Most of restaurant and catered event staff are placed into two categories, front of house (waiters, hosts, bartenders) and back of house (kitchen and inventory staff). While front of house tends to make more tips than back of house, the BOH staff tend to be the more career-oriented of the two. In other words, if your dream is to become a chef—or maybe run your own restaurant—then you’ll probably be spending some time in back of house.
Dishwasher. The dishwasher is generally the lowest on the totem pole, but there’s no shame in that—you have to start somewhere. This is hard, repetitive work, but it also puts you in a good spot for advancement. When management is looking for inside hires to move up to the kitchen, they often look at the dishwashers. Get to know your chefs and show them that you can “move” and before long you may be working alongside them.
Expediter. The role of the expediter is to ensure that each plate leaves the kitchen complete, correct, and looking it’s best. You’ll “finish” the meals prepared by the kitchen by assembling them on the plate, saucing them, or adding side dishes. Then you’ll “send” the completed orders to the service staff on time and in order by seating. Expediting is all about quality control—you’re the last line of defense before the guests receive their food. Be organized, make sure you stamp your tickets (i.e., don’t send the same appetizer to the same table twice), and don’t be afraid to send something back to the kitchen if it’s not up to par.
Prep Cook. Prep cooks come in early to prepare all of the things for service—chopping vegetables, making sauces, and portioning out food. This is a good place to start honing your skills to see if being a chef is something that captures your interest. Prep cooks aren’t required to know much about cooking to begin. You’ll learn knife skills and get to work with and understand the ingredients used in cooking.
Line Cook. Working on the line is stressful. It’s a fast moving environment and that requires utilizing heat and knives, so always keep safety in mind. The line is the engine room of the restaurant. Without the line, nothing happens. The key to success here is communication. When the chef calls out an order, make sure you say “yes, chef” or “heard” to let the line know that you understand. Make sure you don’t forget season your food and make sure you know your meat temperatures. Line cooks work long hours and often overtime, so be prepared for that. In return, you’re gaining valuable experience for your culinary career and the rewarding experience of personally preparing people’s food.