Industry Dish

What Is a Prep Cook? Responsibilities, Pay, and Moving Up

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People who have never worked in a kitchen (and watch a lot of TV) might think it's like a dictatorship: one person barking orders while everyone around them yells, "Yes, chef!"

Now, while there can be some truth to that, a better way to understand a commercial kitchen is as an ecosystem. Everyone has a part to play for it to function smoothly, and they need to know what to do.

No restaurant can go without a chef or a line cook, but even the best restaurants in the world wouldn't survive a day without an experienced brigade of dishwashers. This brings us to today's topic: the prep cook, another essential role in the kitchen ecosystem.

What is a prep cook?

Prep cooks usually work behind the scenes alongside others in the kitchen and are an indispensable part of any high-volume operation. They directly contribute to the smooth running of the kitchen by assisting cooks, chefs, and other kitchen staff in several versatile roles.

Duties and responsibilities of a prep cook

Every kitchen is a little different, so prep cooks need a wide range of abilities. Factors like where they work, or the size of an operation, will affect what a prep cook might have to do.

Their duties are multifaceted, from organization and food prep to inventory upkeep, maintenance, and cleaning. Typical prep cook duties and responsibilities include:

  • Measuring ingredients
  • Cutting, chopping, and slicing
  • Communicating and teamwork
  • Maintaining kitchen equipment
  • Setting up and cleaning workstations
  • Organizing food storage and inventory

Average prep cook wages

As with most positions in hospitality, a prep cook's wages will vary and change with experience. Other factors could also affect this, such as the prep cook's specific duties and the type of restaurant they work for.

According to Zippia's newest statistics, prep cooks make between $12 and $19 an hour, with average hourly earnings of $15.53. The 2023 annual average wage for prep cooks is $32,292, with an entry-level salary of $25,000 annually.

Job outlook and demands of the role

You need a lot of stamina to be a prep cook, as the specific demands of the job might include:

  • Lifting heavy boxes
  • Being on your feet for hours
  • Working in hot, crowded spaces

Generally speaking, keeping up with the fast pace of a commercial kitchen while maintaining the ability to pay attention to detail is fundamental to a talented prep cook's skillset.

The job outlook for prep cooks is positive. By 2026, estimates project that the market size for the food service industry in the United States will have increased to $269.04 billion, a projected annual growth rate of 6.1%. This means new establishments will likely open as existing ones expand, increasing the demand for skilled and experienced prep cooks.

Advancement opportunities

Working as a prep cook is an essential first step for anyone wanting to advance their culinary career. In fact, few seasoned professionals didn't first spend time learning the ropes as prep cooks. Here are the most common career advancement opportunities that result from working as a prep cook:

  • Line cooks
  • Sous chefs
  • Head chefs
  • Kitchen managers

To advance in the culinary industry, prep cooks should develop a strong foundation in cooking techniques, recipe execution, and kitchen safety. They should also be able to work well in a team, communicate effectively, and demonstrate leadership qualities.

Tips for advancement

As with any hospitality position, experience is vital. The more shifts you can pick up and work as a prep cook, the more on-the-job experience you'll gain and the faster you'll advance.

Here are some additional tips for aspiring prep cooks looking to advance in the culinary industry:

  • Network
  • Stay current
  • Be proactive
  • Pick up shifts
  • Seek mentorship
  • Pursue education
  • Develop soft skills

Finding prep cook jobs

New shifts and positions for prep cooks become available daily, but as demand increases, so will the competition. Knowing the best jobs, when they become available, and whether they fit your skillsets are critical factors in finding the best prep cook jobs.

That's where a platform like Qwick can help. Developed by people who understand the industry's unique challenges, Qwick connects experienced hospitality professionals with available shifts that match their qualifications.

Qwick's unique matching algorithm analyzes factors like distance, experience, and availability to connect the most suitable and talented professionals with the shifts and businesses that need support. 

Pick up prep cook shifts with Qwick

Say goodbye to the tiring job search, long applications, and never-ending wait to hear back after an interview.

With Qwick, you can take control of your earning potential. Flexible shifts and schedules, diverse businesses, and real-time matches make Qwick the best choice for picking up top-quality prep cook shifts at competitive rates.

Sign up for Qwick today—your next shift is only a few clicks away.

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