The Kitchen Hierarchy and Career Paths in Hospitality and Catering

Whether because of the multitude of cooking programs on TV and the rise of celebrity Chefs or perhaps due to the many new and exciting types of cuisine we now have in the UK, starting out on a Chef career path has become increasingly popular over recent years. 

If you are passionate about cooking and your dream is to become a Chef, you need to know how the kitchen hierarchy works to begin working your way up through the levels. Some of the terms used to describe Chef ranks may be familiar, but what exactly is a Sous Chef? What does a Commis Chef do? The French names for Chef levels are used according to the kitchen brigade system, which originated in France, a system proven to ensure an organised and smooth running kitchen.  

Within the kitchen brigade there are many different types of Chef and learning from them all as you work your way up through the ranks is the best way to a successful Chef career.

Kitchen Porter

There are many temporary positions available for Kitchen Porters and this is a good way to get your first kitchen experience. Seeing (and hearing!) how things work in a kitchen is important in deciding whether this is a place you want to work. As a Kitchen Porter you are responsible for unloading and storing deliveries and washing up all the utensils, pots and pans. You may also be expected to help with some basic food preparation.

Find out more about working as a Kitchen Porter here

Commis Chef

If you can show your enthusiasm and knowledge, then your experience as a kitchen porter will put you in a good position to take the next step and become a Commis Chef

This is the first real rung on the ladder of your Chef career. This junior Chef position is for cooks who are currently training or just newly qualified. As a Commis Chef you work under a Chef de Partie to learn the different techniques, methods and skills required in their section. Moving around to work with different Chefs on different stations will mean a lot of variety and a lot to learn but this is an extremely important and exciting part of the experience.

On the job training alone is possible but it is helpful to also work towards a formal qualification such as a diploma or NVQ. An apprenticeship is another good way to get training and practical experience in a real world location. There are also lots of free online resources that can add to your food knowledge and enhance your Chef skills. Find out more about working as a Commis Chef here.

Chef de Partie

Once you have had a few years’ experience as a Commis Chef you may be ready to move up and become a Chef de Partie. This means being Chef of a specific section such as a Grill Chef, Pantry Chef, Butcher Chef, Fish Chef or Vegetable Chef. The Chef de Partie is usually the one responsible for that station and you need to prepare and cook the dishes on time and assist with recipe and menu development.

As Chef de Partie you will become the expert in that section and may have the opportunity to assist with menu development. Find out more about working as a Chef de Partie here.

Pastry Chef

If your preference is for baking and desserts, then the position of Pastry Chef may be the one to aim for and will require some specialist training. Responsible for bread, pastries and desserts the Pastry Chef liaises with the Head Chef to create new menus and develop recipes and you may have your own junior Chefs to manage. The position of the Pastry Chef in the hierarchy can vary depending on the size of the kitchen.

Sous Chef

The next significant step up in your Chef career is to become a Sous Chef, second in command to the Head Chef. The Sous Chef is the most senior Chef working in the kitchen, they are very hands on and are responsible for the day to day management of the kitchen. As a Sous Chef you need to be experienced in every section of the kitchen as you will need to fill in wherever required. You also assist the Head Chef and will have to take over their position in their absence. Find out more about working as a Sous Chef here.

Head Chef

The top of the kitchen hierarchy is Head Chef. This is an extremely responsible position so it’s imperative to work your way through the ranks so you are highly experienced in every role. By the time you reach Head Chef you will know exactly what is expected of every position so that you can efficiently manage the running of the entire kitchen. 

As Head Chef you are responsible for overseeing everything from staffing, to budgeting, to liaising with suppliers. Most exciting though is that you will be the ‘visionary leader’ of the kitchen and you can really let your creativity show as you develop new recipes and devise new menus which will inspire your team and impress the customers. Find out more about working as a Head Chef here.

To get a real-life feel of what it is like to be a Chef, read David’s story

Other Hospitality Careers

For a catering establishment to run effectively it not only requires successful kitchen staff, the front of house team are just as important in running an efficient food service and ensuring happy customers. 

As a Waiter or Waitress you are the face of the restaurant so it is important to provide good customer service by being sociable and communicative to ensure everyone receives the correct food, is happy with their meals and enjoys their experience. If a front of house role in a restaurant or hotel is a job you enjoy, you may want to advance your career by moving up to become Head Waiter or Waitress, managing the other waiting staff as well as continuing to take care of your own clients. If you want to move further into management in the restaurant industry there are diplomas and apprenticeships in hospitality which could help you progress up the career ladder.

To get a real-life feel of what it is like to be a Waitress, read Blessing’s story. If you are a Bartender and enjoy this line of work you may want to think about furthering your career in this field. Whether it’s moving from behind the bar at the local pub to a fast paced sports bar or working your way up the career ladder into a supervisor or manager position, there are lots of opportunities to experience different environments within the bartending industry. If you work for a larger organisation you could eventually move up into regional management or you could use your product knowledge to move into sales and marketing within the drinks industry.

To get a real-life feel of what it is like to be a Bartender, read Stephen’s story

With the growing number of coffee shops in recent years there are now many people employed as a barista, learning the art of blending and grinding the beans to produce the best cup of coffee. Career progression for a Barista means moving into a Supervisor or Manager position, first as a Store Manager, then a Regional Manager. To get a real-life feel of what it is like to be a Barista, read Orsolya’s story.   

A tailored CV will help you stand out when you move up to the next step of your career. Use our free CV template to get you started. 

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