Cooks prepare food at restaurants, hotels, cafeterias, hospitals, large companies and other settings. Their duties are dependent on the type and size of the establishment they work in. Depending on the employer, some cooks have the opportunity to create new dishes and make improvements to existing dishes.

Restaurant cooks typically prepare a larger variety of foods when compared to fast-food cooks or cafeteria cooks. They create entrees, soups, salads, side dishes, desserts and other types of food. They often use a variety of cooking equipment such as grills, ovens, broilers, pots and pans, knives and slicers. They're often required to perform at a high standard while working at a fast-pace.

Many restaurants have designated cooks such as fry, grill, soup and vegetable cooks. Large restaurants typically utilize a team of cooks and each worker is given a specific station and prepares specific types of foods.

Short-order cooks are typically employed in restaurants and coffee shops that require food to be prepared quickly. Fast-food restaurant cooks usually work with a limited selection of food items. Institution and cafeteria cooks work in hospitals, schools, businesses and other settings. Usually, they prepare an extensive amount of food, based on a small number of entrees, side dishes and desserts.

Often, grill cooks prepare a variety of foods, including meats and vegetables in different styles. Some grill cooks are highly specialized. They need special training in the techniques of cooking meat in order to cook meats to the specifications of customers. Some grill cooks are also required to fry or bake foods.

Head restaurant cooks supervise the other kitchen employees, determine food requirements and order the appropriate supplies. Some head cooks also plan menus and decide food portions. They're also responsible for uniform quality and presentation of meals.


The duties performed by cooks vary by the work environment and the employer. However, typically they're responsible to perform a variety of tasks including:

  • Cook food based on recipes or personal experience
  • Broil, bake, roast and steam meats, vegetables and fish
  • Create bread, cakes and pastries
  • Test food to make sure it has been properly cooked
  • Determine food portions for meals
  • Assist other cooks during busy periods
  • Assist in determining the quantity of food supplies required
  • Some cooks may help supervisors in planning menus, including for special events
  • Some cooks may keep records and accounts
  • Inspect food preparation and service areas to ensure they meet safety and sanitary standards

Job Characteristics

Many restaurants and other settings have modern equipment, air conditioning and spacious work areas. Some kitchens, particularly those located in old buildings, often include smaller work areas and don't have the quality work environment provided in newer buildings.

During peak dining hours, restaurant kitchens usually become fast paced environments. Cooks need to be able to handle the pressure and also effectively communicate with other employees during the rush periods. Also, they usually stand for long periods of time and work close to hot grills and ovens and lift heavy pots.

Cooks may be scheduled to work in the early morning hours, late in the evenings, on weekends and on holidays. Often variable work schedules are available.

Cooks must be effective at working as part of a team. Being able to communicate in popular foreign languages with other employees is helpful. In addition, a keen sense of taste and smell are also important in the profession.

Employment Outlook

Typically, about two-thirds of cooks work at restaurants and food services settings and approximately 15% are employed at institutions. Approximately one-third of restaurant cooks work part-time. Employment of cooks is projected to increase at about the average growth rate for all types of employment. A lot of the job growth is projected to be provided by causal dining restaurants. Competition is expected to be high for restaurant cook positions in upscale restaurants, due mainly to slower growth in this employment area.

Shown below in descending order, are the employment opportunities for cooks based on government statistics:

  • Restaurants
  • Fast-food restaurants
  • Institutions and cafeterias
  • Short-order cooks
  • Head cooks

Cooking Schools, Certification, and Licensing

The majority of cook positions require very little or no training or education in the field. Most entry-level restaurant cook positions do not require a high school diploma. However, a high school diploma can be helpful for those that seek to advance in their career. The vast majority of cooks are provided with on-the-job training. Vocational schools offer training programs which usually include training in cooking techniques, sanitation and safety and food handling guidelines.

Usually, head cooks must have several years of training and many years of experience. Employers hiring advanced cooks usually want candidates to have formal cooking school training in programs which last from a few months to a couple of years. Typically, the shorter programs offer training in basic cooking procedures including baking, grilling and broiling. The programs also offer training in food handling and sanitation procedures and nutrition.

Long term programs provide training for employment in upscale restaurants. These programs offer a certificate or a degree. The curriculums provide training in various types of specialities, advanced cooking techniques and a variety of cooking styles.

Culinary programs provide plenty of hands-on learning in kitchens. The programs also train students in purchasing and inventory methods, nutrition, menu planning and food storage procedures. Some of the culinary programs also include a solid foundation in food service management, inventory software, computer accounting and banquet service.

Partnerships of the U.S. Department of Labor with culinary schools, trade unions and industry associations provide apprenticeship programs. Also, the American Culinary Federation sponsors apprenticeship programs across the nation. Some food service management companies, hotels and restaurant chains offer paid internships and summer employment for those initiating their cooking careers. Sometimes internships provide opportunities for cooks to be accepted into formal chef training programs.


Major Employers

The primary employers of cooks are restaurants, hotels, casual dining settings, fast-food restaurants and coffee shops. Also, numerous cooks are employed in school cafeterias and hospitals.

Schools for Cooks are listed in the Browse Schools Section.

Metro Areas Sorted by Total Employment for:

Listed below are metro areas sorted by the total number of people employed in Cooks jobs , as of 2015

Source: 2015 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2014-24 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

Metro Area (Alabama) Total Employment Annual Median Salary
Hoover 30 $23,010
Birmingham 30 $23,010
Tuscaloosa N/A $20,860
Huntsville N/A $47,340
Metro Area (Alaska) Total Employment Annual Median Salary
Anchorage 90 $36,050
Metro Area (Arizona) Total Employment Annual Median Salary
Scottsdale 140 $26,040
Mesa 140 $26,040
Phoenix 140 $26,040
Flagstaff 80 $23,520
Tucson 80 $24,800
Metro Area (California) Total Employment Annual Median Salary
Anaheim 940 $29,200
Los Angeles 940 $29,200
Long Beach 940 $29,200
San Jose 200 $25,320
Santa Clara 200 $25,320
Sunnyvale 200 $25,320
Arcade 130 $28,730
Arden 130 $28,730
Sacramento 130 $28,730
Roseville 130 $28,730
Napa 40 $39,420
Riverside 30 $40,020
Ontario 30 $40,020
San Bernardino 30 $40,020
Fresno N/A $26,860
Carlsbad N/A $28,840
San Diego N/A $28,840
Oakland N/A $31,760
San Francisco N/A $31,760
Hayward N/A $31,760
Metro Area (Connecticut) Total Employment Annual Median Salary
Hartford 220 $30,050
East Hartford 220 $30,050
West Hartford 220 $30,050
New Haven 90 $35,330
Waterbury N/A $38,120
Metro Area (Florida) Total Employment Annual Median Salary
West Palm Beach 340 $23,730
Miami 340 $23,730
Fort Lauderdale 340 $23,730
Tallahassee 60 $22,460
Orlando 60 $28,540
Kissimmee 60 $28,540
Sanford 60 $28,540
Gainesville 40 $21,090
Ocala N/A $21,230
St. Petersburg N/A $21,880
Tampa N/A $21,880
Clearwater N/A $21,880
Jacksonville N/A $37,750
Metro Area (Georgia) Total Employment Annual Median Salary
Roswell 110 $24,320
Sandy Springs 110 $24,320
Atlanta 110 $24,320
Metro Area (Hawaii) Total Employment Annual Median Salary
Urban Honolulu 180 $28,600
Metro Area (Indiana) Total Employment Annual Median Salary
Bloomington 90 $21,960
Anderson 80 $24,520
Indianapolis 80 $24,520
Carmel 80 $24,520
Metro Area (Kentucky) Total Employment Annual Median Salary
Fayette 60 $28,900
Lexington 60 $28,900
Metro Area (Louisiana) Total Employment Annual Median Salary
Baton Rouge 350 $29,930
Metairie 330 $22,650
New Orleans 330 $22,650
Thibodaux 140 $37,110
Houma 140 $37,110
Lafayette 90 $18,980
Bossier City N/A $22,850
Shreveport N/A $22,850
Metro Area (Maryland) Total Employment Annual Median Salary
Towson 90 $28,790
Columbia 90 $28,790
Baltimore 90 $28,790
Metro Area (Massachusetts) Total Employment Annual Median Salary
Barnstable Town N/A $28,330
Metro Area (Michigan) Total Employment Annual Median Salary
Detroit 140 $21,910
Dearborn 140 $21,910
Warren 140 $21,910
Ann Arbor N/A $19,000
Wyoming N/A $22,280
Grand Rapids N/A $22,280
Metro Area (Mississippi) Total Employment Annual Median Salary
Pascagoula 110 $24,530
Biloxi 110 $24,530
Gulfport 110 $24,530
Metro Area (Nevada) Total Employment Annual Median Salary
Paradise 90 $37,430
Henderson 90 $37,430
Las Vegas 90 $37,430
Reno N/A $26,300
Metro Area (New Hampshire) Total Employment Annual Median Salary
Manchester 30 $32,890
Metro Area (New Mexico) Total Employment Annual Median Salary
Albuquerque N/A $23,200
Metro Area (New York) Total Employment Annual Median Salary
Ithaca 30 $36,070
Syracuse N/A $24,960
Metro Area (Ohio) Total Employment Annual Median Salary
Elyria N/A $22,840
Cleveland N/A $22,840
Metro Area (Oregon) Total Employment Annual Median Salary
Eugene 50 $25,730
Salem 40 $28,930
Metro Area (Tennessee) Total Employment Annual Median Salary
Knoxville N/A $19,790
Franklin N/A $21,200
Murfreesboro N/A $21,200
Davidson N/A $21,200
Nashville N/A $21,200
Metro Area (Texas) Total Employment Annual Median Salary
Fort Worth 90 $24,020
Arlington 90 $24,020
Dallas 90 $24,020
Sugar Land N/A $20,810
The Woodlands N/A $20,810
Houston N/A $20,810
Metro Area (Virginia) Total Employment Annual Median Salary
Richmond N/A $22,570
Metro Area (Washington) Total Employment Annual Median Salary
Bellevue 150 $29,760
Tacoma 150 $29,760
Seattle 150 $29,760

Career Stories (Job Profiles) for Cooks

To find out more about building a career as Cooks, we spoke with professionals in the field across a variety of specialties. Learn about their experiences on the job, the steps they took to complete their education, and what it takes to excel in this industry. Click the link to see a story.

All Types

Most Popular Industries for :

Industries representing at least 1% of total jobs for the occupation.

Source: 2015 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2014-24 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

Industry Jobs Percent Annual Median Salary
Restaurant 8,020 58% $22,670
Hotel And Accomodation 1,390 10% $24,830
Social Service 950 6% $20,890
Non-profit 670 4% $21,170
Nursing And Residential Care 540 3% $22,400
Office Services And Staffing 370 2% $24,700
Amusement Gambling And Recreation 300 2% $24,910
Food 240 1% $25,160
Transportation Support Services 200 1% $28,350
Business Management 160 1% $26,750
Education 140 1% $31,030
These schools offer particularly quick info upon request, and we have written detailed profiles for each (click school names to see the profiles). Request info from multiple schools, by clicking the Request Info links.
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CityTownInfo Career and College Resources

We have some additional detailed pages at the state level for Cooks.

Numbers in parentheses are counts of relevant campus-based schools in the state; online schools may also be available.

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