Education and Training: On-the-job training
Salary: Median—$8.11 per hour
Employment Outlook: Good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Short-order cooks work in small full-service restaurants, grills, coffee shops, and other eateries where dishes are prepared as soon as they are ordered. Some short-order cooks work for schools, hospitals, or other institutions. Their main job is to prepare good food as quickly as possible, so they specialize in cooking hot breakfasts items, grilled sandwiches, hamburgers, chili dogs, and other dishes that take only a few minutes to fix.
Short-order cooks must be good organizers. During rush periods the wait staff drops off dozens of food orders in the kitchen; short-order cooks must keep track of these orders and make sure that guests who arrive first are served first. Many orders are cooked on the grill at one time, so short-order cooks must juggle several items without allowing any of them to burn. To keep hot meals hot, they must notify the wait staff that orders are ready as soon as the food is put on serving plates.
Short-order cooks do more than cook. During slow periods in the restaurant they prepare foods for cooking. For example, they slice cheese, weigh meat portions for individual sandwiches, wash and cut vegetables, and prepare coleslaw and lettuce for salads. Sometimes they are assisted in these jobs by kitchen helpers.
Short-order cooks also stock the kitchen with the tools and ingredients they need. They make sure that salt, pepper, and other seasonings are within easy reach and put clean pots and pans, knives, spatulas, spoons, and other cooking utensils in their work area. Short-order cooks also perform some cleaning duties such as wiping down grills, slicers, and other kitchen equipment.
At very small restaurants and lunch counters, the tasks of short-order cooks often overlap with the jobs of other workers. Cooks may take orders, make out checks, and operate the cash register. Sometimes they wash dishes and clean the counters and tables in the dining room. Wherever they work and whatever their specific tasks are, short-order cooks must work quickly and provide customers with well-prepared food.
Education and Training Requirements
A formal education is not necessary to become a short-order cook; however, employers prefer to hire people who have a high school education. Taking cooking courses in vocational school will increase a candidate's chances for employment. Generally, new cooks learn their skills on the job by working with an experienced short-order cook. Most short-order cooks begin as dining room attendants, dishwashers, or kitchen helpers.
Short-order cooks must be able to work well with their hands and must have a good sense of taste. Most states require a certificate of health stating that the cook has no communicable diseases.
Getting the Job
Prospective short-order cooks should apply directly to the restaurants in which they would like to work. Newspaper want ads and state employment offices often have listings for short-order cooks. Some candidates take a job as a dishwasher or a dining room attendant and work toward a promotion.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Short-order cooks often hone their cooking skills in small restaurants so they can better compete for jobs in larger establishments. Those who have a good business sense may decide to open their own restaurants.
The employment outlook for short-order cooks is expected to grow as fast as the average through the year 2014. Increasing numbers of Americans are eating out, and many of them enjoy the fast service that short-order cooks provide. Plenty of new job openings are expected because of the high turnover rate for employees in this position.
Short-order cooks generally work in small eating establishments. Many restaurants have modern equipment, good lighting, and good ventilation; however, kitchens are often noisy and quite warm. During rush periods short-order cooks must be able to work well under pressure. They are usually on their feet throughout their shifts.
Short-order cooks work approximately forty to forty-eight hours a week. They may work morning, day, or evening shifts and often rotate shifts with other cooks. Some weekend and holiday work is required.
Earnings and Benefits
Earnings vary depending on location and experience. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, short-order cooks received a median wage of $8.11 per hour in 2004. Those working in full-service restaurants and those with more experience usually earn more. Most cooks receive periodic raises as they gain experience and seniority.
Where to Go for More Information
The International Council on Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Education
2810 N. Parham Rd., Ste. 230
Richmond, VA 23294
National Restaurant Association
1200 Seventeenth St. NW
Washington, DC 20036
Benefits depend on the particular employer. Most cooks receive free meals. Some restaurants provide health insurance, paid vacations, and retirement plans to full-time employees.