Chef vs Cook: What’s the Difference

 In 1. David Scott Peters, Labor

When I say chef vs cook, I’m not suggesting there is a battle. Instead, I’m suggesting there is a difference between the two roles in the restaurant kitchen, and you have to decide what you want as the owner. What’s the difference?

I like to say titles for management don’t matter. Meaning, I don’t care what your title is as a manager (manager, general manager, front of house manager, executive chef, chef, kitchen manager, back of house manager, etc.); it’s what you are responsible for and the authority you have to do your job that matters.

However, I will often contradict myself when it comes to certain titles. If you misuse certain titles, I think it hurts our industry. It can degrade hard working professionals who worked very hard to get where they are today and the whole idea just gets under my skin.

I’m not talking about the “manager” who thinks he should be a “general manager.” No, I am talking specifically about the use of the title “chef.” Chef vs cook is the perfect example of this.

The definition for chef on is “the chief cook, especially in a restaurant or hotel, usually responsible for planning menus, ordering foodstuffs, overseeing food preparation and supervising the kitchen staff.”

That’s what I’m talking about! I believe the term/title chef means “manager” when used in a restaurant or hotel setting. I believe that the title/term chef is a combination of those two definitions. That definition might look like this…

Chef [shef]


The chief cook, especially in a restaurant or hotel, usually responsible for planning menus, ordering foodstuffs, overseeing food preparation, and supervising the kitchen staff, and is a highly skilled professional who is proficient in all aspects of food preparation.

That definition fits best because it’s not just about making pretty food that tastes amazing. It’s also about making money.

So what should you look for in a chef vs cook (or a kitchen manager for that matter)? Take a look at this possible job description to give you an idea:

Job summary:

The chef sets and achieves the highest standards in the overall operation of the restaurant. In particular, a majority of the chef’s time is spent supervising and directing the operations and workforce, making staffing decisions, ensuring customer satisfaction and product quality, managing the restaurant’s financial performance and marketing the restaurant.

Performance standards:

  • Follows all company polices.
  • Must be available for all special events and caterings.
  • Ensures all sanitation and safety standards are followed by his or her crew as set forth by the company; maintains a score of 90 percent or better on all sanitation and safety audits.
  • Knows and creates all menu items offered at the restaurant upon approval from owners. Provides build sheets and photographs so all staff can accurately answer menu item questions in regard to preparation methods, ingredients, portion sizes, and side items accompanying the dishes. Sets all specifications for substitutions for items on the menu.
  • Creates specials at least one week ahead of time and properly costs and prices each item.
  • Properly maintains all recipe cards, inventories and ideal to real food cost comparisons. Also maintains a level of inventory that turns over four to six times in one month.
  • Builds menu for catering, from passed appetizers to full sit down on-site and off-site events.
  • Follows ordering procedure standards and properly maintains the purchase allotment daily and its projection at least one month ahead of time.
  • Ensures that proper food and beverage controls are in place to maintain an appropriate level of cost of goods.
  • Ensures that proper labor controls are in place to maintain an appropriate staffing level and labor cost percentage.
  • Encourages and develops a cooperative team environment between the front of house staff and the back of house.
  • Leads by example.

Job requirements:

  • Must be able to read and communicate in English clearly and effectively.
  • Must be able to lift up to 20 pounds repeatedly throughout shift.
  • Must demonstrate enthusiasm and commitment to guest satisfaction.
  • Must be efficient and accurate with money and figures.
  • Must possess manual ability to manipulate register system and handle/serve food.
  • Must have a valid health card or equivalent.

WOW! That’s a whole lot more than just making petty food that tastes amazing.

I think you can see my point when it comes to the question of chef vs cook. I have all the respect in the world for line cooks. They play a key role in the restaurant’s success. With that respect in mind, I find it an insult to all the hard working chefs in our industry that develop and train people, manage costs and make pretty amazing tasting food, to degrade what they have accomplished by calling anyone who cooks on the line a chef.

Consider whether you need a chef vs a cook the next time you declare someone “chef” in your restaurant.

If you’d like to learn more about how to use these systems in your restaurant, request a free demo of our restaurant management software, Restaurant Systems Pro.

For more examples of systems you can use to lower labor cost in your restaurant, download our free report, How to Get a Handle on Restaurant Labor Cost. You can also view tips to lower labor cost in your restaurant on this YouTube channel playlist.

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