Everyone knows that a restaurant must have a chef to make food. But do you know all of the other roles that go into making a restaurant kitchen maintain its steady hum of activity?
While the responsibility of the kitchen will typically fall on a head chef, there are many other roles that are necessary to success and streamlining the cooking process so that food can be delivered consistently, quickly, and with great quality. This post will demystify the magic that goes on in the back of the house, with a detailed description of key restaurant cooking positions.
How many employees does it take to make a restaurant run? Before going into key restaurant cooking positions, it should be noted that every restaurant will require a different number of employees and kitchen staff. Just as there are many different types of restaurants, there are many unique cooking configurations at different establishments.
For instance, a small, family-owned restaurant may indeed just have one or two people in the kitchen, who will absorb all of the responsibilities detailed below. A large restaurant in a high-traffic urban area, on the other hand, might have all of these roles filled in duplicate.
While the configuration will be different in every kitchen, this guide offers an introduction to the positions in the “back of the house” at restaurants.
Guide to restaurant cooking positions: these are some of the key positions in the kitchen and responsibilities associated with them.
Head or executive chef: This position comes with a lot of responsibility. The head or executive chef (also sometimes known as the “chef manager”) is responsible for everyone in the kitchen, and every speck of food that comes out of the kitchen. This is often a key liaison between the kitchen and the front of the house, and work closely with the restaurant manager.
A head chef must be able to wear many different hats with ease and effortlessness. Managerial skills and good communication are key in keeping the kitchen running at its optimum productivity. Extremely developed cooking skills are key. While the head chef is probably not in the trenches cooking every dish, he or she is aware of all of the activity that goes into making each dish, and may step in to finish or refine dishes as needed.
In addition to the above responsibilities, the head chef is often responsible for designing and altering the menu for the restaurant. This is definitely not a position to be taken lightly.
Sous chef: I like to think of the sous chef as the head chef’s “vice president” in the kitchen; they are second in command. The sous chef position is very similar to the head chef position (and in fact, the sous chef is the one to step in if the head chef is ill or unable to be present), but primarily focuses on the planning and food preparation in the kitchen.
A sous chef has to have very good communication skills, keeping the kitchen staff in line and producing food in the most streamlined way possible.
While the sous chef probably spends more time in the kitchen preparing dishes than a head chef, they still have quite a bit of administrative responsibility, too. For the cooking staff, the sous chef is likely their go-to person in the kitchen, whether they need to discuss their job, performance, or request days off. The sous chef may also be responsible for creating inventory and order lists for food items.
Expeditor: The expeditor has a big responsibility: making sure that the food is prepared and delivered with expediency and consistency. In a restaurant setting, they are the ones who keep track of multiple dishes going to the same table, working with various line chefs to make sure that they are delivered in a timely fashion so that they can go out together.
An expeditor might work in a fast food type establishment, too, in which case their responsibilities would focus more on ensuring that various items in an order were prepared and ready to go for pickup or carryout.
Line cook: Often, a line cook position is the entree into restaurant cooking work for a budding chef. Line cooks are “in the trenches” so to speak, and responsible for the actual food preparation. Regardless of the type of line cook, great organization and the ability to create mise en place are vital. The ability to maintain a level head in a fast-moving and stressful environment is important, too. They can be asked at a moment’s notice to make something or re-make something, so they must be nimble.
Line cooks can include the following:
- Sauté chef: responsible for preparing sautéed items. The sauté chef or cook will work at a range and pretty much remain there all night, prepping and cooking meats, poultry, fish, and vegetables (depending on the restaurant’s offerings). They will often create sauces from the juices from the pans, deglazing and cleaning as needed. This is a chef in constant motion in a small space.
- Grill chef: if a restaurant has a lot of grilled items or focuses on a grilled item such as steak, chances are they have a grill chef (or more than one). They need to have a good knowledge of food safety and the ability to grill efficiently and to order, especially when restaurants offer different choices of how an item (say, a burger or a steak) is cooked.
- Fry chef: Similar to a sauté chef, but focusing on fried items. Typically the main difference is that sauteed items keep moving in the pan, whereas fried items require attention to monitoring the temperature to ensure even and crisp frying.
- Salad chef: This is the person responsible for preparing salads and greens, as well as cold items. For instance, if a restaurant offers a cheese or charcuterie plate, the salad chef would likely be the one to put them together.
- Pastry chef: The pastry chef is the person responsible for a restaurant’s desserts. He or she may work during the restaurant’s open hours, but often will work earlier in the day, and will be leaving just as the rest of the staff comes in. Sometimes, they don’t work at the restaurant at all but at a different location, and deliver the finished desserts.
This person is trained in the art of pastry-making, and may create batches of desserts featured at the restaurant, or a number of individual desserts.
Dessert prep chef: This is the person responsible for plating, garnishing, and sending out desserts. Often, while desserts can be made ahead of time, they will require plating or garnishing that is best done to order. The dessert prep chef is responsible for making the desserts ready for serving on an as-needed basis while the restaurant is open.
Caller: While the caller might not even cook, his or her position is vital to bridging the gap between the “front” (waitstaff, bartenders, etc) and “back” (kitchen staff) of the restaurant. He or she calls out the incoming orders to cooks, and tells them when and what to work on. The caller might be an individual, or it may become the responsibility of one of the kitchen staff during busy hours. They need to know how long items on the menu take to prepare, and time it out so that food can be delivered to a certain table at the same time.
Conclusion: The phrase “it takes a village” is extremely appropriate when considering the many positions which coexist in a restaurant kitchen. Each role is vital in supporting the others, and it’s important that these many roles work in harmony to keep the kitchen working efficiently. The next time you enjoy a meal out, take a moment to appreciate all of the hard work that went into making your dinner delightful.
Are you surprised by how many restaurant cooking positions are available?