Author: Chef Perry
One of the most often-overlooked skills of a talented chef is knowing how to run a kitchen line. The success or failure of a restaurant depends heavily on this and can impact both front and back of house immensely. Escoffier’s creation of the Brigade System in the late 19th century changed the way restaurants operated then, and it’s been in place ever since with modern restaurants still following his lead.
The kitchen line is the heartbeat of both the front and back of house and the cooks who work the line (line cooks) manage individual stations to prepare the various parts of each dish, grilling, frying, saucing, etc.
Running the line in a restaurant kitchen requires many essential skills, among them:
Budget, space, and your menu requirements determine how to set up and run the stations of your line. Some stations can be combined to save space and money, while others may not even be necessary for every shift.
Regardless of the number of stations or line cooks required, factors like layout, proper preparation (mise en place), communication, and teamwork can make or break a successful line.
A strategically designed kitchen allows for efficiency and consistency between the front and back of house, helping to ensure the highest possible quality and service. A poorly designed kitchen creates a haphazard workspace, one that is clumsy and time-consuming, leading to lower quality and more frustrations.
There are many options when it comes to the layout of your kitchen and line. These options have been perfected over decades and developed over centuries of trial and refinement.
Some popular commercial kitchen layouts include:
The backbone of any restaurant kitchen is “mise en place “, the French culinary term which means “everything in its place.”
Each cook at each station must assemble and prep every component of every dish that comes off their station. This step is essential because once orders start coming in, the time it would take to individually prep or leave a station to restock ingredients would muddle the flow of the kitchen and risk the line getting into the dreaded “weeds.”
It’s a philosophy and discipline that requires a dedicated space for pot, pan, and utensil, as well as a continually running mental inventory of every ingredient needed for their shift.
A well-regulated mise en place allows the cook to work without ever having to pause and look for an ingredient, instinctively knowing that where everything will be. This careful planning adds efficiency to the cooking process and minimises the customer’s wait time for their order (which equates to faster turnover).
Effective mise en place requires excellent planning and sound order projections for each shift. Keeping detailed sales records allows the chef, and the line, to reasonably predict upcoming sales patterns for each item on the menu, and to stock and prep accordingly.
The typical restaurant kitchen is a study in controlled chaos. All it takes is for one station to get backed up, one entrée burned, or one dish getting sent back to throw the entire line into the weeds.
Just like football players on a team, the line needs a coach; someone to call the strategy and adjust the game plan as needed. The line is your team, and each team member needs to be comfortable asking for help if they need it.
Every line cook needs to be able to run their station correctly, but the ability to work together to keep the whole kitchen out of the weeds is a trait that should be encouraged and rewarded.
The frenetic pace, heat, and noise of the kitchen can lead to frayed nerves and explosive outbursts. Mutual respect must not only be encouraged but demanded, for the sake of the entire line. Bullying, harassment, and resentment between staff can bring down a restaurant faster than the worst review. The chef who allows it only has themselves to blame. There are unwritten rules that should be followed.
Publicly reward exceptional effort, praise whenever possible and, when you can, save criticism for one-on-one performance reviews.
Running a kitchen line is much more than just managing a group of cooks. Just like a coach has the responsibility of understanding how things like weather and time-between-games effect play, a chef is responsible for recognising factors that affect the kitchen.
Kitchen reports from modern POS systems contain vital information for the kitchen manager’s playbook. Information like:
Having this insight and, more importantly, using it to make decisions, can offer a significant improvement in line efficiency and morale while reducing waste and unnecessary expenses.
Cooks take care of their station on the line. They prep their ingredients, cook what they are responsible for, and maintain a safe and sanitary workplace.
For kitchen managers or chefs higher in the brigade, the entire line is their “station”, and they are ultimately responsible for everything that their kitchen produces. To live up to that responsibility, they must model and encourage a team attitude, regularly monitor and deal with inefficiencies, and strive to get the most out of every player.
That’s how you win games.
That’s how you run a successful kitchen line.
Are you stepping up to help run the line? Here's How To Be a Good Sous Chef.
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