience should find their best job opportunities at upscale restaurants. However, individuals seeking full-time positions at these restaurants will face strong competition because the number of job applicants often exceeds the number of job openings.

Employment projections data for food preparation workers, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Food preparation workers

35-2021 807,800 836,700 4 28,900 [XLS]

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of food preparation workers.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2012 MEDIAN PAY Help
Bakers

Bakers

Bakers mix ingredients according to recipes to make breads, pastries, and other baked goods.

Less than high school $23,140
butchers and meat cutters image

Butchers and Meat Cutters

Butchers and meat cutters cut, trim, and package meat for retail sale.

Less than high school $28,490
Chefs and head cooks

Chefs and Head Cooks

Chefs and head cooks oversee the daily food preparation at restaurants and other places where food is served. They direct kitchen staff and handle any food-related concerns.

High school diploma or equivalent $42,480
Cooks

Cooks

Cooks prepare, season, and cook a wide range of foods. This may include soups, salads, entrees, and desserts.

See How to Become One $20,550
Food and beverage serving and related workers

Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers

Food and beverage serving and related workers perform a variety of customer service, food preparation, and cleaning duties in restaurants, cafeterias, and other eating and drinking establishments.

Less than high school $18,400
slaughterers and meat packers image

Slaughterers, Meat Packers, and Meat, Poultry, and Fish Cutters and Trimmers

Slaughterers, meat packers, and meat, poultry, and fish cutters and trimmers kill, clean, or prepare animals for sale or further processing. They also cut, prepare, or package meats for wholesale or retail sale.

Less than high school $23,320
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Food Preparation Workers,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/food-preparation-and-serving/food-preparation-workers.htm (visited August 29, 2014).

Publish Date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014