Move up the Food Chain: How to Get Noticed at Your Line Cook Job
For many people, working as a line cook is their first experience in a restaurant kitchen. Although this can be an entry-level position, it offers opportunities to advance if your work stands out. Chefs notice the best cooks who work under their guidance, and they mentor and promote line cooks who show aptitude.
Here’s how to make a good impression as a line cook:
1. Arrive at work on time
Punctuality is especially important for cooks because one missing person can slow down an entire kitchen. Arriving late can also mean your sous chef or chef has to fill you in on menu changes or other updates that your coworkers were briefed on when the shift began. If possible, try to arrive a few minutes early to make sure you’re ready to jump into the workflow on time.
2. Be flexible
It’s not unusual for restaurants to need line cooks for additional hours, or to need some team members to go off site and work at a catered meal or a charity event. Be flexible about the times and places you work. Offer to work a double shift if needed or to help staff special events, even if they weren’t originally part of your job description. Your chef will be grateful that you can be counted on to help out whenever you’re needed.
3. Be meticulous with preparation and cleanup
Give your full attention to whatever routine tasks you’re assigned, whether that’s chopping vegetables or wiping down a counter. Even if prep tasks aren’t as interesting as assembling a completed dish, they keep your kitchen running smoothly. Your chef will notice that you do your best work at all times, even if the task isn’t the most glamorous.
4. Ask questions
If you don’t fully understand a new culinary technique, find a time when your chef or sous chef isn’t too busy, and ask about it. Similarly, ask about any new ingredients you begin working with to make sure you understand the optimal ways to handle and prepare them. You’ll learn a lot and become a better cook as a result. And your chef will appreciate that you take the time to improve your culinary knowledge.
5. Speak your coworkers’ language
Communicating effectively with other team members is important in a kitchen, where everyone needs to work together seamlessly. Put in extra effort to learn how to communicate with your coworkers. If any of your coworkers speak a different language, it may help to learn a few words in their language—like “please,” “thank you,” and words for common ingredients and cooking processes.
Observe how your coworkers prefer to interact. Does one of them like to hold a running conversation as you work? Join in and help keep the conversation going. Does someone else prefer to keep chatting to a minimum, talking only when it’s necessary to coordinate tasks? Respect that person’s communication style, and don’t try to involve them in a lengthy discussion.
6. Be accessible
Make it easy for your chef or coworkers to talk to you, both in and out of work. On the job, be responsive when anyone wants to ask a question or share a comment. Make eye contact, and give that person your attention. Try to react calmly to what they say, even if you’re rushing to complete an order or if they criticize something you did. Outside of work, check your phone regularly and try to call back promptly if your employer wants to get in touch. You’ll be known as someone who’s always open to questions, comments, or critiques, and your team members will feel more comfortable sharing feedback and instructions with you.
7. Keep learning about culinary techniques
Read books about cooking, industry news, and culinary magazines. Watch tutorials and interviews with chefs. Listen to culinary podcasts. You’ll improve your cooking abilities; plus, building your knowledge base will prepare you to more readily pick up new techniques and concepts that your chef teaches you on the job.