Cooks

Summary

Cooks
Cooks prepare a wide range of dishes.
Quick Facts: Cooks
2014 Median Pay $21,120 per year
$10.16 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education See How to Become One
Work Experience in a Related Occupation See How to Become One
On-the-job Training See How to Become One
Number of Jobs, 2014 2,290,800
Job Outlook, 2014-24 4% (Slower than average)
Employment Change, 2014-24 97,000

What Cooks Do

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

Work Environment

Cooks work in restaurants, schools, hospitals, private households, and other places where food is prepared and served. They often work early mornings, late evenings, holidays, and weekends.

How to Become a Cook

Most cooks learn their skills through on-the-job training and related work experience. Although no formal education is required, some restaurant cooks and private household cooks attend culinary school.

Pay

The median hourly wage for cooks was $10.16 in May 2014.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of cooks is projected to grow 4 percent from 2014 to 2024, slower than the average for all occupations. Job opportunities will result from the combination of employment growth and the need to replace workers who leave the occupation.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for cooks.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of cooks with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

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

What Cooks Do

Cooks
Cooks prepare fresh vegetables.

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

Duties

Cooks typically do the following:

  • Ensure the freshness of food and ingredients
  • Weigh, measure, and mix ingredients according to recipes
  • Bake, grill, or fry meats, fish, vegetables, and other foods
  • Boil and steam meats, fish, vegetables, and other foods
  • Arrange, garnish, and sometimes serve food
  • Clean work areas, equipment, utensils, and dishes
  • Cook, handle, and store food or ingredients

Cooks usually work under the direction of chefs, head cooks, or food service managers. Large restaurants and food service establishments often have multiple menus and large kitchen staffs. Teams of restaurant cooks, sometimes called assistant cooks or line cooks, work at assigned stations equipped with the necessary types of stoves, grills, pans, and ingredients.

Job titles often reflect the principal ingredient cooks prepare or the type of cooking they do—vegetable cook, fry cook, or grill cook, for example.

Cooks use a variety of kitchen equipment, including broilers, grills, slicers, grinders, and blenders.

The responsibilities of cooks vary depending on where they work, the size of the facility, and the level of service offered. However, in all establishments, they follow established sanitation procedures when handling food. For example, they store food and ingredients at the correct temperatures to prevent bacterial growth.

The following are examples of types of cooks:

Restaurant cooks prepare a wide selection of dishes and cook most orders individually. Some restaurant cooks may order supplies, set menu prices, and plan the daily menu.

Fast-food cooks prepare a limited selection of menu items in fast-food restaurants. They cook and package food, such as hamburgers and fried chicken, to be kept warm until served. For more information on workers who prepare and serve items in fast-food restaurants, see the profiles on food preparation workers and food and beverage serving and related workers.

Institution and cafeteria cooks work in the kitchens of schools, cafeterias, businesses, hospitals, and other institutions. For each meal, they prepare a large quantity of a limited number of entrees, vegetables, and desserts, according to preset menus. These cooks usually prepare meals in advance and seldom take special orders.

Short-order cooks prepare foods in restaurants and coffee shops that emphasize fast service and quick food preparation. They usually prepare sandwiches, fry eggs, and cook french fries, often working on several orders at the same time.

Private household cooks, sometimes called personal chefs, plan and prepare meals in private homes, according to the client’s tastes and dietary needs. They order groceries and supplies, clean the kitchen, and wash dishes and utensils. They also may cater parties, holiday meals, luncheons, and other social events. Private household cooks typically work for one full-time client, although some are self-employed or employed by an agency, regularly making meals for multiple clients.

Work Environment

cooks image
Cooks usually work in restaurants.

Cooks held about 2.3 million jobs in 2014. The industries that employed the most cooks in 2014 were as follows: 

Restaurants and other eating places 69%
Health care and social assistance 7
Elementary and secondary schools; state, local, and private 5

Cooks work in restaurants, schools, hospitals, hotels, and other establishments where food is prepared and served. They often prepare only part of a dish and coordinate with other cooks and kitchen workers to complete meals on time. Some work in private homes.

Cooks stand for long periods and work under pressure in a fast-paced environment. Although most cooks work indoors in kitchens, some may work outdoors at food stands, at catered events, or in mobile food trucks.

Injuries and Illnesses

Kitchens are usually crowded and filled with potential dangers, such as hot ovens or slippery floors. Institution and cafeteria cooks, in particular, have a higher rate of injuries and illnesses than the national average. The most common hazards are slips, falls, cuts, and burns, but the injuries are seldom serious. To reduce the risks, cooks wear long-sleeve shirts, gloves, aprons, and nonslip shoes.

Work Schedules

Most cooks work full time. Work shifts often include early mornings, late evenings, weekends, and holidays. Schedules for cooks in school cafeterias and some institutional cafeterias are usually more regular. Cooks working in schools may work just during the school year, typically for 9 or 10 months. Similarly, some resort establishments offer seasonal employment only.

How to Become a Cook

Cooks
Cooks typically learn their skills on the job from an experienced chef.

Most cooks learn their skills through on-the-job training and work-related experience. Although no formal education is required, some restaurant cooks and private household cooks attend culinary schools. Others attend vocational or apprenticeship programs.

Education

Vocational cooking schools, professional culinary institutes, and some colleges offer culinary programs for aspiring cooks. These programs generally last from a few months to 2 years and may offer courses in advanced cooking techniques, international cuisines, and various cooking styles. To enter these programs, candidates may be required to have a high school diploma or equivalent. Depending on the type and length of the program, graduates generally qualify for entry-level positions as a restaurant cook.

Training

Most cooks learn their skills through on-the-job training, usually lasting a few weeks. Trainees generally first learn kitchen basics and workplace safety and then learn how to handle and cook food.

Some cooks learn through an apprenticeship program. Professional culinary institutes, industry associations, and trade unions may sponsor such programs for cooks. Typical apprenticeships last 1 year and combine technical training and work experience. Apprentices complete courses in food sanitation and safety, basic knife skills, and equipment operation. They also learn practical cooking skills under the supervision of an experienced chef.

The American Culinary Federation accredits more than 200 academic training programs and sponsors apprenticeships through these programs around the country. The basic qualifications for entering an apprenticeship program are as follows:

  • Minimum age of 17
  • High school education or equivalent
  • Pass substance abuse screening

Some hotels, a number of restaurants, and the Armed Forces have their own training programs.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Many cooks learn their skills through work-related experience. They typically start as a kitchen helper or food preparation worker, learning basic cooking skills before they advance to assistant cook or line cook positions. Some learn by working under the guidance of a more experienced cook.

Advancement

The American Culinary Federation certifies chefs, personal chefs, pastry chefs, and culinary administrators, among others. For cooks seeking advancement to higher level chef positions, certification can show accomplishment and lead to higher paying positions.

Advancement opportunities for cooks often depend on training, work experience, and the ability to prepare more complex dishes. Those who learn new cooking skills and who handle greater responsibility, such as supervising kitchen staff in the absence of a chef, often advance. Some cooks may train or supervise kitchen staff, and some may become head cooks, chefs, or food service managers.

Important Qualities

Comprehension. Cooks need to understand orders and follow recipes to prepare dishes correctly.

Customer-service skills. Restaurant and short-order cooks must be able to interact effectively with customers and handle special requests.

Dexterity. Cooks should have excellent hand–eye coordination. For example, they need to use proper knife techniques for cutting, chopping, and dicing.

Physical stamina. Cooks spend a lot of time standing in one place, cooking food over hot stoves, and cleaning work areas.

Sense of taste and smell. Cooks must have a keen sense of taste and smell to prepare meals that customers enjoy.

Pay

Cooks

Median hourly wages, May 2014

Total, all occupations

$17.09

Cooks

$10.16

Cooks and food preparation workers

$9.93

 

The median hourly wage for cooks was $10.16 in May 2014. 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 $8.09, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $14.82.

Median hourly wages for cooks in May 2014 were as follows:

Cooks, all other $12.01
Cooks, institution and cafeteria 11.27
Cooks, private household 11.03
Cooks, restaurant 10.81
Cooks, short order 9.71
Cooks, fast food 8.91

Pay for cooks varies greatly by region and type of employer. Pay is usually highest in fine-dining restaurants and luxury hotels, which are often located in major metropolitan and resort areas.

Most cooks work full time. Work shifts can include early mornings, late evenings, weekends, and holidays. Schedules for cooks in school cafeterias and some institutional cafeterias are usually more regular. Cooks working in schools may work just during the school year, typically for 9 or 10 months. Similarly, some resort establishments offer seasonal employment only.

Job Outlook

Cooks

Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24

Total, all occupations

7%

Cooks and food preparation workers

5%

Cooks

4%

 

Overall employment of cooks is projected to grow 4 percent from 2014 to 2024, slower than the average for all occupations. Individual growth rates will vary by specialty.

Population and income growth are expected to result in greater consumer demand for food at a variety of dining places. People will continue to eat out, buy takeout meals, or have food delivered. In response to increased consumer demand, more restaurants, cafeterias, and catering services will open and serve more meals. These establishments will require more cooks to prepare meals for customers.

In addition, consumers continue to prefer healthier foods and faster service in restaurants, grocery stores, and other dining venues. To prepare high quality meals at these places, many managers and chefs will require more experienced cooks, such as restaurant cooks, over short-order cooks.

Employment growth of fast food cooks will be limited as these establishments choose to hire other workers such as food preparation and serving workers, who can prepare and also serve food to customers.

Institution and cafeteria cooks are primarily employed in schools, nursing care facilities, government offices, and hospitals. Some of these facilities contract out their food service to food service operators, also known as food service companies. These companies will hire more institution and cafeteria cooks to prepare food in these establishments.

Job Prospects

Overall job opportunities are expected to be very good as a result of employment growth and the need to replace workers who leave the occupation. Cooks with previous training and related work experience will have the best job prospects.

Those who can prepare more complex dishes will have the best job opportunities at restaurant chains, upscale restaurants, and hotels.

Employment projections data for cooks, 2014-24
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Cooks

35-2010 2,290,800 2,387,800 4 97,000 [XLSX]

Cooks, fast food

35-2011 524,400 444,000 -15 -80,400 [XLSX]

Cooks, institution and cafeteria

35-2012 417,600 443,900 6 26,300 [XLSX]

Cooks, private household

35-2013 35,900 36,200 1 200 [XLSX]

Cooks, restaurant

35-2014 1,109,700 1,268,700 14 158,900 [XLSX]

Cooks, short order

35-2015 181,600 172,300 -5 -9,300 [XLSX]

Cooks, all other

35-2019 21,500 22,800 6 1,300 [XLSX]

State & Area Data

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

Career InfoNet

America’s Career InfoNet includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations

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

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2014 MEDIAN PAY
Bakers

Bakers

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

No formal educational credential $23,600
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 $41,610
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.

No formal educational credential $18,550
Food preparation workers

Food Preparation Workers

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.

No formal educational credential $19,560
Food service managers

Food Service Managers

Food service managers are responsible for the daily operation of restaurants and other establishments that prepare and serve food and beverages. They direct staff to ensure that customers are satisfied with their dining experience, and they manage the business to ensure that it is profitable.

High school diploma or equivalent $48,560

Contacts for More Information

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 U.S. Department of Labor's ApprenticeshipUSA program online or by phone at 877-872-5627.

For more information about cooking careers, visit

American Culinary Federation

National Restaurant Association

For information about becoming a personal chef, visit

American Personal & Private Chef Association

O*NET

Cooks, All Other

Cooks, Fast Food

Cooks, Institution and Cafeteria

Cooks, Private Household

Cooks, Restaurant

Cooks, Short Order

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Cooks,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/food-preparation-and-serving/cooks.htm (visited February 09, 2016).

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015