Cafeteria cooks prepare and cook large amounts of food for a limited number of entrees, vegetables, soups, salads and desserts. They work in settings such as schools, hospitals, nursing homes and companies that have their own cafeterias. The meals are typically prepared in advance.

Head cafeteria cooks supervise the other kitchen employees, determine food requirements and order the appropriate supplies. They may also plan menus and determine food portions. Head cooks are also responsible for uniform quality and presentation of meals.


  • Prepare meats, vegetables, soups, desserts and salads for school cafeterias and other settings.
  • Clean equipment
  • Check to see if equipment is functioning properly
  • Wash pots and pans, cooking equipment and utensils
  • Some cooks keep records of food costs and transactions
  • Decide food portions
  • Some cooks order food supplies and kitchen equipment
  • Cook foods based on menus
  • Sometimes prepare foods with nutritional restrictions
  • Supervise food preparers

Job Characteristics

Many cafeteria kitchens include modern equipment, air conditioning and are well ventilated. However, some of the older cafeterias are not well designed. Regarding employment, typically full-time and part-time jobs are available.

Cafeteria cooks must be able to work effectively as part of a team and be proficient. They also need to have a keen sense of taste and smell. In addition, being able to communicate in popular foreign languages can be helpful while working with other kitchen employees.

Employment Outlook

In 2006, the median earnings of cafeteria and institution cooks was $20,410. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2006 there were about 401,000 cooks employed in cafeterias and other institutions. About 15% of all cooks, chefs and food preparation workers were employed in institutions such as schools, universities, nursing cafe facilities and hospitals.

The job growth for cafeteria cooks is projected to be as fast as average for all other occupations from 2006-2016. The need for cooks will increase due to an increase in the population and the desire to eat at food establishments such as cafeterias. The demand will also increase for cooks since a large number of workers leave the occupation and have to be replaced. However, schools, hospitals and offices are increasingly contracting out their food services which will decrease the demand for cafeteria cooks.

Those with experience and demonstrate the ability to accomplish more difficult tasks and take on more responsibilities have opportunities to become head cooks and supervise the kitchen staff.

Cafeteria Cook Training, Certification, and Licensing

Typically, cafeteria cooks are provided with on-the-job training. Training usually includes food preparation, cooking techniques and a solid foundation in basic sanitation, safety and food handling techniques.

Some employers require a high school diploma. Experience is helpful for obtaining employment and some employers may prefer some vocational training or occupation-related education courses. Often, those without experience begin their careers as kitchen assistants.

Head cooks are typically required to have many years of experience. Some employers prefer to hire head cooks that have formal training in programs which last from a few months to a couple of years. The shorter programs usually provide training in basic cooking methods. They also provide training with food handling and sanitation procedures and nutrition.

Culinary programs provide plenty of hands-on learning in kitchens. The programs also provide training in purchasing and inventory methods, nutrition, menu planning and food storage procedures. Some of the culinary programs also offer a thorough review of 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 for cooks in a variety of settings.

Numerous school districts offer on-the-job training and summer workshops for cafeteria kitchen workers who desire to be employed as cooks.


Major Employers

The primary employers of cafeteria cooks include schools, nursing care facilities, special food services, child day care services and colleges.

Schools for Institution And Cafeteria Cooks are listed in the Browse Schools Section.

Metro Areas Sorted by Total Employment for
Institution and Cafeteria Cooks

Listed below are the 10 largest metro areas based on the total number of people employed in Institution and Cafeteria Cooks jobs , as of 2016

Metro Area Total Employment Annual Mean Salary
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington 9,280 $25,460
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim 8,560 $31,490
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell 7,830 $23,100
Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land 7,260 $24,770
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue 4,890 $33,630
Pittsburgh 4,330 $26,640
San Antonio-New Braunfels 3,880 $24,990
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward 3,830 $37,080
Oklahoma City 3,750 $20,540
Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson 3,710 $23,690

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Total employment and salary for professions similar to cafeteria cooks

Career Stories (Job Profiles) for Institution and Cafeteria Cooks

To find out more about building a career as Cafeteria 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

Source : 2016 Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, BLS.gov

Most Popular Industries for
Institution and Cafeteria Cooks

These industries represent at least 1% of the total number of people employed in this occupation.

Industry Total Employment Percent Annual Median Salary
Education 123,970 33% $20,770
Nursing And Residential Care 81,750 22% $22,440
Restaurant 53,850 14% $22,760
Hospital 35,510 9% $25,050
Social Service 27,950 7% $19,280
Government 26,380 7% $25,570
Hotel And Accomodation 5,260 1% $22,850
Non-profit 4,290 1% $21,720
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Numbers in parentheses are counts of relevant campus-based schools in the state; online schools may also be available.

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