Restaurant Cooks typically work in small to medium size restaurants. They're required to prepare a larger variety of foods when compared to fast-food cooks or cooks employed in cafeterias. They prepare entrees, soups, salads, side dishes desserts and other types of food. Restaurant cooks typically prepare foods according to recipes. They must learn to effectively use a variety of cooking equipment such as grills, ovens, broilers, pots and pans, knives and slicers. Restaurant cooks have to perform at a high standard while working at a fast-pace. A keen sense of taste and smell are also important in the profession.
Head restaurant cooks supervise the other kitchen employees, determine food requirements and order the appropriate supplies. They may also plan menus and determine food portions. Head cooks are also responsible for uniform quality and presentation of meals.
Some restaurants have designated cooks such as fry cooks, grill cooks and vegetable cooks. Large restaurants usually have a team of cooks. Each cook typically works at a specific station and prepares specific types of foods.
Institution and cafeteria cooks are employed in hospitals, schools, businesses and other settings. Typically, they prepare an extensive amount of food, based on a small number of entrees and side dishes and desserts. Short-order cooks usually work in restaurants and coffee shops that require food to be prepared quickly. Fast-food restaurant cooks typically work with a limited selection of food items.
The tasks required of restaurant cooks vary by the work environment and the employer. However, typically restaurant cooks are responsible to perform a variety of tasks including:
- Help determine the amount of food supplies required
- Some restaurant cooks may assist supervisors in planning menus, including for special events
- Restaurant cooks may be required to keep records and accounts
- Cook food based on recipes or personal experience
- Broil, bake, roast and steam meats, vegetables and fish
- Create bread, cakes and pastries
- Test food to make sure it has been cooked properly
- Check food preparation and service areas to make sure they meet safety and sanitary standards
- Determine food portions for meals
- Assist other cooks during busy periods
Restaurant cooks must be good at working as part of a team. Being able to communicate in popular foreign languages can be advantageous while working with other restaurant employees.
Some restaurants provide modern equipment, air conditioning and spacious work areas. Some restaurants, especially those situated in older buildings, often include smaller work areas and do not provide the quality work environment provided in newer restaurants.
During peak dining hours, restaurant kitchens typically becoming fast paced environments and cooks must be able to handle the pressure and be able to effectively communicate during the rush periods. They must also have the ability to stand for long periods of time and work close to hot grills and ovens and lift heavy pots.
Cooks may be scheduled to work in the early morning hours, late in the evenings, on weekends and on holidays. Often variable work schedules are available.
The median earnings for restaurant cooks was $20,340 in 2006. The lowest 10 percent of restaurant cooks earned about $14,370 and the highest 10 percent earned more than $28,850.
Approximately one-third of restaurant cooks work part-time. Typically, two-thirds of cooks are employed at restaurants and food services settings and about 15% or employed at institutions. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (USDL BLS), employment for restaurant cooks is expected to increase by 11% from 2006 to 2016 which is about the average growth increase for all occupations.
Shown below in descending order, are the employment opportunities for cooks based on government statistics:
- Fast-food restaurants
- Institutions and cafeterias
- Short-order cooks
- Head cooks
A lot of the job growth is expected to be provided by causal dining restaurants. The government projects competition will be high for restaurant cook positions in upscale restaurants due to slower growth in this employment area. Employment opportunities are often available for part-time positions.
Industry experts have stated that restaurant cooks in travel related settings were at the higher end of the pay scale while cooks at limited service restaurants were at the lower end of the pay scale.
Restaurant Cook Training, Certification, and Licensing
The majority of restaurant cook positions require very little or no training or education in the field. Most employers for entry-level restaurant cook positions do not require a high school diploma. However, a high school diploma can be advantageous for those that want to advance in their career. The vast majority of restaurant cooks receive on-the-job training. Vocational schools offer basic programs which typically provide training in cooking techniques, sanitation and safety and food handling guidelines.
Head cooks are typically required to have several years of training and many years of experience. Employers seeking to hire advanced cooks typically require formal training in programs which last from a few months to a couple of years. The shorter programs usually provide training in basic cooking methods including baking, grilling and broiling. They also provide training with food handling and sanitation procedures and nutrition.
Long term programs train students for employment opportunities in upscale restaurants. These programs offer a certificate or a degree. The curriculums provide training in a wide variety of specialities and advanced cooking techniques and various cooking styles.
Students participating in culinary programs are provided with plenty of hands-on learning in kitchens. The programs also offer training in purchasing and inventory methods, nutrition, menu planning and food storage procedures. Some of the culinary programs also offer a thorough review of food service management, inventory software, computer accounting and banquet service.
Partnerships of the U.S. Department of Labor with culinary schools, trade unions and industry associations provide apprenticeship programs. In addition, the American Culinary Federation sponsors apprenticeship programs throughout the nation. Often hotels and restaurant chains as well as food service management companies provide paid internships and summer employment for workers beginning their cooking careers. Sometimes internships provide opportunities for cooks to be accepted into formal chef training programs.
Restaurant cooks are employed in upscale restaurants, hotel restaurants, casual dining settings, fast-food restaurants and coffee shops. Cooks are also employed in cafeterias and institution such as hospitals, schools and businesses.
Schools for Restaurant Cooks are listed in the Browse Schools Section.