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 cheeses
  • Prepare fresh condiments, including lettuce, tomatoes, and onions
  • Cut or grind meats, poultry, and seafood in preparation for cooking them
  • 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.

Although most food preparation workers help prepare food, some also are responsible for retrieving cooking utensils, pots, and pans or for cleaning and storing other kitchen equipment. They also unload and store food supplies and retrieve them for cooks and chefs when needed. Other common duties include keeping salad bars and buffet tables stocked and clean.

Those who work at hotels or restaurants often use soda machines, coffeemakers, and espresso machines to prepare beverages for customers. In fast-food restaurants, food preparation workers may take customer orders and process payments with the use of cash registers.

In some kitchens, food preparation workers use a variety of commercial kitchen equipment, such as commercial dishwashers, blenders, slicers, or grinders.

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Work Environment

Food preparation workers held about 807,800 jobs in 2012. 

The industries that employed the most food preparation workers in 2012 were as follows:

Restaurants and other eating places 48%
Grocery stores  14
Special food services  6
Nursing and residential care facilities  6
Elementary and secondary schools  5

Food preparation workers are employed in restaurants, hotels, and other places where food is served, such as grocery stores, schools, hospitals, and cafeterias.

The work is often strenuous and tiring. Food preparation workers may stand or walk 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 to ensure that dishes are prepared properly and quickly.

Injuries and Illnesses

Food preparation areas in kitchens are often dangerous, containing hot ovens and slippery floors. As a result, food preparation workers have a higher rate of injuries and illnesses than the national average. The most common hazards include slips, falls, cuts, and burns, but these injuries are seldom serious. To reduce risks, workers often wear protective clothing, such as gloves, aprons, and nonslip shoes.

Work Schedules

Nearly half of all food preparation workers were employed part time in 2012. 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 more regular hours and work only during the school year, which is usually 9 or 10 months. Some resorts offer seasonal employment only.

Education and Training

Short-term on-the-job training is the most common way food preparation workers learn their skills. 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 their skills through short-term on-the-job training, which usually lasts several weeks. Trainees typically start by working under the supervision of an experienced worker, who teaches them basic kitchen duties. Training may also include basic sanitation and workplace safety regulations, as well as instructions on how to handle and prepare food.


Advancement opportunities for food preparation workers depend on their training, work experience, and ability to cook. Many food preparation workers advance to assistant or line cook positions as they learn basic cooking skills.

Personality and Interests

Food preparation workers typically have an interest in the Building and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a food preparation worker, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Food preparation workers should also possess the following specific qualities:

Dexterity. Because 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.


The median hourly wage for food preparation workers was $9.28 in May 2012. 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 $7.92 per hour, and the top 10 percent earned more than $13.84 per hour.

In May 2012, the median hourly wages for food preparation workers in the top five industries employing these workers were as follows:

Elementary and secondary schools     $11.01
Special food services         9.83
Grocery stores         9.66
Nursing and residential care facilities         9.37
Restaurants and other eating places        9.07

Pay for food preparation workers varies by employer and region. Pay is usually highest for workers in elementary and secondary schools and in major metropolitan and resort areas.

Nearly half of all food preparation workers were employed part time in 2012. Because many restaurants are open for long hours each day, working early mornings, late evenings, weekends, or holidays is common. Those who work in school cafeterias have more regular hours and may work only during the school year, which is usually 9 or 10 months. Some resorts offer seasonal employment only.

Job Outlook

Employment of food preparation workers is projected to grow 4 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations.

People will continue to dine out, purchase carryout meals, or have food delivered to their homes or workplaces. In response, more restaurants will open and nontraditional food service operations, such as those found inside grocery stores, will serve more prepared meals.

In addition, because preparing fresh and made-from-scratch meals is labor intensive, many chefs at upscale restaurants will require the help of food preparation workers.

However, a growing number of fast-food restaurants and cafeterias are customizing their food orders from wholesalers and distributors in an effort to lower costs. As more food service establishments use these cost-saving strategies, fewer food preparation workers will be needed to wash, portion, and season ingredients.

Job Prospects

Job opportunities for food preparation workers should be very good because of the need to replace workers who leave the occupation each year.

Those with related work experience should find their best job opportunities at upscale restaurants. However, individuals seeking full-time positions at these restaurants will face strong competition because the number of job applicants often exceeds the number of job openings.

For More Information

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


Where does this information come from?

The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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There are many excellent tools available that will allow you to measure your interests, profile your personality, and match these traits with appropriate careers. We recommend the Career Personality Profiler assessment ($29), the Holland Code assessment ($19), or the Photo Career Quiz (free).

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