Food preparation workers perform many routine tasks under the guidance of cooks or food supervisors. They prepare cold foods, slice meat, peel and cut vegetables, brew coffee or tea, and do many other tasks. Food preparation workers are employed in restaurants, hotels, and other places where food is served, such as grocery stores, schools, hospitals, and cafeterias. They often work early mornings, late evenings, weekends, or holidays. The majority work part time.
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Food preparation workers perform routine, repetitive tasks under the direction of cooks or food supervisors. To help cooks and other kitchen staff, they prepare ingredients for complex dishes by slicing and dicing vegetables and by making salads and cold items. Food preparation workers typically do the following:
Although most help prepare food, some are also responsible for retrieving cooking utensils, pots, and pans, or for cleaning and storing other kitchen equipment. Other common duties include keeping salad bars and buffet tables stocked and clean. Those who work at hotels or full-service restaurants often use soda machines, coffee makers, and espresso and cappuccino machines to prepare beverages for customers. In fast food restaurants, food preparation workers may take customer orders and process payments using cash registers. In some kitchens, food preparation workers use a variety of commercial kitchen equipment, such as commercial dishwashers, blenders, slicers, grinders, and ovens.
Short-term on-the-job training is the most common way to learn the skills necessary for food preparation workers. No formal education or previous work experience is required. Most food preparation workers obtain their skills through short-term on-the-job training, which often lasts several weeks. Many start as kitchen helpers and progress into food preparation positions as they learn basic knife skills. Training generally starts with basic sanitation and workplace safety regulations and continues with instructions on how to handle, prepare, and cook food.
Advancement opportunities for food preparation workers depend on their training, work experience, and ability to do more refined tasks. Many food preparation workers move into assistant or line cook positions as they learn basic cooking techniques. To help cooks, food preparation workers must be able to understand specific orders and follow directions. Because food preparation workers chop vegetables, cut meat, and do other tasks with sharp knives, they must have good hand control. Food preparation workers must be able to spend most of their work time on their feet as they prepare foods, clean work areas, or lift heavy pots from the stove. The fast-paced environment in kitchens can be hectic and stressful, especially during peak dining hours. Food preparation workers must be able to work well as part of a team to ensure that dishes are prepared properly, quickly, and efficiently.
Food preparation workers are employed in restaurants, hotels, and other places where food is served, such as grocery stores, schools, hospitals, and cafeterias.
The median hourly wage of food preparation workers was $9.18 in May 2010. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $7.65 per hour, and the top 10 percent earned more than $13.68 per hour. Pay for food preparation workers varies by region and employer. Pay is usually highest for workers in elementary and secondary schools, and in major metropolitan and resort areas.