If you want to become a successful chef in a fast-paced professional kitchen, mastering time management skills is a must.
From keeping track of cooking times to stirring boiling pots or plating delicious meals, the way you manage your time as a chef can separate you from everyone else in the kitchen, which could open up opportunities for leadership and promotion.
It comes down to streamlining processes, planning ahead, organizing tasks, and delegating. By the end of this article, you’ll know five effective ways to increase your productivity and make the most of your time in the kitchen.
1. Master the Art of Preparation
Imagine cooking multiple meals, each with their own combinations of dishes and sides, while keeping track of everything in the oven, on the stove, and in various stages of plating. All the while, new orders come in as you manage your team.
Since multitasking in a busy kitchen is a given, preparation in advance of a shift is a must. Every shift requires plenty of chopped vegetables, sauces, and stations ready to go, so that when orders arrive, the team just executes.
Students at Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts have an opportunity to explore how to deliver meals prepared in a timely fashion in a fast-paced environment. To do this well, a fundamental skill that’s taught is to always review recipes and prepare ingredients in advance.
As you fall into a routine of preparing the same meals, you’ll develop patterns and know when to prepare certain ingredients to better manage your time.
“That is what Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts is: prep, put it together, cook, clean, and then you go home. And that is the way a restaurant is. I’ve worked with a lot of people from other schools, and they don’t have as much hands-on experience. And they are always running around to catch up.”
Jeffrey Lammer, Boulder Culinary Arts Graduate, Kitchen Manager, Root Down Restaurant
2. Delegate When Possible
Great chefs are never great on their own: they’re always surrounded by great teams. If you have the goal of leading a professional kitchen someday, you’ll need to learn to delegate.
No matter what role you have in a kitchen, leadership starts with leading yourself. That requires discipline, preparation, and great time management. But there are plenty of ways to begin leading others, once you’ve mastered a few things.
For example, you can ask a staff member to garnish a dish or plate a meal while you tend to a steak on the grill. As you master your own duties and practice leading others, opportunities for advancement open up.
Effective delegating isn’t about being bossy or demanding. The more effectively you communicate with everyone else in the kitchen, the easier life will be for everyone. That’s why Escoffier’s curriculum includes courses that teach leadership skills and how to effectively communicate with staff members.
Not only can a classroom setting help you learn leadership skills, but a culinary or pastry arts externship offers the opportunity to gain experience working in a professional kitchen, so you can put into practice your time management skills.
3. Stay Organized and Write Everything Down
Have you ever found yourself thinking about something you have to do while standing in front of the stove, but then forget about it later? Probably more often than you’d like to admit.
To stay organized and manage your time as a chef, start writing everything down. This could be in the form of little sticky notes with reminders or a list on your phone. Whatever method you choose, writing down your thoughts will help you stay on top of your tasks for the workweek.
A useful tip is to make a to-do list at the beginning of every day. Prioritize the items on your list, so you know exactly what must be done. You can even organize it by how long each task will take to complete. This will set a clear vision of what needs to be done that day and will push you further towards success.
Students at Escoffier are taught entrepreneurial and productivity skills in their degree or diploma programs, as well as during the required externship working in a professional environment.
4. Set Up Your Workstation for Success
Every chef has his or her own method when it comes to setting up a workstation, and an efficient workstation is key to managing time effectively as a chef. When you know exactly where everything is located, you won’t waste time looking for tools or utensils.
If possible, grab all of your ingredients at once from the pantry or fridge before returning to your station. This prevents you from running back and forth through the kitchen, gathering missing ingredients.
Through courses and externships, Escoffier’s students practice setting up their workstations to increase productivity and manage their time in the kitchen more effectively. Practicing your workstation method in culinary school gives you the chance to master the best techniques before moving on to a professional kitchen.
“It’s not all about what you learn in the school, but also your experience in the kitchen. You get taught the foundations at school, and Escoffier did a really good job with that part of it.”
Paige Pospisil, Austin Culinary Arts Graduate
5. Create Routines and Processes
With experience, you’ll begin to develop your own routines and processes to help you manage your time. Similar to the way you might manage your morning routine, if you follow a simple process for getting out of the house in the morning, it takes much less time than if you change things up every day.
You can do the same thing as a chef in the kitchen. Create routines and processes in your kitchen, so you don’t have to spend time thinking about what you have to do next. The routine or process handles the fundamentals for you, so that you can focus on your work and leading others.
This could take the form of streamlining how to cook the most popular recipes you know customers will order in your restaurant, or how you plate certain meals. Learning and implementing these processes and routines will soon become a habit you can do automatically.
The more you practice and tweak your processes to perfection, the better they will become, which means you’ll better manage your time.
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Time Management Skills Take Practice
A passion for cooking can only take you so far. Preparation and discipline in the kitchen are what separate mediocre cooks and chefs from the great ones. Ultimately, it comes down to how much you’re willing to learn and put into practice.
This article outlines a few things you can do to get better at managing your time in the kitchen. But knowing what to do can only take you so far.
To become proficient in anything, you need to practice, over and over again, and learn from those who have already mastered the skills you want to learn. Take a look at some of Escoffier’s professional Chef Instructors to see the kind of mentorship is available.
Or, learn more about what it takes to become a professional culinarian or leader in the food business. Request more information about Escoffier’s degree and diploma programs today.
If you liked this article, check these out next:
- The Importance of Organization in the Kitchen
- A Look at Effective Communication in the Kitchen
- 4 Non-Cooking Skills All Chefs Need
This article was originally published on February 10, 2016, and has since been updated.