Alternative titles for this job

Cooks prepare, cook and serve food. They work in cafes, bars, fast food outlets or for caterers.


Cooks usually earn

$17-$19 per hour

Source: Restaurant Association of New Zealand.

Job opportunities

Chances of getting a job as a cook are average for those with little experience, but good for skilled cooks.


Pay for cooks depends on their level of experience.

  • Junior cooks earn an average of $17 an hour.
  • Senior cooks earn an average of $19 an hour.

Source: Restaurant of Association of New Zealand, 'Hospitality Industry Remuneration Survey', 2013.

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)

What you will do

Cooks may do some or all of the following:

  • prepare raw ingredients for menu items, according to customers' orders
  • cook food quickly and efficiently
  • arrange food on plates or wrap it to be taken away
  • give instructions and demonstrate cooking methods and techniques to others
  • create new recipes and plan menus
  • order food supplies, organise deliveries and restock shelves
  • run their own business.

At very small restaurants, the duties of cooks may overlap with other jobs. For example, cooks may take orders and also wash the counters and dishes.

Skills and knowledge

Cooks need to have:

  • ability to cook quickly and safely in a busy kitchen
  • ability to follow recipes and instructions
  • knowledge of food hygiene, stock rotation and food storage methods
  • knowledge of kitchen equipment
  • knowledge of how a commercial kitchen works.

Cooks may also need business skills if they run their own business.

Working conditions


  • may work long hours that include early mornings, evenings and weekends, and may do shift work
  • work in environments that can be hot, noisy and stressful, as food must be prepared quickly and under pressure.

What's the job really like?

Yvette Speeden

Yvette Speeden

Short Order Cook

You don't have to be stroppy to be a good chef

Having a cool head is an essential quality for anyone thinking about becoming a cook, says cook Yvette Speeden. "You have to be well organised and stay calm. A lot of chefs are so stroppy and I don't think it's necessary; if you lose it, the whole kitchen can fall apart."

Realising formal qualifications are helpful

Starting out in fish and chip shops, Yvette learned her trade through working in kitchens around Hastings. While training on the job has worked for her, she recommends aspiring cooks get a formal qualification. "I started working at an iconic Hastings restaurant just because I was passionate about it. They actually said, 'There's no point you training properly because you'll never be in a position to be a head chef.' Thirteen years down the track I think, 'I should have done some training.' "

Satisfaction in cooking healthy meals

After working for a number of years in restaurants, Yvette and her husband, who is a butcher, bought a mobile food caravan, which they ran until they moved into catering early in 2008. "The best thing is doing what I enjoy most and that's cooking and supplying good healthy meals, trying to source local product and growing a business."

Entry requirements

Entry requirements for cooks vary depending on the employer. Some cafes and bars only employ fully-qualified chefs as cooks, others employ people who have done shorter training courses and train them on the job.

However, many people who work in takeaway bars, fast food restaurants and fish and chip shops have no formal cooking qualifications.

Cookery qualifications offered by polytechnics and other providers 

These include:

  • food hygiene courses
  • foundation cookery courses
  • two-year professional cooking courses
  • work-based training courses, such as an apprenticeship in cookery.

Secondary education

There are no specific secondary education requirements to become a cook, but useful subjects include English, maths and food technology.

Personal requirements

Cooks need to be:

  • able to pay attention to detail
  • quick, efficient and customer-focused
  • adaptable and creative
  • able to multitask and maintain concentration
  • able to work well under pressure and deal with high-stress environments
  • able to lead a team
  • able to listen and communicate well.

It's important to love food. If you don't enjoy eating you shouldn't really be in the industry.

Penn Evans - Cook

Useful experience

Experience as a waiter/waitress, or in a catering or food business is useful for this job.

Some basic training through introductory cooking courses is also useful.

Physical requirements

Cooks need to have a reasonable level of fitness as they spend a lot of time on their feet. They also need good hand-eye co-ordination, as they handle sharp knives and other kitchen tools.

Cooks must have a high level of personal hygiene.

Find out more about training

Hospitality New Zealand
04 385 1369 - -
0800 863 693 - -
Check out related courses

What are the chances of getting a job?

Vacancies common, particularly for experienced cooks

Although vacancies arise often, your chances of getting work are better if you have relevant qualifications and/or experience in the industry, as employers report difficulty finding skilled cooks. This is because:

  • cooks frequently leave the industry for other work 
  • hospitality is a large industry, employing about 126,000 people.

Types of employers varied

Cooks work in a range of eateries that tend to specialise in fast food. These include:

  • cafes
  • fast food outlets
  • bars and pubs
  • small restaurants, grills and bistros
  • kitchens at private companies, schools, universities, hospitals, care homes and government buildings.


  • Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2003-2013 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2013.
  • Restaurant Association of New Zealand, '2013 Hospitality Industry Report', 26 July 2013, (
  • ServiceIQ, Careers New Zealand interview, December 2015, (

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)

Progression and specialisations

Cooks may move into supervisory, or more senior chef positions.

They may also set up their own businesses, such as cafes or takeaway shops.

Penn Evans checking food on a tray in a kitchen

Cooks need to be able to prepare a range of foods

Last updated 12 September 2019