how a restaurant kitchen work

How a Restaurant Kitchen Works

The kitchen is the engine that runs the entire restaurant. It is where all the produce comes in fresh, converted to dishes, and dispatched to customer tables.

While most people are familiar with the layout of the dining area and how meals are ordered, some of people are curious of what happens from the time you make your order to the time it lands on your table.

So how does a restaurant kitchen work? Well, it is functioning is based on a well-organized structure of workers, and a system that facilitates communication between them.

To fully comprehend how this works, you need to understand its structure first, then the function.

Anatomy of a restaurant kitchen

The structure of a restaurant kitchen is all about the division of duties among the kitchen staff. This is due to the diverse range of tasks that need to be done in the same place; ingredients need to brought in,meals prepared and sent out, dirty dishes cleaned and stacked, and the place kept neat.

It is therefore only by applying the principle of division of labor that this machine can keep running. How many staff departments in restaurant kitchen? It has 3 staff departments:

  • Chefs.
  • Dishwashers.
  • Kitchen helpers.


Chefs make up the bulk of the kitchen staff. Their service is what makes the kitchen what it is. The number of chefs in a restaurant depends on the seating capacity and the menu's diversity. So it can range anywhere from 3 to over a hundred chefs.

Chefs usually have different titles and roles in the kitchen. This division is based on the management system used in the kitchen.

The titles include:

Head chef: The head chef is the CEO of the kitchen. His/her duties range from coordination of all chef activities, managing supplies, checking on inventory, tracking kitchen expenses, and any other managerial duties in the kitchen.

It is basically a managerial position and is often limited to restaurants with a huge seat capacity.

Sous chef: This is the assistant to the head chef. The duties of this role involve a more hands-on coordination of kitchen activities such as conveying of orders and allocating duties to the other chefs.

Station chef: Station chefs are the workers who actually do all the cooking. There's usually a single station chef for every kind of meal.

This enables them to focus on that dish and be efficient in production. Common station chefs include vegetable chef, butcher chef, fry chef, pastry chef, and sauté chef.

Junior chef: This is a junior member who works as an assistant to the station chef. The activities of all these chefs are coordinated by a kitchen management system to enable efficient delivery of food.

The dish washing staff

This department works completely independent from chefs. They work in the washing area that is located separately from the food preparation  section.

The number of dishwashers is determined by the seating capacity and the turnover of tables. Small restaurants can manage with one dishwasher, while large or busy restaurants can have up to 10 dishwashers.

Rush hours, especially lunch hour is usually the busiest for the dish washing department, and may actually necessitate an increase in manpower during this period.

Kitchen porter or helper

These are staff members who assist in all the other tasks in the kitchen. Their duties are diverse: cleaning and organizing the kitchen,clearing chefs' working stations, peeling potatoes, washing salads, and any other duty that needs to be done. They often have no training in any culinary techniques.

Working formula of A Restaurant Kitchen

A girl working on a kitchen

Now having understood the different components of this powerful machine, we can look at how it runs. The head chef oversees the supply of raw supplies and ingredients. Orders are made regularly to stock up the inventory.

All the supplies needed at a chef’s workstation are supplied by the kitchen helpers. They get the steak from the freezers to the butcher chef. They wash the tomatoes vegetables and salads and set it all up on the vegetable station. At this point, the chef is ready to begin cooking.

1. Pre-prepared meals

Some meals are prepared before the orders are placed. Meals such as stews are prepared in advanced. Vegetable salads, bread, and other pastries are also made in anticipation of the orders.

2. Ordered meals

This is where military-like coordination of activities comes into play. Kitchen management systems are put in place to ensure that the orders are processed in due time, with earlier orders, and those with urgency being given priority.

The most popular kitchen management system is the Kitchen Brigade system. It is used in most professional kitchens.

3. The Brigade system

It is also known as the French Brigade system. It is a system that uses a military command system to ensure efficiency in operations.

The hierarchy of chefs is used to communicate and coordinate orders. 

Whenever a waiter comes with an order, a docket ticket is printed and handed to the head chef. The head chef reads out the order to the rest of the chefs.

The starter meal, let's say stir fried chili chicken, for example, is identified, and a station chef starts working on that meal. Meanwhile, the waiter delivers warm bread to the customers' to buy time for meal preparation.

4. Prioritization:

The orders are processed in terms of urgency. A butcher chef might have 5 orders waiting in line will work on the one that was ordered first till the last. He/she delegates some of these duties to the junior chef.

During this period, the estimated time is taken to complete the order will be communicated to the Sous Chef, who will pass the information to the waiter.

Once the starter is completed and handed to the waiter, the head chef will strike off the starter and get an estimate from the waiter on how much time the kitchen has to prepare the main meal.

Restaurant kitchen working procedure

If the time is sufficient, the head chef will then move on to process another order so as to avoid keeping other customers waiting. While other orders are being processed, the station chefs are notified of how many minutes they have to prepare the main meal.

The head chef may yell out "8 minutes away on that pork chop". This is to remind the butcher chef how much time he has till the order is needed. Using this system of prioritization they handle all meals on the order, from starters to desserts, while skipping from one customer's order to another.

Robert Irvine, a renowned chef credits the chefs' commitment to the system as the most important factor in the kitchen. "It's discipline. That's the biggest factor in a kitchen," he explains.

5. Dish washing

Once customers leave, the waiter clears the table and brings all the dirty dishes to the kitchen. The dish washing staff takes over from here. The first step is emptying of the leftovers. Some restaurants sort this into greens and meats for purposes of feeding animals, while others dump it all together.

The plates are then placed in the dish washing station of kitchen. Most restaurants have at least two or three washers. One does the washing, another the wringing, and the third does the stacking. This way, chefs always have clean plates to serve the meals. To clean up dirty dishes, you can use undermout kitchen sinks.

6. Cleaning and keeping

This is a continuous activity. The kitchen porters are always on their toes removing all the chopping, filled up leftovers, and any messes that occur. Cleaning of the floors is also done after every few hours to keep the place neat.

In conclusion, a restaurant's kitchen is not only its busiest section but also one with the most complex of operations.

For efficiency in the kitchen, there must be a well-designed management system, and self-discipline from each individual staff member.

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