How Do Successful Restaurants Operate?

Chef preparing meal in restaurant

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Maybe you're thinking about opening your own restaurant, or maybe you just want to work in a dining establishment. In either case, it can be beneficial to have a fundamental knowledge of staff needs and the positions involved, from type of chef down to line cooks as well as noncooking roles.  

Positions are numerous and are divided between "back" and "front" of house. Front of house is where diners gather to enjoy the food, and back of house is where the food is prepared.

Chef or Cook? 

Depending on the size and theme of the restaurant, just one cook might prepare all of the food or several cooks might work together in the kitchen. The terms chef and cook are often used interchangeably. Originally, a chef was a professionally trained individual. Today, the term is often applied to any lead cook in the kitchen. 

The Executive Chef

The executive chef or head chef is responsible for designing the menu, creating the specials, ordering the food, and serving as the general manager of the kitchen. The executive chef also typically handles the scheduling, hiring, and firing of kitchen staff, and is responsible for the quality of the food that leaves the kitchen. Every detail of the kitchen's operation traces back to the executive chef.

This position is normally filled by someone with several years of cooking and restaurant management experience, and a culinary degree. A knack for detail and the ability to thrive in a fast-paced environment can be critical. The average base pay is about $59,000 a year, but can be considerably more in major cities and upscale establishments. 

The Sous Chef

The sous chef is the executive chef’s assistant and the next in command. It's the sous chef's job to take over operations when the executive chef is not present. Sous chefs might fill in on the line or work a particular station on busy nights.

Many smaller restaurants do not keep a sous chef on staff, but this position requires the same skills, experience, and training as that of an executive chef. The average base salary for a sous chef is just under $46,000 a year. But again, this can be higher, depending on the location and the restaurant. 

The Line Cook

The most common title in the kitchen is that of the line cook, and it does not refer to just one position or job duty. Depending on the kitchen setup and menu, a restaurant might have two to eight or more line cooks. A line cook refers to anyone in charge of a particular station in the kitchen, such as: 

  • Sauté Chef: This cook is in charge of anything cooked in a sauté pan. The position is typically filled by the best cook on staff behind the executive chef and the sous chef.
  • Grill Cook: This cook takes care of everything prepared on the char-grill or flattop grill, such as meat, chicken, and fish.
  • Fry Cook: This is an entry-level position in the kitchen. The fry cook is in charge of anything that requires deep-frying, such as french fries, chicken fingers, and onion rings.

Virtually no kitchen is without at least one line cook, including fast-food establishments, and a single line cook can staff more than one station in slower restaurants. Line cooks earn an average base pay of about $26,000 a year. If you're looking to start out in the industry, this position can give you a great toehold to move up after you master one or more stations. 

Other Types of Chef Positions

Larger restaurants or those with very specialized menus often employ chefs, such as:

  • Dessert Chef: Many restaurants require that servers prepare their customers' desserts, but, in more upscale or specialty eateries, the dessert chef prepares the desserts.
  • Pastry Chef: This individual is in charge of making all of the baked goods, including breads and desserts. 
  • Salad Chef:  A restaurant that offers many types of salads and other cold menu items might keep a salad chef on hand to prepare and oversee these dishes. 

The Expeditor

The expeditor is someone who makes sure that restaurant operations proceed at an efficient rate. An expeditor's responsibilities include organizing orders by table and garnishing the dishes before the server takes them out to the dining room. Expeditors are only needed when the kitchen is exceptionally busy, which can be continuously in some popular establishments. This role often acts as a liaison between back and front of house. 

The expeditor also must be very familiar with the menu and understand how menu items should appear when they leave the kitchen and are served to guests. Good communication is key in this role. 

The Caller 

This employee calls out the incoming orders to the cooks and tells the rest of the kitchen staff what immediate tasks they should perform. The executive chef often acts as the caller during the dinner rush.

A caller needs to be quick-witted and highly organized, knowing exactly how long each menu item takes to prepare. A well-done prime rib requires much more time than a rare grilled tuna steak, and their timing must be coordinated so that both orders arrive at the table at the same time.

Hiring Staff 

Hiring the right person for each position—or, if you're looking for a position, applying for the right job—can be critical. Employees must be able to work together efficiently and communicate effectively with all workers. Making sure that your staff is trained to do a variety of tasks can also help keep kitchen operations running smoothly, ensuring that customers get the best possible food in a timely manner. 

For a restaurant to be successful, it is important to hire talented staff, who have a clear understanding of their role at any given time, are flexible in their duties, and are good communicators who work well with others. This is important, especially at a restaurant's busiest times, when you need everyone to work together to ensure your guests have a great experience.