The Role of a Sous Chef or Kitchen Supervisor
The Role of a Sous Chef, Kitchen Supervisor, Lead Line Cook or other supervisory role in a restaurant kitchen can be summed up in one simple phrase: “It is your job to make the Chef’s job easier.” Everything you do revolves around that one simple idea. But this does not mean that you become a brown-noser, or that you work hard so the Chef can be lazy. It means that as a leader you execute your duties with professional discipline and thoroughness, seeking to solve/prevent problems before they actually occur. And it means that you actively ensure that the staff meet the Chef’s expectations on all things culinary.
So how do you make the Chef’s job easier? Let’s look at some examples.
Good leadership is much easier if you keep your mind and your tasks organized and prioritized. Have a plan for each day and a timeline for important tasks. If you don’t already have one, create a Task List for yourself (and for your crew!) A Task List makes it easy to stay focused, and it is a great way to help build new habits if you are trying to improve or take on new responsibilities.
If you do ordering:
- You use accurate pars when placing orders:
- Taking the time to actually inventory what you have on hand, not sitting in the office and filling out your orders by guessing what is in the storage areas.
- You order enough so that you do not run out of product, keeping the Chef from having to 86 items or find ways to acquire more product on the fly.
- You do not over-order. Over-ordering results in excessive product which either spoils, needs to be sold at a discounted price, or turned into a special. Each of these cost the Chef extra time and have a negative impact on food cost, which will come back to haunt the Chef at the next P&L meeting.
- You verify current pricing and get bids if appropriate from different high-cost items.
- You verify that the product you ordered actually arrives.
- If you interact with guests, you always do so in a professional manner which reflects well on the Chef and the company.
- If a guest sends something back to the kitchen and a re-fire is needed, you expedite that dish w/ the highest priority. If appropriate, you personally interact w/ the guest on resolving the issue.
- You actively manage the staff, squashing gossip, mitigating disputes/arguments, enforcing mutual respect, and trying to resolve staff problems early before they can fester.
- You apply your company’s HR rules fairly to everyone.
- You do not create problems for the Chef by being a monster, dictator, or micro-manager! You do not purposely push people’s buttons.
- You solve all petty staff problems so the Chef can focus on other things. But for those major staff issues, the Chef will probably still manage those, perhaps with your help.
- You manage your ego! You are confident but you are not arrogant. You have chosen to develop the skill of being able to swallow your pride.
Running the Line:
- Before service, you ensure that the crew is on task and that the work they do meets the Chef’s standards.
- During service, you keep the Line running as smoothly as possible to ensure good ticket times.
- You ensure that all food which leaves the kitchen:
- Is cooked to the Chef’s specifications regarding doneness, consistency, color, etc.
- Is properly plated according to the Chef’s eye for presentation of each dish.
- Is properly garnished.
- Has clean edges.
- You manage the interactions between servers and cooks, keeping interactions focused on solutions & guest satisfaction. You do not allow confrontations to escalate. Best practices usually call for servers to only communicate w/ kitchen leadership or wheel person and not directly w/ the cooks.
- You look at the reservation list and know when the busiest or hardest part of the shift will be.
Whether you do the scheduling or someone else does the scheduling, a primary role of a sous chef is to always take the time to review a newly posted schedule and try to solve problems immediately. Things to look for:
- Does someone have requested time off which was promised but the schedule does not show it?
- Are all shifts covered?
- Does each shift have the proper skill sets scheduled? If you have 3 Pantry people but no Grill cook that’s a problem!
- Is there a holiday, concert, or other special event which the schedule doesn’t take into account?
- Does someone’s weeks overlap in such a way that they have to work too many days in a row w/o a day off? This often happens when schedules are posted one week at a time.
In this industry you know that that bastard Murphy’s Law is going to show up. You daily break out your crystal ball to try to evaluate when and where problems may arise and you have a plan for them ahead of time, and you communicate these plans to the crew and to the Chef. You solve problems before they arise. Examples include:
- If an oven or other key piece of equipment is down, or has been unreliable, you…
- Try to get it fixed.
- Communicate a plan B to the crew.
- You have a plan for if someone calls out sick or has to leave early for any reason.
- If you are running low on a product or menu item, you have a plan.
- If weather is bad, you have planned menus (or you know the Chef’s planned menus) for contingency plan menus such as:
- Power Outage Menu – assumes that you will have generator power but now full power…how does that change your menu and your ability to execute the menu?
- Snow Menu – a limited menu for bad weather days which results in being severely short staffed for the day. The menu revolves around what can be done with a skeleton crew or less.
The Role of a Sous Chef or Supervisor is to Make the Chef’s Job Easier
I think you get the idea. By excelling at your duties, you therefore make the Chef’s job easier. Successfully doing your job as a leader takes things off the Chef’s plate so s/he can focus on whatever other things their boss puts on their plate.