Cook Job Description: Top Duties and Qualifications

Last updated: November 14, 2022

A Cook, or Line Cook, is responsible for preparing ingredients at an establishment that serves food, processing customer orders, producing meals and cleaning their workspace throughout the day to follow health and safety guidelines. Cooks follow recipes consistently, make adjustments based on customer requests, communicate with wait staff and prepare garnishes to make an attractive presentation for each meal.

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Cook duties and responsibilities

Cooks are responsible for delivering food that is not only delicious and cooked to the specifications of the customer but that is safe and fresh as well. They often have the following responsibilities:

  • Ensure ingredients and final products are fresh
  • Follow recipes, including measuring, weighing and mixing ingredients
  • Bake, grill, steam and boil meats, vegetables, fish, poultry and other foods
  • Present, garnish and arrange final dishes
  • Occasionally serve food
  • Maintain a clean and safe work area, including handling utensils, equipment and dishes
  • Handle and store ingredients and food
  • Maintain food safety and sanitation standards
  • Clean and sanitize work areas, equipment and utensils
  • Execute opening and closing procedures
  • Set up workstations with required ingredients and equipment
  • Check the quality and freshness of ingredients
  • Monitor station inventory levels
  • Accommodate guests’ special requests
  • Operate kitchen equipment such as broilers, ovens, grills and fryers
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What does a Cook do?

Cook can be employed at restaurants, hotels, cafes, catering companies and cafeterias at schools, hospitals and corporations. Cooks can also work in people’s homes as Personal Cooks. Cooks use their culinary knowledge and background to learn the details of each menu item, prepare multiple dishes simultaneously to serve large parties, help stock inventory, organize refrigerators and communicate with other kitchen staff to deliver dishes to customers in a timely manner. Their job is to interpret meal orders and produce meals at the correct temperature to serve to diners. Some Cooks interact directly with customers at tableside service or food stations.

Cook skills and qualifications

Cooks must exercise the following qualities and skills:

  • Knowledge of safety procedures, including safe temperatures at which ingredients must be kept and to which food must be prepared to avoid foodborne illness
  • Ability to work as part of a team, collaborating on complex dishes
  • Interpersonal skills to interact with a variety of other people, such as waitstaff, dishwashers, management and sometimes customers
  • Calm demeanor to work in a high-stress, fast-paced environment 
  • Accountability for the dishes they prepare measuring up to the expectations of management and customers alike
  • Comprehension and organization to follow direct orders and recipes and to correctly prepare dishes to the standards of the restaurant
  • Manual dexterity and hand-eye coordination to handle tools, such as knife techniques for chopping, slicing, cutting and dicing
  • Ability to stand in one place for hours at a time, handle extreme heat and work shifts

Cook salary expectations

A Cook makes an average salary of $12.22 per hour. Pay rate may depend on level of experience, education and the geographical location.

Cook education and training requirements

Working as a cook requires a minimum of a high school diploma to fulfill the basic skills and knowledge required for the job. Vocational or technical school diplomas are preferred, as is some experience in a similar position. The American Culinary Federation accredits a range of training programs and sponsors apprenticeship programs to provide the requisite training and skills.

Cook experience requirements

While little to no experience is required for a basic cook position, the more experience a candidate has, the more skills and talents they will offer. Many cooks become proficient in their trade through experience, beginning in food preparation or as a kitchen helper to learn the basics of cooking, then advancing to become an assistant cook or line cook and eventually becoming a full Cook. Others learn through apprenticeships with experienced cooks or chefs.

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Frequently asked questions about Cooks

 

What are the qualities of a good Cook?

Good Cooks are extremely focused, dedicated and thrive in a high-pressure environment so that they are able to produce large amounts of high-quality dishes during lunch and dinner rushes. They have excellent physical stamina and can work behind a hot grill doing physical labor for long shifts. They are passionate about food, consistent and detail-oriented. Successful Cooks are also effective communicators, able to coordinate the different elements of a meal in a brigade-style service so that all parts of a dish are ready at the same time.

 

What is the difference between a Cook and a Chef?

A Cook can refer to anyone that prepares food for their job, but a Chef has extensive culinary training and may create their own recipes, influence restaurant menus and specialize in a particular type of cuisine. Cooks generally do not require a formal education, while Chefs are often classically trained in culinary school or through an apprenticeship with an experienced Executive Chef. Chefs have a larger role in managing a kitchen and may delegate tasks to other Chefs or the Cooks that work with them. Cooks usually manage a certain station at a restaurant such as sauce, seafood, hot appetizers or cold food, while Chefs coordinate the entire kitchen.

 

Who does a Cook report to?

Depending on their rank in the kitchen and the type of establishment they work at, Cooks can report to other, more experienced Cooks, Sous Chefs, Executive Chefs or Kitchen Managers. At some small restaurants, Cooks report directly to the restaurant owner, especially in cases where the owner is one of the Chefs or manages the restaurant hands-on. Cooks regularly communicate with their direct manager to discuss inventory, staffing needs and quality control when producing food.

 

What are the different types of Cooks?

There are several different kinds of Cooks including Line Cooks, Prep Cooks, Fry Cooks and Junior Cooks. Line Cooks work at a station in the kitchen sauteing, baking, grilling and steaming food depending on the preparation style. They put together the different parts of a meal to create an attractive plate and oversee Junior Cooks who are still learning. Prep Cooks focus on peeling vegetables, chopping meat into correct portions and measuring other ingredients ahead of time so that other Cooks can quickly and efficiently produce orders. Fry Cooks usually work in fast food establishments.

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