Career Profile: Cafeteria and...

Career Profile: Cafeteria and Institutional Cooks

by Susan Huebert
Jobs People Do | JobsPeopleDo.com

Many families have at least one person who cooks or bakes. That way, the family can have good, fresh food without having to eat out all the time. In school, hospitals, and other institutions, the cooks try to make sure that people have good food to eat even away from home. Working as a cook in these places can be difficult, but it can be a rewarding job, as well.

Cooking for a family of four or five people can be difficult with all of the vegetables to chop, noodles to cook, and onions to fry. Imagine cooking for fifty people or more!  Cooks who work in institutions and cafeterias have to plan menus, buy the ingredients, and do all of the preparation while also making sure that the food is ready at the right time. Often, several people will work together so that it doesn’t depend on one person, but one person is normally in charge of the decision-making.

Cafeterias and other institutions often have fairly limited, usually relatively simple menus. Cooks in these places probably will not need to know how to make fancy sauces or luxury foods like lobster. Still, they need to know how to make a variety of dishes so that people can find something that they are able to eat and enjoy. This is especially important in institutions like hospitals or nursing homes, where people have no chance to cook or buy their own meals.

Most cafeterias have standard items like muffins or sandwiches that are the same every day. Some might also have the same five or six hot meals every day for people to choose from. In institutions like seniors’ homes or schools, however, that might be too complicated. Instead, the cooks might have just one or two choices for each meal to make cooking simpler. Still, the cooks need to make sure that there is enough variety so that people still want to eat the food. A weekly schedule of different dishes can work, or the cooks might prefer to choose the menu based on what ingredients are on sale that week.

Some people who want to become cooks go to culinary school, where key learn how to make food and also gain skills in budgeting, management, and other aspects of working with food. Schools like the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Calgary and Red River College in Winnipeg offer one- or two-year certificate courses which can help people learn what they need to know. Still, a certificate is not a requirement at many workplaces, and many people prefer to learn on the job.

Knowing how to cook meat or use spices is essential, but people also need to learn how to keep food from going bad and how to keep the kitchen clean. Depending on the job, people in this area might work very regular hours or they might have to work overtime or overnight. Often, they have to be up early to get breakfast ready for the people.  Salaries start at about $25,000 per year and can rise to about $44,000, but some people can earn more.

If you love to cook, this might be the job for you.


Career Planner. “Institution and Cafeteria Cook.” https://job-descriptions.careerplanner.com/Cooks-Institution-and-Cafeteria.cfm.

Liu, Caron. “Coast to Coast: These Are Canada’s Best Cooking Schools.” https://www.macleans.ca/work/coast-to-coast-these-are-canadas-best-cooking-schools/.

Mintz, Corey. “Is Cooking School Worth the Time and Cost?” https://www.thestar.com/life/food_wine/restaurants/2016/02/03/is-cooking-school-worth-the-time-and-cost.html.

Payscale Canada. “Cooks, Institution and Cafeteria.” https://www.payscale.com/research/CA/Job=Cook%2C_Institution_and_Cafeteria/Hourly_Rate.

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