What Chefs and Head Cooks Do
Chefs and head cooks oversee the daily food preparation at restaurants and other places where food is served.
Chefs and head cooks work in restaurants, private households, and other establishments where food is served. They often work early mornings, late evenings, weekends, and holidays. The work can be hectic and fast-paced. Most chefs and head cooks work full time.
How to Become a Chef or Head Cook
Most chefs and head cooks learn their skills through work experience. Others receive training at a community college, technical school, culinary arts school, or 4-year college. Some learn through apprenticeship programs.
The median annual wage for chefs and head cooks was $51,530 in May 2019.
Employment of chefs and head cooks is projected to grow 6 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations. Most job opportunities for chefs and head cooks are expected to be in food services, including restaurants. Job opportunities will result from growth and from the need to replace workers who leave the occupation.
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.
Chefs and head cooks typically do the following:
- Check the freshness of food and ingredients
- Supervise and coordinate activities of cooks and other food preparation workers
- Develop recipes and determine how to present dishes
- Plan menus and ensure the quality of meals
- Inspect supplies, equipment, and work areas for cleanliness and functionality
- Hire, train, and supervise cooks and other food preparation workers
- Order and maintain an inventory of food and supplies
- Monitor sanitation practices and follow kitchen safety standards
Chefs and head cooks use a variety of kitchen and cooking equipment, including step-in coolers, high-quality knives, meat slicers, and grinders. They also have access to large quantities of meats, spices, and produce. Some chefs use scheduling and purchasing software to help them in their administrative tasks.
Chefs who run their own restaurant or catering business are often busy with kitchen and office work. Some chefs use social media to promote their business by advertising new menu items or addressing customer reviews.
The following are examples of types of chefs and head cooks:
Executive chefs, head cooks, and chefs de cuisine are responsible primarily for overseeing the operation of a kitchen. They coordinate the work of sous chefs and other cooks, who prepare most of the meals. Executive chefs also have many duties beyond the kitchen. They design the menu, review food and beverage purchases, and often train cooks and other food preparation workers. Some executive chefs primarily handle administrative tasks and may spend less time in the kitchen.
Sous chefs are a kitchen’s second-in-command. They supervise the restaurant’s cooks, prepare meals, and report results to the head chefs. In the absence of the head chef, sous chefs run the kitchen.
Private household chefs typically work full time for one client, such as a corporate executive, university president, or diplomat, who regularly entertains as part of his or her official duties.
Chefs and head cooks held about 148,700 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of chefs and head cooks were as follows:
|Restaurants and other eating places||45%|
|Special food services||10|
|Amusement, gambling, and recreation industries||6|
Chefs and head cooks work in restaurants, hotels, private households, and other food service establishments. All of the cooking and food preparation areas in these facilities must be kept clean and sanitary. Chefs and head cooks usually stand for long periods and work in a fast-paced environment.
Some self-employed chefs run their own restaurants or catering businesses and their work can be more stressful. For example, outside the kitchen, they often spend many hours managing all aspects of the business to ensure that bills and salaries are paid and that the business is profitable.
Injuries and Illnesses
Chefs and head cooks risk injury in kitchens, which are usually crowded and potentially dangerous. Common hazards include burns from hot ovens, falls on slippery floors, and cuts from knives and other sharp objects, but these injuries are seldom serious. To reduce the risk of harm, workers often wear long-sleeve shirts and nonslip shoes.
Most chefs and head cooks work full time, including early mornings, late evenings, weekends, and holidays. Many chefs and head cooks work more than 40 hours a week.
This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of chefs and head cooks.
|Occupation||Job Duties||Entry-Level Education||Median Annual Pay, May 2019|
Bakers mix ingredients according to recipes in order to make breads, pastries, and other baked goods.
|No formal educational credential||$27,700|
Cooks prepare, season, and cook a wide range of foods.
|See How to Become One||$26,360|
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 eating and drinking establishments.
|No formal educational credential||$23,000|
Food preparation workers perform many routine tasks under the direction of cooks, chefs, or food service managers.
|No formal educational credential||$24,800|
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||$55,320|
For more information about chefs, including a directory of 2-year and 4-year colleges that offer courses or training programs, visit
For information about becoming a private chef, visit
Related BLS Articles
For a career video on chefs and head cooks, visit
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Chefs and Head Cooks,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/food-preparation-and-serving/chefs-and-head-cooks.htm (visited ).