Basic Kitchen Etiquette


Chits chits chits.

While many chefs start their careers in their teens I first entered a kitchen when I was 24. I quickly had to learn my basic kitchen etiquette through trial and error and sometimes that meant accidentally stepping on toes. In the hope of you being able to avoid this I have compiled a short list of rules that apply in the unique working world of the kitchen.

1.) Chef is King

This may seem obvious but I am blown away by the number of people I find in my kitchens that don’t know when they need to just say “Yes Chef”. It’s the middle of service and they bark at you not to dress the salads until the table is ready to go out. It doesn’t matter that you are already doing that, it doesn’t matter to him that you already know not to do that, he doesn’t have time to care at that moment. Just say “Yes Chef!”. In my personal experience I know that there were so many times when I would ask someone to do something and it would end up being a conversation that lasted five minutes. Those five minutes are precious. By all means, ask for clarification when you need it, but choose the right time for that.

2.) Talk while you work.

It is natural that you will get to know your colleagues very well, especially if it is a small kitchen. Talking is not a problem as long as it doesn’t slow you down. This goes double for dish washers or prep cooks who are often most guilty of this. Don’t talk to someone if you know it will distract them, don’t talk unless you have to during service, don’t talk unless you are busy working at the same time.

3.) (Wo)Man Up.

The kitchen is not a place where sympathy abounds. You are going to cut yourself and you are going to burn yourself. When you cut yourself, immediately tend to the wound. Clean it, put a bandaid or bandage on it, get a glove and get back to work. Unless the cut is quite serious, you will do all of that by yourself, maybe with the help of the dishwasher. If you are going to the hospital for a cut or a burn then you might be able to leave work, if it isn’t serious enough that professional first aid is required then get back to work. You can talk about your cuts and burns with pride, but not while whining.

4.) Sick?

If you are sick then you are sick at work. Drank too much last night? Not my fault get to work. Feeling sick to your stomach? Until you puke at work you shouldn’t be going home. Have a cold? You are working the entire time it passes through your body. One would think that because you are dealing with food your employer would want you to keep away from work if you had something contagious. Sadly, that is not true. Kitchens run with just enough staff to pull off what they need to pull off. If one goes down it means they have to find a replacement which usually means trying to convince someone to come in on a day off, which also means paying overtime (if your lucky enough to get paid overtime).

5.) Hands off my shit.

Towels, tongs, pans, knives, anything from someones knife bag, cutting boards. Use your own and only your own. If you need something that is currently being used by someone else, or something that is often used by someone else, you need to ask before you take it. It also needs to be returned better than when you took it. If you take my dry towel and return it damp then there is a good chance I will burn myself on a hot tray. If that happens, how will I react to you? Don’t cut things on a cutting board that is already set up without asking. There could have been raw chicken on the board before you go to cut herbs on it.

6.) On time means late.

Don’t show up for your 2:00 shift at 1:58. You are to be changed, hands washed, cutting board set up and beginning to work on stuff when 2:00 rolls around.

7.) Dishes.

If you get told to do dishes you do them without complaint. Everyone including the chef will be called on to do dishes at some point or another and no one is above that task. Also, respect the dishwashers. Feed them, talk to them, joke with them. They are the most overworked and underpaid employee in the restaurant, and without them you would have nothing to cook with and nothing to serve the food on. Wash your own knives. Tell them when you put something hot in the dish pit.

8.) If you have time to lean you have time to clean.

A classic kitchen saying and very true. Don’t stand around doing nothing if you are on the clock. If your prep list is done then ask if someone else needs help. If everyone is busy and you find yourself having to wait to ask them, grab a rag and start wiping something down.

9.) Your mise en place is your mise en place.

Never. Never ever ever. NEVER do you take someone elses prep. If you need chopped garlic for your line then it is your responsibility to chop it. If you want to be nice then chop enough garlic for your station as well as everyone elses. But only do this if you can get all of the rest of your mise en place done.

10.) Be happy.

Having a grumpy person in the kitchen puts stress on everyone. Your personal life needs to be left at home, if something is upsetting you at work you need to set it aside until the end of the day when you can talk to the chef (or better yet, come in early the next day to talk to them). Good kitchens run smoothly when everyone is happy, works as a team, is selfless, and communicates. Do your part in being part of the solution even if there are people who are only there to be part of the problem.

There are 10 rules to get you started. Let me know if you have any that you feel should be on here!


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