Food preparation workers

What Food Preparation Workers Do

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.

How to Become a Food Preparation Worker

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.

Important 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.


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.

Job Outlook

Food Preparation Workers

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Total, all occupations


Food preparation and serving related occupations


Food preparation workers



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.

Employment projections data for Food Preparation Workers, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Food preparation workers

35-2021 807,800 836,700 4 28,900 [XLS]
  Occupation Description Entry-Level Education 2012 Median Pay
Bakers Bakers

Bakers mix ingredients according to recipes to make breads, pastries, and other baked goods.'

Less than high school $23,140
Chefs and head cooks Chefs and head cooks

Chefs and head cooks oversee the daily food preparation at restaurants or other places where food is served. They direct kitchen staff and handle any food-related concerns.'

High school diploma or equivalent $42,480
Cooks Cooks

Cooks prepare, season, and cook a wide range of foods. This may include soups, salads, entrees, and desserts.'

No Formal Education Is Required $20,550
Food and beverage serving and related workers Food and beverage serving and related workers

Food and beverage serving and related workers perform a variety of customer service, food preparation, and cleaning duties in restaurants, cafeterias, and other eating and drinking establishments.'

Less than high school $18,400

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