Chef or Head Cook

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Job Outlook:
Faster than average
Education: High school diploma or equivalent
Salary
High: $91,520.00
Average: $60,210.00
Hourly
Average: $28.95

What they do:

Direct and may participate in the preparation, seasoning, and cooking of salads, soups, fish, meats, vegetables, desserts, or other foods. May plan and price menu items, order supplies, and keep records and accounts.

On the job, you would:

  • Monitor sanitation practices to ensure that employees follow standards and regulations.
  • Check the quality of raw or cooked food products to ensure that standards are met.
  • Determine production schedules and staff requirements necessary to ensure timely delivery of services.

Important Qualities

Business skills. Executive chefs and chefs who run their own restaurant need to know how to budget for supplies, set prices, and manage workers so that the restaurant is profitable.

Communication skills. Chefs must convey their instructions clearly and effectively to staff so that patrons' orders are prepared correctly.

Creativity. Chefs and head cooks need to develop and prepare interesting and innovative recipes.

Dexterity. Chefs and head cooks need agility to handle knives properly for cutting, chopping, and dicing.

Leadership skills. Chefs and head cooks must be able to motivate kitchen staff and to develop constructive and cooperative working relationships.

Physical stamina. Chefs and head cooks often work long shifts and sometimes spend entire evenings on their feet, overseeing the preparation and serving of meals.

Sense of taste and smell. Chefs and head cooks must have a keen sense of taste and smell in order to inspect food quality and to design meals that their patrons will enjoy.

Time-management skills. Chefs and head cooks must ensure efficiency in meal preparation and service, especially during busy hours.

Personality

A3 Your Strengths Importance

Characteristics of this Career

93% Dependability  -  Job requires being reliable, responsible, and dependable, and fulfilling obligations.
91% Initiative  -  Job requires a willingness to take on responsibilities and challenges.
90% Stress Tolerance  -  Job requires accepting criticism and dealing calmly and effectively with high-stress situations.
90% Leadership  -  Job requires a willingness to lead, take charge, and offer opinions and direction.
90% Adaptability/Flexibility  -  Job requires being open to change (positive or negative) and to considerable variety in the workplace.
89% Attention to Detail  -  Job requires being careful about detail and thorough in completing work tasks.
86% Self-Control  -  Job requires maintaining composure, keeping emotions in check, controlling anger, and avoiding aggressive behavior, even in very difficult situations.
85% Persistence  -  Job requires persistence in the face of obstacles.
85% Integrity  -  Job requires being honest and ethical.
84% Cooperation  -  Job requires being pleasant with others on the job and displaying a good-natured, cooperative attitude.
83% Achievement/Effort  -  Job requires establishing and maintaining personally challenging achievement goals and exerting effort toward mastering tasks.
80% Innovation  -  Job requires creativity and alternative thinking to develop new ideas for and answers to work-related problems.
77% Analytical Thinking  -  Job requires analyzing information and using logic to address work-related issues and problems.
76% Concern for Others  -  Job requires being sensitive to others' needs and feelings and being understanding and helpful on the job.
72% Independence  -  Job requires developing one's own ways of doing things, guiding oneself with little or no supervision, and depending on oneself to get things done.
A3 Your Strengths Importance

Strengths

100% Enterprising  -  Work involves managing, negotiating, marketing, or selling, typically in a business setting, or leading or advising people in political and legal situations. Enterprising occupations are often associated with business initiatives, sales, marketing/advertising, finance, management/administration, professional advising, public speaking, politics, or law.
78% Realistic  -  Work involves designing, building, or repairing of equipment, materials, or structures, engaging in physical activity, or working outdoors. Realistic occupations are often associated with engineering, mechanics and electronics, construction, woodworking, transportation, machine operation, agriculture, animal services, physical or manual labor, athletics, or protective services.
61% Artistic  -  Work involves creating original visual artwork, performances, written works, food, or music for a variety of media, or applying artistic principles to the design of various objects and materials. Artistic occupations are often associated with visual arts, applied arts and design, performing arts, music, creative writing, media, or culinary art.
A3 Your Strengths Importance

Values of the Work Environment

83% Independence  -  Occupations that satisfy this work value allow employees to work on their own and make decisions. Corresponding needs are Creativity, Responsibility and Autonomy.
72% Recognition  -  Occupations that satisfy this work value offer advancement, potential for leadership, and are often considered prestigious. Corresponding needs are Advancement, Authority, Recognition and Social Status.
67% Achievement  -  Occupations that satisfy this work value are results oriented and allow employees to use their strongest abilities, giving them a feeling of accomplishment. Corresponding needs are Ability Utilization and Achievement.
61% Relationships  -  Occupations that satisfy this work value allow employees to provide service to others and work with co-workers in a friendly non-competitive environment. Corresponding needs are Co-workers, Moral Values and Social Service.

Aptitude

A3 Your Strengths Importance

Abilities | Cognitive, Physical, Personality

75% Deductive Reasoning  -  The ability to apply general rules to specific problems to produce answers that make sense.
75% Oral Expression  -  The ability to communicate information and ideas in speaking so others will understand.
75% Problem Sensitivity  -  The ability to tell when something is wrong or is likely to go wrong. It does not involve solving the problem, only recognizing that there is a problem.
75% Oral Comprehension  -  The ability to listen to and understand information and ideas presented through spoken words and sentences.
72% Speech Clarity  -  The ability to speak clearly so others can understand you.
69% Speech Recognition  -  The ability to identify and understand the speech of another person.
66% Information Ordering  -  The ability to arrange things or actions in a certain order or pattern according to a specific rule or set of rules (e.g., patterns of numbers, letters, words, pictures, mathematical operations).

Job Details

Responsibilities
Check quality of foods or supplies.
Monitor activities of individuals to ensure safety or compliance with rules.
Check quality of foods or supplies.
Order materials, supplies, or equipment.
Coordinate activities of food service staff.
Inspect facilities, equipment or supplies to ensure conformance to standards.
Create new recipes or food presentations.
Train food preparation or food service personnel.
Estimate supplies, ingredients, or staff requirements for food preparation activities.
Plan menu options.
Determine prices for menu items.
Cook foods.
Coordinate timing of food production activities.
Perform human resources activities.
Plan special events.
Communicate with customers to resolve complaints or ensure satisfaction.
Train food preparation or food service personnel.
Order materials, supplies, or equipment.
Schedule equipment maintenance.
Record operational or production data.
Coordinate timing of food production activities.
Manage food service operations or parts of operations.
Manage food service operations or parts of operations.
A3 Your Strengths Importance

Attributes & Percentage of Time Spent

98% Electronic Mail  -  How often do you use electronic mail in this job?
97% Telephone  -  How often do you have telephone conversations in this job?
96% Face-to-Face Discussions  -  How often do you have to have face-to-face discussions with individuals or teams in this job?
94% Time Pressure  -  How often does this job require the worker to meet strict deadlines?
93% Spend Time Standing  -  How much does this job require standing?
92% Contact With Others  -  How much does this job require the worker to be in contact with others (face-to-face, by telephone, or otherwise) in order to perform it?
91% Indoors, Environmentally Controlled  -  How often does this job require working indoors in environmentally controlled conditions?
90% Work With Work Group or Team  -  How important is it to work with others in a group or team in this job?
89% Spend Time Using Your Hands to Handle, Control, or Feel Objects, Tools, or Controls  -  How much does this job require using your hands to handle, control, or feel objects, tools or controls?
85% Spend Time Making Repetitive Motions  -  How much does this job require making repetitive motions?
85% Frequency of Decision Making  -  How frequently is the worker required to make decisions that affect other people, the financial resources, and/or the image and reputation of the organization?
85% Exposed to Minor Burns, Cuts, Bites, or Stings  -  How often does this job require exposure to minor burns, cuts, bites, or stings?
83% Sounds, Noise Levels Are Distracting or Uncomfortable  -  How often does this job require working exposed to sounds and noise levels that are distracting or uncomfortable?
82% Very Hot or Cold Temperatures  -  How often does this job require working in very hot (above 90 F degrees) or very cold (below 32 F degrees) temperatures?
82% Wear Common Protective or Safety Equipment such as Safety Shoes, Glasses, Gloves, Hearing Protection, Hard Hats, or Life Jackets  -  How much does this job require wearing common protective or safety equipment such as safety shoes, glasses, gloves, hard hats or life jackets?
80% Responsibility for Outcomes and Results  -  How responsible is the worker for work outcomes and results of other workers?
80% Physical Proximity  -  To what extent does this job require the worker to perform job tasks in close physical proximity to other people?
80% Importance of Being Exact or Accurate  -  How important is being very exact or highly accurate in performing this job?
80% Responsible for Others' Health and Safety  -  How much responsibility is there for the health and safety of others in this job?
80% Deal With External Customers  -  How important is it to work with external customers or the public in this job?
80% Spend Time Walking and Running  -  How much does this job require walking and running?
77% Impact of Decisions on Co-workers or Company Results  -  What results do your decisions usually have on other people or the image or reputation or financial resources of your employer?
77% Coordinate or Lead Others  -  How important is it to coordinate or lead others in accomplishing work activities in this job?
77% Letters and Memos  -  How often does the job require written letters and memos?
77% Frequency of Conflict Situations  -  How often are there conflict situations the employee has to face in this job?
76% Level of Competition  -  To what extent does this job require the worker to compete or to be aware of competitive pressures?
71% Deal With Unpleasant or Angry People  -  How frequently does the worker have to deal with unpleasant, angry, or discourteous individuals as part of the job requirements?
70% Importance of Repeating Same Tasks  -  How important is repeating the same physical activities (e.g., key entry) or mental activities (e.g., checking entries in a ledger) over and over, without stopping, to performing this job?
68% Freedom to Make Decisions  -  How much decision making freedom, without supervision, does the job offer?
67% Exposed to Hazardous Equipment  -  How often does this job require exposure to hazardous equipment?
67% Structured versus Unstructured Work  -  To what extent is this job structured for the worker, rather than allowing the worker to determine tasks, priorities, and goals?
67% Spend Time Bending or Twisting the Body  -  How much does this job require bending or twisting your body?
88% Duration of Typical Work Week  -  Number of hours typically worked in one week.
A3 Your Strengths Importance

Tasks & Values

85% Organizing, Planning, and Prioritizing Work  -  Developing specific goals and plans to prioritize, organize, and accomplish your work.
85% Developing and Building Teams  -  Encouraging and building mutual trust, respect, and cooperation among team members.
85% Coaching and Developing Others  -  Identifying the developmental needs of others and coaching, mentoring, or otherwise helping others to improve their knowledge or skills.
84% Making Decisions and Solving Problems  -  Analyzing information and evaluating results to choose the best solution and solve problems.
83% Training and Teaching Others  -  Identifying the educational needs of others, developing formal educational or training programs or classes, and teaching or instructing others.
82% Scheduling Work and Activities  -  Scheduling events, programs, and activities, as well as the work of others.
82% Thinking Creatively  -  Developing, designing, or creating new applications, ideas, relationships, systems, or products, including artistic contributions.
82% Coordinating the Work and Activities of Others  -  Getting members of a group to work together to accomplish tasks.
81% Communicating with Supervisors, Peers, or Subordinates  -  Providing information to supervisors, co-workers, and subordinates by telephone, in written form, e-mail, or in person.
80% Getting Information  -  Observing, receiving, and otherwise obtaining information from all relevant sources.
79% Guiding, Directing, and Motivating Subordinates  -  Providing guidance and direction to subordinates, including setting performance standards and monitoring performance.
79% Identifying Objects, Actions, and Events  -  Identifying information by categorizing, estimating, recognizing differences or similarities, and detecting changes in circumstances or events.
77% Monitoring and Controlling Resources  -  Monitoring and controlling resources and overseeing the spending of money.
76% Staffing Organizational Units  -  Recruiting, interviewing, selecting, hiring, and promoting employees in an organization.
75% Performing for or Working Directly with the Public  -  Performing for people or dealing directly with the public. This includes serving customers in restaurants and stores, and receiving clients or guests.
75% Monitoring Processes, Materials, or Surroundings  -  Monitoring and reviewing information from materials, events, or the environment, to detect or assess problems.
73% Resolving Conflicts and Negotiating with Others  -  Handling complaints, settling disputes, and resolving grievances and conflicts, or otherwise negotiating with others.
73% Evaluating Information to Determine Compliance with Standards  -  Using relevant information and individual judgment to determine whether events or processes comply with laws, regulations, or standards.
73% Handling and Moving Objects  -  Using hands and arms in handling, installing, positioning, and moving materials, and manipulating things.
73% Establishing and Maintaining Interpersonal Relationships  -  Developing constructive and cooperative working relationships with others, and maintaining them over time.
73% Judging the Qualities of Objects, Services, or People  -  Assessing the value, importance, or quality of things or people.
72% Updating and Using Relevant Knowledge  -  Keeping up-to-date technically and applying new knowledge to your job.
70% Performing Administrative Activities  -  Performing day-to-day administrative tasks such as maintaining information files and processing paperwork.
70% Analyzing Data or Information  -  Identifying the underlying principles, reasons, or facts of information by breaking down information or data into separate parts.
69% Processing Information  -  Compiling, coding, categorizing, calculating, tabulating, auditing, or verifying information or data.
69% Performing General Physical Activities  -  Performing physical activities that require considerable use of your arms and legs and moving your whole body, such as climbing, lifting, balancing, walking, stooping, and handling materials.
67% Estimating the Quantifiable Characteristics of Products, Events, or Information  -  Estimating sizes, distances, and quantities; or determining time, costs, resources, or materials needed to perform a work activity.
67% Inspecting Equipment, Structures, or Materials  -  Inspecting equipment, structures, or materials to identify the cause of errors or other problems or defects.
66% Developing Objectives and Strategies  -  Establishing long-range objectives and specifying the strategies and actions to achieve them.
65% Providing Consultation and Advice to Others  -  Providing guidance and expert advice to management or other groups on technical, systems-, or process-related topics.

What Chefs and Head Cooks Do

Chefs and head cooks
Chefs plan menus and order supplies.

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

Duties

Chefs and head cooks typically do the following:

  • Check the freshness of food and ingredients
  • Supervise and coordinate activities of cooks and other food preparation workers
  • Develop recipes and determine how to present dishes
  • Plan menus and ensure the quality of meals
  • Inspect supplies, equipment, and work areas for cleanliness and functionality
  • Hire, train, and supervise cooks and other food preparation workers
  • Order and maintain an inventory of food and supplies
  • Monitor sanitation practices and follow kitchen safety standards

Chefs and head cooks use a variety of kitchen and cooking equipment, including step-in coolers, high-quality knives, meat slicers, and grinders. They also have access to large quantities of meats, spices, and produce. Some chefs use scheduling and purchasing software to help them in their administrative tasks.

Chefs who run their own restaurant or catering business are often busy with kitchen and office work. Some chefs use social media to promote their business by advertising new menu items or addressing patrons' reviews.

The following are examples of types of chefs and head cooks:

Executive chefs, head cooks, and chefs de cuisine are responsible primarily for overseeing the operation of a kitchen. They coordinate the work of sous chefs and other cooks, who prepare most of the meals. Executive chefs also have many duties beyond the kitchen. They design the menu, review food and beverage purchases, and often train cooks and other food preparation workers. Some executive chefs primarily handle administrative tasks and may spend less time in the kitchen.

Sous chefs are a kitchen’s second-in-command. They supervise the restaurant’s cooks, prepare meals, and report results to the head chefs. In the absence of the head chef, sous chefs run the kitchen.

Work Environment

Chefs and head cooks held about 174,400 jobs in 2022. The largest employers of chefs and head cooks were as follows:

Restaurants and other eating places 51%
Special food services 11
Traveler accommodation 9
Amusement, gambling, and recreation industries 6
Self-employed workers 4

Chefs and head cooks work in restaurants, hotels, and other food service establishments. All of the cooking and food preparation areas in these facilities must be kept clean and sanitary. Chefs and head cooks usually stand for long periods and work in a fast-paced environment.

Some self-employed chefs run their own restaurants or catering businesses, and their work may be more stressful. For example, outside the kitchen, they often spend many hours managing all aspects of the business to ensure that bills and salaries are paid and that the business is profitable.

Injuries and Illnesses

Chefs and head cooks risk injury in kitchens, which are usually crowded and potentially dangerous. Common hazards include burns from hot ovens, falls on slippery floors, and cuts from knives and other sharp objects, but these injuries are seldom serious. To reduce the risk of harm, workers often wear long-sleeve shirts and nonslip shoes.

Work Schedules

Most chefs and head cooks work full time, including early mornings, late evenings, weekends, and holidays. Some work more than 40 hours per week.

Getting Started

Education:
52%
Associate's Degree (or other 2-year degree)
17%
Post-Secondary Certificate - awarded for training completed after high school (for example, in agriculture or natural resources, computer services, personal or culinary services, engineering technologies, healthcare, construction trades, mechanic and repair technologies, or precision production)

How to Become a Chef or Head Cook

chefs and head cooks image
Most chefs and head cooks learn their skills through work experience.

To enter the occupation, chefs and head cooks typically need a high school diploma plus experience. Some attend a culinary program at a community college, technical school, culinary arts school, or 4-year college. Others learn through apprenticeship programs or in the Armed Forces.

Education

Chefs and head cooks are typically required to have a high school diploma or equivalent to enter the occupation. Although they are not always required to have postsecondary education, many attend programs at community colleges, technical schools, culinary arts schools, and 4-year colleges.

Students in culinary programs spend most of their time in kitchens, practicing their cooking skills. Programs cover all aspects of kitchen work, including menu planning, food sanitation procedures, and purchasing and inventory methods. Most programs also require students to gain experience in a commercial kitchen through an internship or apprenticeship program.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Chefs and head cooks often start by working in other positions, such as line cooks, learning cooking skills from the chefs they work for. Many spend years working in kitchens before gaining enough experience to be promoted to chef or head cook positions.

Training

Some chefs and head cooks train on the job, where they learn the same skills as in a formal education program. Some train in mentorship programs, where they work under the direction of an experienced chef. Executive chefs, head cooks, and sous chefs who work in upscale restaurants often have many years of training and experience.

Chefs and head cooks also may learn through apprenticeship programs sponsored by professional culinary institutes, industry associations, or trade unions. The American Culinary Federation accredits many training programs and sponsors apprenticeships through these programs. Some of the apprenticeship programs are registered with the U.S. Department of Labor.

Apprenticeship programs generally combine instruction and on-the-job training. Apprentices typically receive both instruction and paid on-the-job training. Instruction usually covers food sanitation and safety, basic knife skills, and equipment operation. Apprentices spend the rest of their training learning practical skills in a commercial kitchen under a chef’s supervision.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Some states and localities require chefs and head cooks to have a food handler’s certification. For more information, contact your state or local licensing board.

Although not required, other types of certification may lead to advancement and higher pay. The American Culinary Federation certifies various levels of chefs, such as certified sous chefs and certified executive chefs. Certification standards are based primarily on work experience and formal training.

Job Outlook

Employment of chefs and head cooks is projected to grow 5 percent from 2022 to 2032, faster than the average for all occupations.

About 22,000 openings for chefs and head cooks are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

Income growth is expected to result in greater demand for high-quality dishes at a variety of dining venues. As a result, more restaurants and other dining places are expected to open to satisfy consumer desire for dining out.

Consumers are continuing to demand healthier meals made from scratch in restaurants, cafeterias, grocery stores, and other places that sell food. To ensure high-quality dishes, these establishments hire experienced chefs to oversee food preparation.

Contacts for More Information

Visit Apprenticeship.gov to search for information about apprenticeship opportunities.

For more information about chefs, including a directory of 2-year and 4-year colleges that offer culinary courses or training programs, visit

American Culinary Federation

National Restaurant Association

For information about certification, contact your state or local licensing board or a professional association.

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of chefs and head cooks.

Occupation Job Duties Entry-Level Education Median Annual Pay, May 2022
Bakers Bakers

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

No formal educational credential $32,780
Cooks Cooks

Cooks season and prepare foods, including soups, salads, entrees, and desserts.

See How to Become One $30,910
Food and beverage serving and related workers Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers

Food and beverage serving and related workers take and prepare orders, clear tables, and do other tasks associated with providing food and drink to customers.

No formal educational credential $28,130
Food preparation workers Food Preparation Workers

Food preparation workers perform a variety of tasks other than cooking, such as slicing meat and brewing coffee.

No formal educational credential $29,790
Food service managers Food Service Managers

Food service managers are responsible for the daily operation of restaurants or other establishments that prepare and serve food and beverages.

High school diploma or equivalent $61,310

Information provided by CareerFitter, LLC and other sources.

Sections of this page includes information from the O*NET 27.3 Database by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration (USDOL/ETA). Used under the CC BY 4.0 license.

CareerFitter, LLC has modified all or some of this information. USDOL/ETA has not approved, endorsed, or tested these modifications.