Bureau of Labor Statistics

Cooks

Cooks
Cooks prepare a wide range of dishes.
Quick Facts: Cooks
2020 Median Pay $27,250 per year
$13.10 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, 2020 2,281,400
Job Outlook, 2020-30 26% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2020-30 594,600

Summary

What Cooks Do

Cooks season and prepare foods, including soups, salads, entrees, and desserts.

Work Environment

Cooks work in restaurants, schools, hospitals, private households, and other places where food is prepared and served. Their work hours may include early mornings, late evenings, holidays, and weekends. Most cooks work full time, although part-time work is common.

How to Become a Cook

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

Pay

The median hourly wage for cooks was $13.10 in May 2020.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of cooks is projected to grow 26 percent from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations.

About 432,000 openings for cooks are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

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 may prepare fresh vegetables.

Cooks season and prepare foods, including soups, salads, entrees, and desserts.

Duties

Cooks typically do the following:

  • Ensure the freshness of 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 and garnish food on serving dishes
  • 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 stoves, grills, pans, and ingredients they need to prepare food.

Job titles often reflect the principal ingredient cooks prepare or the type of cooking they do, such as fry cook or grill cook.

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

Cooks' responsibilities vary depending on the type of food service establishment, the size of the facility, and the level of service offered. However, in all establishments, they follow 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:

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 about 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 establishments. They typically prepare a large quantity of entrees, vegetables, and desserts according to preset menus. However, they sometimes customize meals, such as for diners’ dietary considerations.

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

Restaurant cooks prepare a variety of dishes, usually by individual order, in eating establishments. Some restaurant cooks order supplies and help maintain the stock room.

Short order cooks prepare and sometimes serve foods in restaurants and coffee shops that emphasize fast service. For example, they might make sandwiches, fry eggs, and cook french fries, often working on several orders at the same time.

Work Environment

cooks image
Cooks often work in restaurants.

Cooks held about 2.3 million jobs in 2020. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up cooks was distributed as follows:

Cooks, restaurant 1,153,200
Cooks, fast food 547,800
Cooks, institution and cafeteria 394,600
Cooks, short order 124,500
Cooks, private household 40,900
Cooks, all other 20,500

The largest employers of cooks were as follows:

Restaurants and other eating places 70%
Healthcare and social assistance 7
Educational services; state, local, and private 6

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. Cooks, all other, in particular, have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. ("All other" titles represent occupations with a wide range of characteristics that do not fit into any of the other detailed occupations.)

The most common hazards are slips, falls, cuts, and burns, although injuries are seldom serious. To reduce the risks, cooks wear gloves, long-sleeve shirts, aprons, and nonslip shoes.

Work Schedules

Most cooks work full time, although part-time work is common. Work schedules vary and may include early mornings, late evenings, weekends, and holidays. In school cafeterias and some institutional cafeterias, cooks usually have more regular hours.

Cooks who are employed in schools may work only during the school year, typically for 9 or 10 months. Similarly, cooks who are employed in some resort establishments work only for seasonal operation.

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 typically required, some cooks attend culinary schools. Others attend vocational or apprenticeship programs.

Education

Cooks typically do not need formal education. However, employers may require or prefer that applicants have a high school diploma.

Vocational cooking schools, professional culinary institutes, and some colleges offer programs and courses on topics such as cooking techniques and international cuisines. Programs generally last from a few months to 2 years, and applicants 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

Cooks typically learn their skills on the job. The length of on-the-job training varies for different types of cooks. 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. Culinary institutes, industry associations, and trade unions may sponsor such programs for cooks. 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 length of apprenticeship programs vary but typically last about 1 year.

The American Culinary Federation accredits many academic training programs and sponsors apprenticeships through these programs around the country. Minimum qualifications for entering an apprenticeship program typically include being at least 17 years old and having a high school diploma or equivalent.

Some hotels and restaurants offer their own training programs.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Many states do not require certification for cooks. Some states and localities require cooks to have a food handler’s certification. For more information, contact your state or local licensing board.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Many cooks, particularly those who work in restaurants and private households, learn their skills through work-related experience. Starting as a kitchen helper or food preparation worker allows cooks to learn basic skills, which may lead to opportunities to gain experience in assistant cook or line cook positions. Some work under the guidance of more experienced cooks.

Advancement

The American Culinary Federation certifies chefs, personal chefs, pastry chefs, and culinary administrators, among others. Professional certification may lead to higher level or higher paying positions.

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

Important Qualities

Attention to detail. Cooks need to listen carefully to orders and follow recipes to prepare dishes correctly.

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 2020

Total, all occupations

$20.17

Cooks

$13.10

Cooks and food preparation workers

$13.02

 

The median hourly wage for cooks was $13.10 in May 2020. 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 $9.13, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $18.71.

Median hourly wages for cooks in May 2020 were as follows:

Cooks, private household $15.69
Cooks, all other 14.65
Cooks, restaurant 13.84
Cooks, institution and cafeteria 13.78
Cooks, short order 12.77
Cooks, fast food 11.72

In May 2020, the median hourly wages for cooks in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Healthcare and social assistance $14.09
Restaurants and other eating places 13.01
Educational services; state, local, and private 12.83

Pay for cooks varies greatly by region and type of employer. Pay is usually highest in upscale hotels and restaurants, as well as in major metropolitan and resort areas.

Most cooks work full time, although part-time work is common. Work schedules may vary and may include early mornings, late evenings, weekends, and holidays. In school cafeterias and some institutional cafeterias, cooks usually have more regular hours.

Cooks employed in schools may work only during the school year, typically for 9 or 10 months. Similarly, cooks employed in some resort establishments work only for seasonal operation.

Job Outlook

Cooks

Percent change in employment, projected 2020-30

Cooks

26%

Cooks and food preparation workers

21%

Total, all occupations

8%

 

Overall employment of cooks is projected to grow 26 percent from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations.

About 432,000 openings for cooks are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

Much of the projected employment growth in these occupations is due to recovery from the COVID-19 recession that began in 2020 after pandemic restrictions had significant effects on the employment levels of cooks.

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. More restaurants, cafeterias, and catering services will open, requiring more cooks to prepare meals for this increased consumer demand.

In addition, consumers continue to prefer healthy foods and fast service in restaurants, grocery stores, and other dining venues. To prepare high-quality meals at these places, many food service managers and chefs will require experienced cooks.

Employment of fast food cooks is projected to decline. Overall employment growth of cooks in many of these establishments will be offset by attempts to streamline operations through employment of other workers, such as fast food and counter workers, who both prepare and serve food to customers.

Employment projections data for cooks, 2020-30

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

Occupational Title

Cooks

SOC Code35-2010
Employment, 20202,281,400
Projected Employment, 20302,876,100
Percent Change, 2020-3026
Numeric Change, 2020-30594,600
Employment by IndustryGet data
Occupational Title

Cooks, fast food

SOC Code35-2011
Employment, 2020547,800
Projected Employment, 2030536,200
Percent Change, 2020-30-2
Numeric Change, 2020-30-11,600
Employment by IndustryGet data
Occupational Title

Cooks, institution and cafeteria

SOC Code35-2012
Employment, 2020394,600
Projected Employment, 2030421,500
Percent Change, 2020-307
Numeric Change, 2020-3027,000
Employment by IndustryGet data
Occupational Title

Cooks, private household

SOC Code35-2013
Employment, 202040,900
Projected Employment, 203041,800
Percent Change, 2020-302
Numeric Change, 2020-30900
Employment by IndustryGet data
Occupational Title

Cooks, restaurant

SOC Code35-2014
Employment, 20201,153,200
Projected Employment, 20301,716,700
Percent Change, 2020-3049
Numeric Change, 2020-30563,500
Employment by IndustryGet data
Occupational Title

Cooks, short order

SOC Code35-2015
Employment, 2020124,500
Projected Employment, 2030136,400
Percent Change, 2020-3010
Numeric Change, 2020-3011,900
Employment by IndustryGet data
Occupational Title

Cooks, all other

SOC Code35-2019
Employment, 202020,500
Projected Employment, 203023,300
Percent Change, 2020-3014
Numeric Change, 2020-302,900
Employment by IndustryGet data

State & Area Data

Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS)

The Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) 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.

CareerOneStop

CareerOneStop 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 2020 MEDIAN PAY
Bakers Bakers

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

No formal educational credential $29,400
Food and beverage serving and related workers Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers

Food and beverage serving and related workers take and prepare orders, clear tables, and do other tasks associated with providing food and drink to customers.

No formal educational credential $24,130
Food preparation workers Food Preparation Workers

Food preparation workers perform many routine tasks under the direction of cooks, chefs, or food service managers.

No formal educational credential $26,070
Food service managers Food Service Managers

Food service managers are responsible for the daily operation of restaurants or other establishments that prepare and serve food and beverages.

High school diploma or equivalent $56,590

Contacts for More Info

Visit Apprenticeship.gov to search for information about apprenticeship opportunities.

For more information about cooking careers, visit

American Culinary Federation

National Restaurant Association

For information about becoming a personal chef, visit

United States Personal Chef Association

For information about certification, contact your state or local licensing board or a professional association.

CareerOneStop

For career videos on cooks, visit

Cooks, Fast Food

Cooks, Institution and Cafeteria

Cooks, Short Order

O*NET

Cooks, All Other

Cooks, Fast Food

Cooks, Institution and Cafeteria

Cooks, Private Household

Cooks, Restaurant

Cooks, Short Order

Last Modified Date: Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Cooks,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/food-preparation-and-serving/cooks.htm (visited September 23, 2021).

Telephone: 1-202-691-5700 www.bls.gov/ooh Contact OOH

View this page on regular www.bls.gov

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