Culinary - Career Information

Culinary picture    Culinary image

Food is an essential part of our daily lives, and millions of people prepare, cook, bake and serve it to us each day. In restaurants, hospitals, school cafeterias, prisons and private households, workers in the culinary arts contribute to some of the most important aspects of our culture and daily lives. These workers are responsible for selecting, cleaning, processing and producing food and beverages. Their jobs require that they keep their work areas clean, organized and safe. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, more than 11.9 million people worked in food preparation and serving occupations nationally in 2013, although those workers were spread out among a multitude of professions. The following list includes some of the most popular occupations in the culinary and food service fields:

  • Bakers
  • Chefs
  • Head Cooks
  • Institution and Cafeteria Cooks
  • Private Household Cooks
  • Restaurant Cooks
  • Short Order Cooks
  • Bartenders
  • Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers
  • Food Preparation Workers
  • Waiters and Waitresses

The outlook for available jobs in the culinary arts will inevitably improve as our population continues to grow. According to the National Restaurant Association, restaurant industry sales were over $683 billion nationally in 2014, and the industry itself has grown to include over 990,000 locations. According to the National Restaurant Association, Americans spent only 25 percent of their food budget at restaurants in 1955. Today, approximately 47 cents of every dollar they spend on food is at a restaurant.

Top Culinary Careers (BLS, 2013)

CareerNumber of Workers Nationally in 2013Job DescriptionDegree Requirements
Chefs and Head Cooks107,730According to the BLS, chefs and head cooks oversee food preparation and kitchen staff at restaurants or in private homes. In addition, they often develop new menus and menu items, ensure food quality, and order and maintain inventory and supplies.The BLS reports that many chefs and head cooks receive their training at culinary arts schools, technical schools, and four-year colleges. In addition to a degree in culinary arts, relevant on-the-job experience is typically required in this field.
Cooks (Institution and Cafeteria, Private, Restaurant, Short Order)2,154,650Cooks are in charge of seasoning and preparing a wide range of foods. Other tasks can include checking food for freshness, cleaning work areas, and keeping accurate track of ingredients.According to the BLS, no formal education is typically required to work as a cook. However, many students attend culinary arts schools to learn new skills and increase their job prospects.
Bartenders555,560Bartenders create and serve mixed drinks and beverages in a wide range of work environments. Tasks can include inventory control, menu design, and work station preparation.No formal education is required for bartenders. However, some on-the-job training and familiarity with the food service industry is helpful.
Food Preparation Workers824,080Food preparation workers prepare food and ingredients under the supervision of chefs and head cooks. They clean and prepare menu items, and ensure the freshness of ingredients before their use.The BLS reports that postsecondary education is not a requirement for a career in food preparation. However, many workers in this field attend culinary school in order to learn the basic protocols for food preparation and service.
Waiters and Waitresses2,403,960Waiters and waitresses take customer orders and ensure that food is delivered in a professional and timely manner. They are in charge of customer service and satisfaction, restaurant cleanliness, and food presentation.No formal education is required for a career as a waiter or waitress, although some experience in a food-related industry is helpful.

Culinary Arts Schools and Training

A career in culinary arts begins with proper preparation at one of many of the colleges and universities that offer degree and certificate programs in this field. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are over 500 schools in the United States that offer programs in culinary arts, food preparation, and restaurant management. The following table uses BLS data to outline the different degree and certificate options in this field:

Degree TypeTimeline for CompletionPossible Careers
CertificateCertificate programs can often be completed in less than one year, although some programs take longer.Cook, Bartender, Food Preparation Worker, Waiter or Waitress
AssociateAssociate degrees can typically be completed with two years of full-time study.Cook, Bartender, Food Preparation Worker, Waiter or Waitress, Chef or Head Cook
Bachelor'sBachelor's degree programs typically take four years of full-time study to complete.Cook, Bartender, Food Preparation Worker, Waiter or Waitress, Chef or Head Cook, Restaurant Manager
Graduate or ProfessionalStudents can earn a graduate or professional degree in 1-2 year after earning a Bachelor's degree.Restaurant Manager


"Bureau of Labor Statistics," May 2013 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates,

"Bureau of Labor Statistics," Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Chefs and Head Cooks,

"Bureau of Labor Statistics," Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Cooks,

"Bureau of Labor Statistics," Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bartenders,

"Bureau of Labor Statistics," Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Food Preparation Workers,

"Bureau of Labor Statistics," Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Waiters and Waitresses,

"National Center for Education Statistics," College Navigator,

"Sales and Economic Forecast," National Restaurant Association,

Schools for Culinary are listed in the column to the left.

Careers and Salary Data

This table shows summary data on occupations in the US. Clicking on any occupation name brings you to a page showing job prospects and salaries for that occupation in hundreds of metro areas across the country, with data updated through 2022.(Where data is denoted by an asterisk (*), summary info was not available.

Click each Occupation title for more details.

Culinary, Food Preparation and Serving

Median Pay
% Growth
Bakers184,990    $27,700    5.8%
Bartenders646,850    $23,680    8.1%
Chefs128,190    $51,530    11.1%
Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers7,500,280    $22,930    11.6%
Food Preparation Workers863,740    $24,800    8.2%
Head Cooks19,340    $30,760    5.9%
Institution and Cafeteria Cooks402,480    $27,750    4.6%
Private Household Cooks390    $37,870    4.0%
Restaurant Cooks1,401,890    $27,790    21.9%
Short Order Cooks152,670    $25,150    -0.7%
Supervisors Of Food Preparation and Serving Workers - Food Service Managers235,470    $55,320    10.8%
Waiters and Waitresses2,579,020    $22,890    6.5%
Source: 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2018-28 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics,

Selected Schools for Culinary (including any online schools)

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