Salary and Career Info for Cafeteria Cooks

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a cafeteria cook. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about schooling, job duties and experience to find out if this is the career for you.

Cafeteria cooks work in a variety of settings, including schools and medical institutions. These positions usually require little education. The median salary workers can expect is about $24,000.

Essential Information

Though positions for cafeteria cooks are most prominent within the school system, job opportunities are possible in medical and elderly care institutions. There are a large number of ways that someone might become a cook in a cafeteria setting, ranging from formal education programs to moving up through promotion. Cooks may advance in their careers by acquiring additional formal education, i.e. continuing education credits, certificates or degrees.

Required Education Certificate, degree or apprenticeship in cooking or the culinary arts; work experience in food service and related industries may be acceptable
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 6% for institution and cafeteria cooks*
Median Salary (2015) $23,960 for cooks employed by cafeterias and other institutions*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Salary Info for Cafeteria Cooks

The salaries for cafeteria cooks differ according to employer and location of work. In May 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the median annual wage of cooks working in a cafeteria or for an institution was $23,960. Employment for a cafeteria worker is most prevalent among elementary and secondary schools, nursing care institutions, medical and surgical hospitals, special food services and facilities for the elderly. Those working for water-based, sight-seeing transportation companies (like cruises) earned the highest annual mean wage of $42,810. Those within elementary and secondary schools made a much lower mean wage of $23,850, reported the BLS.

Career Info for Cafeteria Cooks

The BLS reported between 2014 and 2024, jobs for institution and cafeteria cooks are expected to increase by 6%. It is also expected there will be good job opportunities as workers leave the occupation.

For a cafeteria cook wishing to further their career, training programs are available through vocational or trade schools. A cook may also earn a certificate or degree from a college, independent cooking school or culinary institution. For example, the American Culinary Federation is the accreditor of over 200 formal training programs. With acquired experience and knowledge, it may be possible to find work as a restaurant cook in an upscale restaurant.

The U.S. Department of Labor, in collaboration with professional culinary institutions and trade unions, offers apprenticeship opportunities for cooks. Apprenticeship opportunities are available through the American Culinary Federation as well.

Training for Cafeteria Cooks

Though not mandatory, having a high school diploma is typically necessary for individuals hoping to advance their careers in the food service industry. Knowledge in sanitation safety and workplace conduct is standard preparation. Training is also likely to discuss cooking process and food handling.

For a kitchen employee hoping to work as a cook, a school district may offer training on-the-job or classes during the summer. A cafeteria cook must maintain individual cleanliness, move quickly and act as a team player.

Cafeteria cooks often learn their trade through advancement or on-the-job training. Courses are available leading to a certificate, an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree through many colleges and universities. The job outlook for these positions is about average.


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