Damages from the misuse of the title “Chef”

By David Scott Peters


“Sticks and stones may break your bones, but names can never hurt you!” Remember that advice a caring adult gave you when kids were mean to you when you were growing up? I remember it vividly. And the truth of the matter is, I don’t think that statement is true.

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.”

Dictionary.com defines the term as “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 (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. 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 my point the next time you declare someone “chef” in your restaurant.

David Scott Peters TheRestaurantExpert (1)David Scott Peters is a restaurant expert, speaker, coach and trainer for independent restaurant owners. He is the developer of SMART Systems Pro, an online restaurant management software program helping the independent restaurant owner remain competitive and profitable in an industry boxed in by the big chain restaurants. He is best known as the SMART Systems guy who can walk into any restaurant and find $10,000 in undiscovered cash before he hits the back door… Guaranteed! Learn more at www.therestaurantexpert.com/rdspos.

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