Cafeteria Cook

Cafeteria and institution cooks prepare entrees, vegetables, and deserts in the kitchens of cafeterias, schools, businesses, hospitals, or other institutions. The quantity they prepare is usually large and the selection of entrees limited.

Job Skills

Certain personal attributes are important for cafeteria cooks to possess. These include the ability to work quickly and efficiently, a well-developed sense of taste and smell, good personal hygiene, and a willingness to work with a team. Familiarity with a foreign language may also prove useful in communicating with other workers.


In 2002, short-order cooks earned a median hourly wage of $8.72. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10 percent, who earned less than $6.10 per hour, and the highest 10 percent, who earned more than $13.34 per hour. The highest median hourly earnings were found in general medical and surgical hospitals, and the lowest were found in elementary and secondary schools.

Training and Education

Most cafeteria cook positions require little, if any, training or education. Entry-level positions do not require a high-school diploma; however, a diploma could be beneficial for those interested in a career as a cook. Most cafeteria cooks are trained on the job. Training ranges from basic sanitation and safety, to food handling and cooking techniques. School districts may provide aspiring cafeteria kitchen workers with on-the-job training and summer workshops, which can lead to a cafeteria cook position.


Out of the nearly 3 million culinary jobs in 2002, about 436,000 people were employed as cafeteria or institution cooks.

Job Outlook

Between 2002 and 2012, the number of cafeteria cooks is expected show little, if any growth. More and more, institutions are contracting out their food services to private companies. Because of this, the growth of this job market will not keep up with the rapid pace of growth in education and health services.

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