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.


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 842,100 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of food preparation workers were as follows:

Restaurants and other eating places 49%
Food and beverage stores 22
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.

Food preparation workers typically learn through on-the-job training. No formal education or previous work experience is required.


There are no formal education requirements for becoming a food preparation worker.


Most food preparation workers learn 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 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.

The median hourly wage for food preparation workers was $11.41 in May 2018.

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 $8.68, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $16.19.

In May 2018, the median hourly wages for food preparation workers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Special food services $11.95
Food and beverage stores 11.59
Healthcare and social assistance 11.56
Restaurants and other eating places 11.08

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.

Food Preparation Workers

Median hourly wages, May 2018

Total, all occupations


Cooks and food preparation workers


Food preparation workers



Employment of food preparation workers is projected to grow 8 percent from 2018 to 2028, faster than 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 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 prewashed, precut, or preseasoned ingredients, such as meat or vegetables. Employment growth of food preparation workers will be moderated at these dining establishments.

Job Prospects

Job prospects 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 may face strong competition because the number of job applicants often exceeds the number of job openings.

Employment projections data for food preparation workers, 2018-28
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2018 Projected Employment, 2028 Change, 2018-28 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Food preparation workers

35-2021 842,100 911,200 8 69,100 Get data

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 2018


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

No formal educational credential $26,520


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

No formal educational credential $31,580

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 $48,460


Cooks prepare, season, and cook a wide range of foods.

See How to Become One $25,200

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 $21,750


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

No formal educational credential $22,550

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,
on the Internet at (visited ).


Tracey Lamphere

Tracey Lamphere, M.S. IMC is the editor of Job Affirmations, a publication that provides information and ideas to use mindfulness, positive affirmations, and visualizations to transform your career.

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