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How hard is short order?

post #1 of 19
Thread Starter 
I've been at my job for a couple of months..and although there's a lot I still enjoy, there's also a lot I'm starting not to enjoy. I honestly can't see myself doing anything other than cooking or..maybe baking...but the stress of my job is starting to get to me...

I'm a short order cook at denny's.
I'm the only cook on most of the time..unless it's a busy saturday or sunday morning, then I am one of 3 cooks...and it's busy and terrible but we get through it...and then they all leave and I stay through dinner by myself. It's a lot of work and there isn't ever some down time. They are 24 hours as well so the shifts are a little wacky and i find myself repeating the same procedures like clean up and prep over and over because they never close.

Since this is my first cooking position I'm not so sure if it's all this way or if denny's is just particulary terrible. I'm looking for some insight so here are my main questions...because my classes are coming up for culinary and they are expensive I don't want to spend money doing it, if it's not what i really want.

We make all orders off of paper..no computers, no clearing of food..nothing handy like that and cooking there you obviously have to do every station by yourself.
I realize that's different from most places...here are my questions..

1. Is short order much different from other cooking positions?
2. Do you think I'd feel much better about cooking if I was at a different restaurant?

and 3. By working at dennys' for a couple months, maybe a year...would i easily be able to get a cook job at a better chain like red lobster, olive garden..etc?

thanks guys...
post #2 of 19
Short order cooking can be very hectic and takes a high degree of organization skills to do really well. Few people are really that good and consequently much short order cooking is not, IMO, top notch cooking. From my experience things are frequently over or under cooked to some degree. Seasoning is often abscent and relies on salt, pepper and various sauces that may be added by the customer. Not saying that the food is bad but its typically not as good as it could be. On the other hand sometimes it can be down right tasty food.

Use your time at Denny's to gain as much experience, skill and knowledge as you can. Plan your "escape" properly and make the move to other restaurants that interest you. Many of the chains won't be much different than Denny's in many ways regarding general operations i.e. staffing and shift asssignments. But you can learn something about food/cuisine from each of them if you apply yourself. Incoporate this kind of experience in to your long term goals and career plan. Ideally I would think that you would want to work yourself into a more professional kitchen. Even then its not always peaches and cream.

If you get in a good place with a great team and everybody is working together---well, it just doesn't get much better than that.
post #3 of 19
Thread Starter 
so i do have a hard job then?

yeh the food isn't top notch and some of it does taste good...and i enjoy the job ..i just feel like it's TOO MUCH...i really think i would enjoy it much better if i was assigned a station or something...

it just gets really old when you're cooking burgers and then..uh oh somebody wants a lumberjack slam...oh crap a medium rare tbone and eggs...and lets not forget the waffle..

i would rather pump out 1000 byo slams than having to run around like a mad woman all by myself to all the different stations...

i've always been a hard worker and willing to do my share, i've just never had a job this demanding on my body and mind. And, to some extent i could even deal with it most of the time but the past couple of weeks i've been getting the mid shift..which is 10 to 8..i do morning with 1 or 2 other cooks and then i prep everything and then i do the dinner all by myself.

so how much time is a good amount of time there?
6 months?
8 months?
1 year or more?
post #4 of 19
You do have a hard job for the reasons you just laid out above. This type of job requires you to be a jack of all trades in the kitchen and doesn't always let you be the master of any of it on a consistent basis.

I think you understand the need for a high level of organization on your part to do the job well. That is the part of this job that is good for you at this point. I obviously don't have any idea how well you do the job but my gut tells me that you are struggling with it to some degree which is leading to your present level of dissatifaction with the job. My suggestion to you would be to have a heart to heart talk with yourself and examine how well you feel you are actually doing the job. Try to be very objective and honest with yourself. What are you getting right and what areas ar you having difficulties with? How can you improve your job performance regarding organization and keeping things flowing smoothly? Working on strengthening what your are having difficulty with and polish the skill sets you are doing fairly well. These are things that will serve you well no matter where you work. Obviously you want to prep and cook all of your products as close to perfection as you can under the circumstances.

I would think anywhere between 6 and 8 months would be enough and then make your move to another place. Not just any other place, but a place that will fit your long term career goals.

Now is the time to be thinking about what cuisines or cooking styles appeal to you. Where would you cook or be the chef if the fairy godmother was to suddenly wave her magic wand and grant you that wish? When you know that, start creating a plan to get there.
post #5 of 19
Thread Starter 
i really appreciate your advice jbd and i can tell you that you are spot on with your assessment of me. I am good at the actual job itself...prepping, stocking and cooking the food. I can honestly say i make the food to brand standard, if not exceeding it. I can honestly say I make the best plate there both in taste and appearance. I usually receive one or two compliments a day on my food being so good...which i don't really understand so much being that I can't really be too creative with the recipes. I'm a perfectionist and I think that this is where i get annoyed. It's really hard to lower my standards and I can't bring myself to do grimey things like my co workers do..such as still use food that fell on the floor or microwaving a steak etc. to save time.
the expectations of time management are really far greater than I can handle.

The things that I am really not that good at are being boistrous and telling people what to do when i have to call the checks on busy mornings..and the biggest part of that and the other reason I'm struggling is because I'm not so good at multi tasking the checks and being the "jack of all trades"
I keep thinking If I could only be assigned one thing to do over and over again i would love it. I don't mind doing the same thing over and over again...if i was assigned cutting tomatoes all day or only cooking steaks or any other sort of assembly line cooking i would absolute love it. That's more or less what I used to do..i used to make pizzas...i could make pizzas all day..
much like i could flip burgers all day or cook pasta..or peel carrots..etc.

my head just goes nuts when it comes to multi tasking more than 4 or 5 checks..and it happens daily..quite a lot..
and then since it's an open kitchen the servers are ruthless..
they're always pressuring you to get the plate out faster because the customer can see everything that is going on.
then the managers want all checks out in under 15 minutes
and they won't let labor go higher than 16%...which to me is just absurb...most food places its usually 20 -26%...
they say they only want you to be able to cook 31 checks per hour..which is enough but not something i can't do...
but sometimes we get double that and no help..or at least not without resentment.

what i should really add, is that the managers there only care about getting their bonus checks so if they could have half a cook they would settle for that. and on top of that..dennys recently became franchised...and you know how franchisers are...
ours will stand in the kitchen during a peak time ...such as mornings...and just stand there watching us with his arms crossed...he did it this past weekend for 3 hours. all he did was help line up sausage on the one grille (in his bare hands i might add)...he seems like a nice enough guy, but i"m smart enough to know he only cares about the bottom line...
i just wish he wouldn't stand there on looking the way he does..i become distracted and slower and feel like i have cement shoes on and that at any moment he's waiting to pounce on me for doing something wrong...and i really hate being yelled at.

i'm just dumbfounded how some people have stayed there so long..which is why im afraid that this should be a piece of cake and that if i'm having issues with this job i shouldn't cook..

at any rate, thanks a bunch for your advice...it definitely gives me something to think about
post #6 of 19
Would you enjoy another cooking job more? Almost certainly. In your position, I'd be looking for it starting yesterday. People who've never done it don't appreciate how physically demanding cooking is. I've been hearing about your highs and lows since you started, and it seems clear that part of your problem is that you're physically exhausted. You certainly don't lack enthusiasm.

It sounds as though your Denny's is working one cook down. I doubt there are many Denny's which handle dinner without at least two cooks One cook for graveyard I can see, but dinner no -- not if you're turning more than twenty covers an hour during the three hour crush. Crush starts early when a lot of the clientele are seniors, no? Anyway, I'm sure you're pounding that number x 2. Plus, you're probably doing 25 or more per hour during the two hour lunch, right?

If you ever have time off, take a tour of the local coffee shops and you'll see that they either have AT LEAST two cooks back there, or they've got a short order magician -- which is pretty much the same thing -- who's earning double your money.

Most cooks -- even very good cooks -- don't have what it takes to be great short order. Fred Astaire couldn't dance like Baryshnikov and vice versa. If it's not in you, that doesn't mean you're not going to be the next Thomas Keller. In fact, the talents and skill sets of short order and true high-end cooking contradict one another in a lot of places. It's a different kind of attention paid to a different number of things. Something else about the high-end -- you work as part of a team. Not three guys doing the same thing -- a team. You're going to like that.

If you've learned to stay calm under pressure, not to dwell on mistakes, and to work more calmly as time pressure increases, you've probably got as much out of Denny's as you ever will.

Another job is a great idea -- especially if you can find a normal line position in whatever passes for "fine dining" in your area. You'll enjoy working with normal staff levels a lot more than working in the madhouse you're in now. Start looking for a new gig, yesterday.

The sense I get from you is that you're destined for much better things than Denny's or The Olive Garden. You've got the curiosity, the desire, and the work ethic to be very good. It sucks that you're questioning yourself, because you reek with passion. You can certainly learn the techniques in school or on the job. Whether you've got the palate and imagination to take this all the way to the top are different questions. Neither one of us knows the answers, but I sure hope you give yourself the chance to find out.

BDL
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post #7 of 19
Here's my two cents. I prefer to call the position a line cook rather than a short order cook. So, IMO a line cook at Denny's is a piece of cake and a piece of crap at the same time. It's a good place for you to cut your teeth. You'll get the chance to cook lots of product. Over and over again. After a year you should able to cook an egg, a steak, a chicken breast, and a club sandwich without thinking.

It's a walk in the park for a seasoned cook. I think the problem you're having is you haven't been doing it long enough. It takes years. A few months is not long enough to have learned to work the whole line with confidence and efficiency. That's what's good and bad about Denny's you don't have to be and they'll still let you do it. It gets easier but it takes time. Lot's of it. Use this experience to your benefit not theirs.

I hear you on wanting to do the same task all day. When I was young and starting out I couldn't handle the line all day. I'd do anything to do prep, go to the walk-in, go to storage, clean something, basically anything to get off the line. Now I'll take the wheel any day. Put me right in the middle and I'll work the line while you run around and get all that stuff done.

As far as the stress. That will never go away. The better the food the more stress sometimes. You will get better at your job and be able to handle more. But it never goes away. The best feed off of it. I don't think I could have a job that didn't stress me a little. I say if you love your job every minute of every day, you're not doing it right.

Of course you could bypass the line and work in the back. I've worked with some good chefs who couldn't work the line. But the great ones I worked with were great on the line and in the back. I don't care what you know about cooking if you can't get down on the line you're not really a cook. But I say that because I'm a line cook at heart.
post #8 of 19
OH, boy, be careful my friend. Like Yogi Berra would say: 'when you come to a fork in the road, take it!'.
My immediate, superficial reaction to your complaints: boy, there is someone I would NOT like to have on my cooking team. Life ain't a peach, and do not be on my team if that is what you expect.
Ahem.
It could also be, hopefully, that your abilities have grown so much that you really deserve to be more than just a line cook. Jeremiah Towers, the greatest chef to ever live after Escoffier, started out as a simple, starry-eyed line cook.
Humbly suggest you apply for jobs at prestigious restaurants in your locale.
post #9 of 19
If ten tickets in your window doesnt excite you to te piont of blissful arskicking... swapping kitcens isnt your anwer, maybe a new carreer?

Every place asks more tan you can give.

I love my line and Im asked to do all sorts of multitasking every day. Granted, te product I am working wit can be downrigt inspirational. (fois gras, kobe beef, dover sole, eirloom tomatoes, grade prime steaks, etc.)

maybe you need more of a fine dining menu to keep you interested but bottom line... it doesn't get easier.
post #10 of 19
Throw a hundred chefs on a busy short order breakfast line......guarantee only 20 will be able to get the food out.....learn breakfast well...you can do
anything.....you just have to tweak the cooking principles you have already learned. If I had to expect one thing of all entry level cooks....it would be that they could pump out 150 to 200 breakfasts in 2 or 3 hours....its the best
way to multi task....good luck bundens!
post #11 of 19
I can't believe how negative some of you are towards bundens. He's not on a line. What he does has nothing to do with the line. What he is, is all by himself during a shift which includes the lunch and dinner crushes. The kitchen is not organized for the lunch and dinner menus, and he doesn't have the authority to reorganize it. He's covering at least three stations -- garde, saute and grill by himself. There's no comparison to working "the breakfast line" here -- or even actual short order.

There are a lot of different kinds of restaurants. Of the two I spent the most time in, one averaged slightly more 40 covers a night per cook, but only 20 per seating (2 weeknight seatings -- 6:30 and 9, 8 cook brigade. The other, with a similar schedule, smaller restaurant, constantly varying menu, averaged more like 35 per night -- FWIW the brigade in that one actually included Jeremiah Tower as sous/floater then executive. it was also the ONLY restaurant at which he EVER worked the line. No Olive Gardens on his resume.

I know my restaurants had nothing like the situation you find in most restaurants, but it's not unusual for a particular style and level of execution either. You work your butts off doing it too.

Denny's food takes something different, but I don't think many of us would be happy about the situation at Bundens shop, and doubt many of us would have handled the situation much better. It's not so much that he sounds overwhelmed, it's that what he describes is overwhelming.

I know short order guys that handle smaller coffe shops very well on their own, but they're very good S.O. cooks, and get paid for it. They're not Denny's slave labor. More, I know that my local Denny's all have more than one cook for lunch and dinner -- and if someone doesn't show up service suffers badly. If you know some other Denny's which does one cook tell us about it. And honestly, would you want to eat there?

Maybe I'm a bleeding heart, but I think the owners are darn lucky to have bundens, are taking advantage of him and will continue to do so as long as he puts up with it. I also think what he's doing in there is nothing at all like actually cooking and that leaving to work elsewhere or just take some time until culinary school starts are good ideas. His goal is to do "fine dining," and the only things he's doing at Denny's which have anything in common with good cooking is prepping mise and keeping his station(s) neat. No wonder he's unhappy.

He's also got a tremendous advantage going into culinary school -- because those two are probably the most important habits a cook can have. He's shown incredible tenacity hanging in as long as he has, and managed to hold on to most of his enthusiasm.

Bundens da man,
BDL
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post #12 of 19
Thank you, BDL. I was beginning to wonder if anybody here actually knew what short order was all about.

I used to be a short-order cook, and I guarantee that Denny's doesn't begin to come close. What we have there is a resturant kitchen that's set up as if it had a crew of line cooks, but whose management expects its cooks (I've never seen more than two on duty, and rarely that) to act as if it were set up for short-order. Among other things, this means they're spending too much time and energy just moving from station to station.

That aside, the fact is Bundens does not appear to be psychologically prepared for short-order cooking. He complains, "it just gets really old when you're cooking burgers and then..uh oh somebody wants a lumberjack slam...oh crap a medium rare tbone and eggs...and lets not forget the waffle.." Well that's what short-order cooking is all about. Some people are geared for that sort of multi-tasking and some aren't.

I think he needs to seek a job in a regular restaurant, were he can be assigned as a line cook working one station. That's obviously what he prefers. And, as others have mentioned, it's probably the carreer path on which he should set his feet.
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post #13 of 19
Thanks KY,

Glad we're on the same page. I agree with everything you said, except I think you misread bundens slightly. You said:

I don't think he was complaining about the food rotation, but about the fact that Denny's has him cooking each of those things at a different station -- and he has to be in four physically different places at one time. If I understood him, it's the disorganized running around that's getting old.

BDL
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post #14 of 19
Exactly, BDL. I don't even think bundens would be qualified to determine whether or not she is suited to work short-order as she isn't actually working in a kitchen set up to be worked by one person. I've done the same exact thing and it doesn't matter how psychologically prepared you are or how you're set up on prep.
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post #15 of 19
Mebbe so.

Except later on comes this: "and the other reason I'm struggling is because I'm not so good at multi tasking the checks and being the "jack of all trades"
I keep thinking If I could only be assigned one thing to do over and over again i would love it"

Several times Bunden's reiterated that happiness comes from repeating the same task, over and over again. Which, to me, spells "line cook" rather than "short order cook."

To be fair, given the work conditions, it's possible that the running around station to station is the causal reason for not being happy as a multi-tasker. But I suspect it's just her personality.
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post #16 of 19
Some kitchens are designed properly so that one person can "turn & burn" taking few steps if any.
Someone new to the industry might easily be overwhelmed in a kitchen designed improperly, or designed for more than one cook.
A seasoned vet might be able to handle her kitchen layout with ease.
Given time, she just might become one of those veterans.

When I started line, I couldn't work on more than one order at a time.
I didn't know how to juggle at all.
I don't remember exactly when I got it, but one day I noticed I was working the whole string as one large order, everything going out in it's proper time.

Bunden may need a new environment, but maybe just more time on the job.
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post #17 of 19
I am a Chef. I am a competent line cook. I am fairly confident that I can work every station in any restaurant, "high end" to "pub fare".

But being the only cook at a Denny's during a dinner rush would make me question my career in the industry.

Find a new job. If you have the basics, a good chef can take you to the next level.
post #18 of 19
I never worked at denny's personally, but when I started out, as a dishwasher told to cook on the line because the breakfast cook was fired on the spot, I was excited, the line was like some mystical place of riches, that I only could tread when asked to put some toast in on busy days.

Then not even after a week of working on the line, trying to learn the menu with the help of my boss I remember thinking to my self "This is way too stressful...why do the bills keep coming?" While fumbling with the eggs with order #1 while orders 2-11 waited hungrilly my boss as impatient as always grew furious.

That alone made me rethink pursuing a career in the restaurant industry. But I stayed there another 7 months untill the waitress I didn't like bought the place so I quit. I decided Cooking wasn't for me, and got a job at wal-mart. After a year of ****, I mean wal-mart I decided to try cooking again and I found learning the ropes a bit easiar then the first time, stressful, but a little easiar.

I suggest keep at it, perhaps you should look into a different restaurant, I know very experienced cooks who couldn't stand dennys. Mainly because of the random hours, seemingly lack of organization. That could just be the one in my town though. As you gain more experience it gets much simpler. There are still says when it can be rough, but overall, everything will be second nature. For example 7 years after my first job, I came back to that very restaurant when a new owner bought it. The kitchen manager said to come in 2 hours and he'd start training me. When I got there the owner said he called in sick, and they had no one to work int he kitchen that night. So I did it all by myself, Line, prep, and dishes at the end, I just kept a menu with me so I could figure out how to make everything. That day was when I realized how much I changed, probably because it was the same kitchen I first started in :P If you keep at it, a day will come when you realize its not all that hard anymore :chef:
post #19 of 19
Thread Starter 
since it's been a while since i posted this i decided to reply. I still cook at dennys but I'm more or less just on the pay roll. I'm in the process of moving to another apartment and am currently looking for another restaurant job. I'm part time at a pizza shop where it's MUCH LESS stress.

and to answer some speculations.
I was frustrated with the physical aspect of being in more than one spot and all over the place. A bigger part of the problem tho too was the fact that the place was 24 hours. Places, especially food places, are much easier to manage and work for when they actually OPEN AND CLOSE. It's not a constant cycle of prep, clean to the point of fruitlessness.
And one of the biggest things that bothered me is we would have a bowl for overcooked bacon that we would crumble and put in omelets. That same bowl would be there all day that I cooked and then there when I got back from a day off.
It was as if I never left and although that is just one example many things that happened there reminded me of groundhog day...it just annoyed me.

I just knew something was wrong when I'm only in my mid twenties, healthy and thin and by the end of the 10 hour shift (which isn't long for me, I've worked 18 hour shifts before just fine) I literally didn't have enough energy to pick up a fryer basket...
well, needless to say I knew there was something very wrong with that picture so thats when i posted this wanting to know if i had just turned into a big wuss and that this was the way it was supposed to be or if I indeed was being overworked
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