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Employment Outlook

Job opportunities for chefs, cooks, and food preparation workers are expected to be plentiful because of the continued growth and expansion of food services outlets, resulting in average employment growth, and because of the large numbers of workers who leave these occupations and need to be replaced. However, those seeking the highest-paying positions will face keen competition.

Employment change. Employment of chefs, cooks, and food preparation workers is expected to increase by 11 percent over the 2006-16 decade, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations. This occupation will have among the largest numbers of new jobs arise, about 351,000 over the period. Growth will be spurred by increases in population, household income, and demand for convenience that will lead to more people dining out and taking vacations that include hotel stays and restaurant visits. In addition, employment of chefs, cooks, and food preparation workers who prepare meals-to-go, such as those who work in the prepared foods sections of grocery or specialty food stores, should grow faster than average as these stores compete with restaurants for people’s food dollars. Also, there is a growing consumer desire for convenient, healthier, made-from-scratch meals.

Projected employment growth varies by detailed occupation. The number of higher-skilled chefs and cooks working in full-service restaurants—those that offer table service and more varied menus—is expected to increase about as fast as the average for all occupations. Much of this increase will come from job growth in more casual dining settings, rather than in up-scale full-service restaurants. Dining trends suggest that an increasing number of meals are eaten away from home, which creates growth in family dining restaurants, but greater limits on expense-account meals is expected to generate slower growth for up-scale restaurants.

Employment of food preparation workers is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations, reflecting diners’ desires for convenience as they shop for carryout meals in a greater variety of places, including full-service restaurants, limited-service eating places, and grocery stores.

Employment of fast-food cooks is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations. Duties of cooks in fast-food restaurants are limited; most workers are likely to be combined food preparation and serving workers, rather than fast-food cooks. Employment of short-order cooks is expected to increase more slowly than average.

Employment of institution and cafeteria chefs and cooks will show growth about as fast as the average. Their employment will not keep pace with the rapid growth in the educational and health services industries—where their employment is concentrated. Offices, schools, and hospitals increasingly contract out their food services in an effort to make institutional food more attractive to office workers, students, staff, visitors, and patients. Much of the growth of these workers will be in contract food service establishments that provide catering services or food management and staff for employee dining rooms, sports complexes, convention centers, and educational or health care facilities.

Employment of private household cooks is projected to grow by 9 percent, about as fast as the average. While the employment of personal chefs is expected to increase—reflecting the growing popularity and convenience of eating restaurant-quality meals at home—the number of private chefs will not grow as fast, reflecting slower growth in private household service employment.

Job prospects. Job openings for chefs, cooks, and food preparation workers are expected to be plentiful through 2016; however, competition should be keen for jobs in the top kitchens of higher end restaurants. Although job growth will create many new positions, the overwhelming majority of job openings will stem from the need to replace workers who leave this large occupational group. Many chef, cook, and food preparation worker jobs are attractive to people seeking first-time or short-term employment, additional income, or a flexible schedule. Employers typically hire a large number of part-time workers, but many of these workers soon transfer to other occupations or stop working, creating numerous openings for those entering the field. At higher end restaurants, the fast pace, long hours, and high energy levels required to succeed also cause some top chefs and cooks to leave for other jobs, creating job openings.

Suggested citation: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition, Chefs, Cooks, and Food Preparation Workers, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/ (visited July 23, 2008).
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