Food Preparation Workers

Summary

food preparation workers image
Food preparation workers prepare ingredients for dishes.
Quick Facts: Food Preparation Workers
2015 Median Pay $20,180 per year
$9.70 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education No formal educational credential
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Short-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2014 873,900
Job Outlook, 2014-24 6% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2014-24 54,800

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. About 1 in 2 worked part time in 2014.

How to Become a Food Preparation Worker

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

Pay

The median hourly wage for food preparation workers was $9.70 in May 2015.

Job Outlook

Employment of food preparation workers is projected to grow 6 percent from 2014 to 2024, about as fast as 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.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for food preparation workers.

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

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

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 liquids
  • Prepare fruit and vegetables for cooking
  • Cut meats, poultry, and seafood and prepare them for cooking
  • 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. Other common duties include keeping salad bars and buffet tables stocked and clean.

Food preparation workers retrieve pots and pans, clean and store kitchen equipment, and unload and store food supplies. When needed, they retrieve food and equipment for cooks and chefs. In some kitchens, food preparation workers use a variety of commercial kitchen equipment, such as commercial dishwashers, blenders, slicers, or grinders.

In restaurants, workers stock and 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.

Work Environment

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

Food preparation workers held about 873,900 jobs in 2014. The industries that employed the most food preparation workers were as follows:

Restaurants and other eating places 49%
Grocery stores 16
Special food services 6
Elementary and secondary schools; state, local, and private 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. Food preparation workers may stand 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 so that dishes are prepared properly and on time.

Injuries and Illnesses

Food preparation areas in kitchens often have potential safety hazards, such as 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 gloves, aprons, and nonslip shoes.

Work Schedules

About 1 in 2 food preparation workers were employed part time in 2014. 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 hours that are more regular and may work only during the school year, usually for 9 or 10 months. Some resorts offer seasonal employment.

How to Become a Food Preparation Worker

food preparation workers image
Food preparation workers typically learn their skills on the job from an experienced worker.

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

Important Qualities

Dexterity. 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 and work experience. Many food preparation workers advance to assistant or line cook positions as they learn basic cooking skills.

Pay

Food Preparation Workers

Median hourly wages, May 2015

Total, all occupations

$17.40

Food preparation workers

$9.70

Food preparation and serving related occupations

$9.41

 

The median hourly wage for food preparation workers was $9.70 in May 2015. 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 $8.20, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $14.43.

In May 2015, the median hourly wages for food preparation workers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Elementary and secondary schools; state, local, and private $11.46
Special food services 10.37
Grocery stores 10.11
Restaurants and other eating places 9.42

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.

About 1 in 2 food preparation workers were employed part time in 2014. Because many restaurants are open for long periods each day, working early mornings, late evenings, weekends, or holidays is common. Those who work in school cafeterias may have hours that are more regular and may work only during the school year, usually for 9 or 10 months. Some resorts offer seasonal employment.

Job Outlook

Food Preparation Workers

Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24

Food preparation and serving related occupations

7%

Total, all occupations

7%

Food preparation workers

6%

 

Employment of food preparation workers is projected to grow 6 percent from 2014 to 2024, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Population and income growth are expected to result in greater consumer demand for food at a variety of dining places, including restaurants and grocery stores. In response, more restaurants and food establishments are expected to open. Many of these establishments, including nursing and residential care facilities, will require food preparation workers to wash and cut ingredients, clean work areas, and store and retrieve supplies. In addition, consumers continue to prefer fresh meals made from scratch, and chefs and cooks in various food service venues will require the assistance of food preparation workers to prepare these more labor-intensive meals.

Some restaurants and cafeterias customize their food orders from wholesalers and distributors in an effort to lower costs. For example, they may order pre-washed, -cut, or -seasoned ingredients, such as meat or vegetables. Employment growth of food preparation workers will be moderated at these dining establishments.

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.

Jobseekers with related work experience should find 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, 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

Food preparation workers

35-2021 873,900 928,800 6 54,800 [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 food preparation workers.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2015 MEDIAN PAY
Bakers

Bakers

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

No formal educational credential $24,170
butchers and meat cutters image

Butchers

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

No formal educational credential $29,130
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 $41,500
Cooks

Cooks

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

See How to Become One $21,720
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 $19,040
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Food Preparation Workers,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/food-preparation-and-serving/food-preparation-workers.htm (visited May 02, 2016).

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015