Food Preparation Workers

by Kate Williams

What Food Preparation Workers Do

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

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. Many food preparation workers work part time.

How to Become a Food Preparation Worker

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


The median hourly wage for food preparation workers was $11.92 in May 2019.

Job Outlook

Employment of food preparation workers is projected to decline 1 percent from 2019 to 2029.

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.


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.

Food preparation workers held about 886,700 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of food preparation workers were as follows:

Restaurants and other eating places 50%
Food and beverage stores 21
Healthcare and social assistance 6
Special food services 6

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 one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. 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

Many food preparation workers work part time. 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.

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 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


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

No formal educational credential $32,500

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.

High school diploma or equivalent $51,530



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


Bartenders mix drinks and serve them directly to customers or through wait staff.

No formal educational credential $23,680

For more information about job opportunities, contact local employers and local offices of the state employment service.

For more information about food preparation workers, visit

National Restaurant Association


Food Preparation Workers

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Food Preparation Workers,
at (visited ).

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