How can I stay calm and organized as a line cook?

7
4
Joined Jan 2, 2018
I was hired a month ago at a chain restaurant and the location that I'm hired at is supposedly the busiest in the whole province. On one hand, I'm glad to be able to hone my skills at this fast pace environment. But on the other hand, I go home everyday feeling depressed because I felt like I wasn't pulling my weight and generally wasn't good enough compared to other cooks.

I'm working on fry/oven station and when it isn't rush, I feel great and I really enjoy doing what I do. I feel like it is exactly what I signed up for. When I say not rush, I mean dealing with 5-6 tickets at a time. But when it's rush and I have to deal with 10 tickets at a time, I just check out. I have absolutely no idea what is going on and other people have to come to help me. Everyday, I go home and plan out my procedure and tell myself that I will stay calm and stick to my procedure, but when it hits the fan, my mind goes blank. I try to cook all the food, but forgot to restock my plates. Then I would run to get the plates, another 10 tickets come in, then I start to cook them despite haven't yet plate the cooked food, and everything jsut goes downhill from there.

I didn't have any experience cooking in a professional kitchen, only at a pizza place where the oven is the only thing I needed to worry about. I never went to culinary school. I just feel like I'm not prepared for this. I know the recipes, I know the plating, I know everything by the book, I just can't execute them when the pressure is on. Please give me advice on how to stay cool and calm.
 
1,259
797
Joined Mar 1, 2017
Hi Leocube and welcome to CT.

Without knowing your exact set up etc, giving you specific advice to improve your efficiency is impossible.

But, in general, and I think you already know this, you have to get better at anticipating issues and time organization. For instance, take the plate issue that you described. Halfway through your stack of plates, you should've known that you were going to run out of plates soon. At that moment, you should've either asked someone to get some plates for you or you should've gone to get more and not wait until they were all gone. Not having plates to plate cooked food is a straight no go. Holding cooked food while the cook at that station runs to get more plates is another no go, especially during rush.

If you were working for me, I would tell you very simply that if you can handle 5-6 tickets, you can handle 10. If you have trouble figuring out where you could become more streamlined, ask co-workers who have more experience if they would be willing to give you some tips.

In order to know where you can improve, you must first know where you need improvement.

If you can provide more detail in terms of where specifically you are having trouble, we would be in a better position to give advice.

Good luck! :)
 
Last edited:
2,238
515
Joined Feb 17, 2010
It's only been a month, give it some time. It will all become muscle memory and you won't have to think about any of it.
Just make sure that all your prep is done along with backups. Always keep your station clean, no one likes to work with a slob.
 
7
4
Joined Jan 2, 2018
@sjsvirgil Hi, thanks for your insights. I guess one problem that I have is that I have trouble organizing the tickets. The ticket doesn't show each dish in its own line, everything looks like a paragraph (ex: fish&chips extra crispy fries coleslaw sub halibut calamari chicken strips fries plum sauce Steak medium rare sub sweet fries carrot fingers.....) and I have to spend time and pick out which is for my station and which isn't. I thought that the whole system was inefficient and confusing but apparently everyone else is fine with it, so I guess it's my problem.

I don't get to prepare my mise en place, other people do, I just come and cook. Sometimes they wouldn't prepare enough, or they would forget to prepare something, and I would only find out when I needed the item. Usually, when my shift starts, it would already be quite sometime into the service, so I just cross my fingers that everything that I need will be there. Also, space is limited and sometimes I don't have enough space to work on the cutting board since I share the same cutting board with the station next to mine. When I need space and I don't have it, i get frustrated and suddenly I loose my rhythm.

I can time everything in my head, but of course not everything goes as planned. I might go to the window to put up a dish and in my head, it would be as simple as that, but someone else would be standing there blocking the way or the sever haven't run the food and I have no space so I would need to spend extra time to try and squeeze my dish in there somewhere and I would get frustrated...and loose my rhythm. Most of the times,the kitchen runs out of plates, cups, ramekins. Sometimes the other cook would be yelling for their food and combining with the beeping from the fryer timer and the oven timer and everything becomes one big confusion.

I don't want to say that I have a bad memory, but I really need to focus when I'm working on multiple tickets and when other people starts talking to me and yelling for their food, I lose track of my thinking. If I stay quiet and work on my things, I feel like I'm not communicating enough as a team member. If I start talking out loud, I can't focus on my brain. I feel that everything would be not as stressful if I just calm down, but I can't calm down and I wish to be able to stay calm. Hope that this provides more details I really wish to be better at my job.

chefbuba chefbuba I feel like one month is a long time and I should have been ok with my job right now, which I guess technically, I am for the majority of my shifts. But other people still need to come and help me from time to time which makes me think that I'm not pulling my weight and I hate that feeling.
 

kuan

Moderator
Staff member
7,067
524
Joined Jun 11, 2001
1) You can reorganize your line. Arrange everything according to the ticket items.

2) If you guys are that busy you really need an expediter.

3) When the ticket comes up pull your stuff as soon as you can or even put it on.
 
4,699
931
Joined Aug 21, 2004
I feel that everything would be not as stressful if I just calm down, but I can't calm down and I wish to be able to stay calm.

Just remember that time accelerates in your mind. What seems like minutes is actually seconds, even nanoseconds.

Many times I have stopped people in the midst of a rush when they do something half ass and their reply is always "i don't have time". They get all antsy because I have stopped them and they feel they need to be going and doing. I make them stand there and tell them to time me as I do it correctly. Then I ask "how long did that take?". Sometimes the light bulb goes on, sometimes they are in too big of a rush and it goes right by them.

A sense of urgency is important, but keep time in perspective
 
1
1
Joined Apr 15, 2018
I know it's easier said than done, but at the time you're starting to feel frustrated take a deep breath and remind yourself that you got this! Then work on your tickets in order. I agree with the other chefs, an expo might be necessary. :) head up and move forward always!
 
1,483
240
Joined Jan 31, 2012
You simply haven't developed the muscle memory yet to do most of the regular tasks,
automatically, without having to think about it. This takes time.... well, more importantly,
HOURS WORKED. The longer the shifts, and more frequent the days, the fewer days it will take.
But thinking about it when you get home, trying to sleep etc, IS an important part
of the process. It stews round in your mind a while.
You also sound like you have a similar learning curve to me. I do the same thing, I get
overwhelmed, cant synch up with ANYthing..... then one day I walk in and the lights come on.
I'm not only able to mesh and function, but I'm organized and FAST. Blows me and anyone else away.
I was this way with most every thing I've learned, how to drive, how to cook, how to fly an airplane.
The hard part is getting others around you to understand that, and to be patient. Some don't get it,
and just think you suck at cooking. It takes time to get to know a routine, menu, methods, not to mention
learn where everything is by rote.
It kind of boils down to whether your boss and co workers are looking for reasons to help you stay
and get better, or looking for reasons to let you go. I've been in BOTH those boats.
 
7
4
Joined Jan 2, 2018
Thanks for all your advice. I will stay positive and keep at it. I've experienced the same feeling in the past whenever I started a new job and I just never got used to it. Everytime that I experience it it feels like new. My coworkers and boss are kind and nice, which is fortunate for me, but at the same time, liking them also makes me push myself even more because I wouldn't want to disappoint them. I've had shitty boss and coworkers before, and at those job, I never felt any pressure or stress because I just didn't care.

cheflayne cheflayne thanks, what you said really opened my eyes. I do rush things and sometimes even half assing when I'm stressed out. It really doesn't take that much longer to do things the correct way. I will certainly keep that in mind.
 
20
11
Joined Dec 17, 2013
If at all possible, ask to come in and shadow the best person that works that station on a busy night. Watch them for a whole shift, and do it unpaid if that's what it takes. Watch their body. Watch how they move. Take notes on how they fire, how they communicate, and how they perform. If there's no one who works that station well, then that may be an institutional problem.

As far as staying calm....it's just food. You'll clear the rail. May as well laugh about the chaos.
 

Jin

30
3
Joined Jan 6, 2018
I was hired a month ago at a chain restaurant and the location that I'm hired at is supposedly the busiest in the whole province. On one hand, I'm glad to be able to hone my skills at this fast pace environment. But on the other hand, I go home everyday feeling depressed because I felt like I wasn't pulling my weight and generally wasn't good enough compared to other cooks.

I'm working on fry/oven station and when it isn't rush, I feel great and I really enjoy doing what I do. I feel like it is exactly what I signed up for. When I say not rush, I mean dealing with 5-6 tickets at a time. But when it's rush and I have to deal with 10 tickets at a time, I just check out. I have absolutely no idea what is going on and other people have to come to help me. Everyday, I go home and plan out my procedure and tell myself that I will stay calm and stick to my procedure, but when it hits the fan, my mind goes blank. I try to cook all the food, but forgot to restock my plates. Then I would run to get the plates, another 10 tickets come in, then I start to cook them despite haven't yet plate the cooked food, and everything jsut goes downhill from there.

I didn't have any experience cooking in a professional kitchen, only at a pizza place where the oven is the only thing I needed to worry about. I never went to culinary school. I just feel like I'm not prepared for this. I know the recipes, I know the plating, I know everything by the book, I just can't execute them when the pressure is on. Please give me advice on how to stay cool and calm.


I know what you are talking about bro. I work at a very busy Michelin starred restaurant. Tons of prep, 5~10 is considered Rush.

THings that helped me:

1) Stay focused.
2) Be a healthier individual (get enough sleep, eat your veggies, etc)
3) Know where EVERYTHING is.
4) Always put things back where you got it, be it a squirt bottle, your tweezers, tongs, etc. ALWAYS.
5) Be well prepped.
6) Anticipate your next move! eg, After I sear the asparagus, I am gonna refill the line, etc.
7) Drop your pride, don't be afraid to ask for help! Ask for help before you need help!
8) Clean as you go. Clean station, Clear mind.

You can do it bro! Cheers:)
 

Jin

30
3
Joined Jan 6, 2018
I know what you are talking about bro. I work at a very busy Michelin starred restaurant. Tons of prep, 5~10 is considered Rush.

THings that helped me:

1) Stay focused.
2) Be a healthier individual (get enough sleep, eat your veggies, etc)
3) Know where EVERYTHING is.
4) Always put things back where you got it, be it a squirt bottle, your tweezers, tongs, etc. ALWAYS.
5) Be well prepped.
6) Anticipate your next move! eg, After I sear the asparagus, I am gonna restock the line, etc.
7) Drop your pride, don't be afraid to ask for help! Ask for help before you need help!

You can do it bro! Cheers:)

PS: Last but not least, the most important thing is: NEVER GIVE UP.
 
314
93
Joined Aug 7, 2013
You simply haven't developed the muscle memory yet to do most of the regular tasks,
automatically, without having to think about it. This takes time.... well, more importantly,
HOURS WORKED. The longer the shifts, and more frequent the days, the fewer days it will take.
But thinking about it when you get home, trying to sleep etc, IS an important part
of the process. It stews round in your mind a while.
You also sound like you have a similar learning curve to me. I do the same thing, I get
overwhelmed, cant synch up with ANYthing..... then one day I walk in and the lights come on.
I'm not only able to mesh and function, but I'm organized and FAST. Blows me and anyone else away.
I was this way with most every thing I've learned, how to drive, how to cook, how to fly an airplane.
The hard part is getting others around you to understand that, and to be patient. Some don't get it,
and just think you suck at cooking. It takes time to get to know a routine, menu, methods, not to mention
learn where everything is by rote.
It kind of boils down to whether your boss and co workers are looking for reasons to help you stay
and get better, or looking for reasons to let you go. I've been in BOTH those boats.

THIS. I learn this way, as well. It takes me time, apparently more than necessary, to get things right. I am aware of a simple fact that is responsible for this: I CARE.

I have been a Creative all my life. The things I take part in matter to me. I spent many years trying to stop seeking perfection; it will drive you mad. But I care about the food so much that I am never satisfied that I've done it correctly. I can never convince myself that I got it right, so as I lie awake at night, unable to sleep, I am going through the same processes, over and over, trying to decipher whateverthehellitis that will make me get it right during today's shift. This is both for the food I cook at work and for the nightly dinners at home, when I'm feeding my family.

Wanna know an even worse factor? A demanding chef who won't show you how, but expects you to get it correct every time. It took me four months on this current line before I realized that I was getting through the lunch rush without messing something up, even though I wasn't getting any complaints in the first place.

Just like my music, my sketching, my poetry, my writing, it will never be right, never be finished.

Just put your head down, answer "yes, Chef!", do the work, and you'll be alright.
 

Latest posts

Top Bottom