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Cafeteria Cook Jobs: Salary and Career Facts

Research what it takes to become a cafeteria cook. Learn about job duties, training requirements, job outlook and salary to find out if this is the career for you.

What Is a Cafeteria Cook?

Cafeteria cooks prepare food in large quantities according to set menus, without the demands of a restaurant environment. Minimal education is needed, and they may be employed in a variety of settings, such as elementary schools and hospitals. Cafeteria cooks inspect the ingredients to make sure they are high quality, as well as check their kitchen equipment to make sure everything is working properly. They then prepare a wide variety of foods. They may boil, grill, fry, bake or steam meats, vegetables and more. Cafeteria workers must follow safety and cleanliness regulations, and clean the kitchen and work stations after meals. The chart below highlights basic career information:

Training Required On-the-job training; a certificate or an associate's degree can be earned voluntarily
Key Skills Prep and cook food in large quantities, check ingredients for freshness, clean and sanitize work area
Job Growth (2018-2028)* 5%
Median Salary (2018)* $26,860

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Job Duties Will I Have as a Cafeteria Cook?

As a cafeteria cook, your main duties and responsibilities include the preparation, cooking and serving of a variety of dishes and sides according to provided recipes. The job requires you to have knowledge and skills using several types of cooking utensils and equipment. Due to the cafeteria setting, meals are prepared in mass quantities in accordance to a scheduled menu. Additional responsibilities may include:

  • Maintaining a clean and safe workspace
  • Assisting with daily operational functions
  • Ensuring cleanliness and proper sanitation requirements are met
  • Washing dishes

What Education Do I Need?

If you're interested in becoming a cafeteria cook, you do not need a specific education to work in the field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that even a high school diploma is not required for most entry-level cafeteria cook positions, and that on-the-job training is the most common approach for getting cooks up to the desired skill level (www.bls.gov). However, the BLS also shows that approximately one-third of food preparation workers and cooks are part-time employees, so if you're looking to enter a full-time career, completing high school and any available workshops is recommended.

What Salary Could I Expect to Make?

Compensation for cafeteria cooks may vary depending upon the size, duties and setting of the job. The BLS reported the median annual salary of institution and cafeteria cooks was $26,860 in May 2018. Industries with the highest level of employment included elementary and secondary schools, nursing care facilities, general medical and surgical hospitals, special food services and community care facilities for the elderly. While these industries typically offered about the median salary, the BLS shows higher wages were earned in the following fields:

  • Inland water transportation ($34,380)
  • Federal executive branch ($43,650)
  • Deep sea, coastal and great lakes water transportation ($36,480)

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Bakers and food preparation workers are a couple of similar careers that do not require any formal education. Bakers bake breads, pastries and other baked goods in a variety of settings. They may work in grocery stores, restaurants or bakeries. Food preparation workers follow the directions of a chef or head cook to help prepare foods for consumption. They can work in a multitude of eating establishments. Food service managers are also related positions, but require a high school diploma or equivalent. These managers oversee the activities and staff of eating establishments, and work to ensure customer satisfaction.