Jobs Outlook for Chefs and Cooks

Job opportunities in growing industry segments

Everyone needs to eat, which could be one reason the future looks so positive for cooking school graduates. And not only do people need to eat, they love doing it.

Many openings will be due to workers leaving this industry. Those workers seeking short-term employment, first jobs, extra money or a flexible schedule often work as cooks or in food preparation and don't stay around long-term.

Average growth of job openings will be due to population and income increases, as well as trends such as two-income households (making eating out convenient). There is also a consistent growth in demand for healthy, unprocessed yet convenient meals.

Where chefs and cooks will find jobs

Casual dining restaurants targeted to families will be a big area of employment growth. Carry-out meals from restaurants, specialty food stores and grocery stores will also greatly increase demand for food preparation workers, chefs and cooks.

Catering services and other contract food service establishments will see an upsurge in demand as large businesses and institutions such as hospitals, schools, hotels and factories contract out food services so they can focus on other priorities.

The most competition for jobs will be in upscale eateries, where pay and opportunities for advancement are much better. Certified chefs often come out on top.

Distribution of food industry workers:

Of the over three million employees in the food industry, two-thirds are working in restaurants and other food services and drinking establishments.

  • Food preparation workers - 889,000
  • Restaurant cooks - 783,000
  • Fast food cooks - 662,000
  • Institution and cafeteria cooks- 424,000
  • Short-order cooks - 230,000
  • Chefs and head cooks - 125,000
  • Private household cooks - 9,200
  • Bakers - 166,000

Cooks and chefs

Wages for chefs and cooks vary widely depending on what kind of business they work in and where that business is located. Those in high-end restaurants in cities will earn the most money.

Restaurant cook wages

  • Median hourly earnings - $9.39
  • Middle 50 percent - $7.79 to $11.13
  • Top 10 percent - over $13.37
  • Bottom 10 percent - under $6.76

Earnings by industry

  • Traveler accommodations - $10.69
  • Other amusement and recreation industries - $10.55
  • Special food services - $10.00
  • Full-service restaurants - $9.34
  • Drinking establishments (alcoholic beverages) - $9.27
  • Limited-service eating places - $8.25

Chef and head cook wages

  • Median hourly earnings - $14.75
  • Middle 50 percent - $10.71 to $20.28
  • Top 10 percent - over $26.75
  • Bottom 10 percent - under $8.28

Earnings by industry

  • Other amusement and recreation industries - $19.27
  • Traveler accommodations - $18.25
  • Special food services - $15.06
  • Full-service restaurants - $13.57
  • Limited-service eating places - $12.00

Private household cook wages

  • Median hourly earnings - $9.42
  • Middle 50 percent - $7.08 to $12.79
  • Top 10 percent - over $16.55
  • Bottom 10 percent - under $6.01

Institution and cafeteria cook wages

  • Median hourly earnings - $9.10
  • Middle 50 percent - $7.20 to $11.22
  • Top 10 percent - over $13.72
  • Bottom 10 percent - under $6.08

Food preparation worker, short-order cook and fast food cook wages

These workers are at the bottom of the food chain, so to speak. Fast food cooks earn at most about $10 an hour, but many only earn between $6 and $8 an hour. Food prep workers do slightly better, with most making $7 to $10 and the top 10 percent bringing in about $12. Most short-order cooks also make about $7 to $10 an hour. These workers are employed anywhere, from restaurants and drinking establishments to gas stations, grocery stores, schools, nursing homes, special food services and limited-service eating places.

Bakers

Average job growth will be due to wholesale baker positions opening up in stores, specialty shops and traditional bakeries. Niche shops specializing in everything from cinnamon rolls to bagels have also created demand for more bakers.

Baker wages

  • Median annual earnings - $21,330
  • Middle 50 percent - $17,070 to $27,210
  • Top 10 percent - over $34,410
  • Bottom 10 percent - under $14,680

Earnings by industry

  • General merchandise stores - $23,390
  • Bakeries and tortilla manufacturing - $22,170
  • Grocery stores - $21,340
  • Full-service restaurants - $19,980
  • Limited-service eating places - $18,690

Statistics courtesy the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2004