Short Order Cook: Career and Salary Facts

Explore the career requirements for short order cooks. Get the facts about salary, training requirements and job outlook to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Art of Cooking degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Short Order Cook?

A short order cook is a specialist in the preparation of hot foods that only take a short time to cook, such as panini, French fries, omelets and burritos, depending on the specialty of the dining establishment in which they work. Although short order cooks can work in many different settings, including cafes, grocery stores and bars, the vast majority work in restaurants and diners. In addition to their food preparation responsibilities, short order cooks are also expected to keep cooking areas clean, wash dishes and follow other sanitary protocols.

The table below highlights career details such as the training you'll need and what you may be able to earn as a short order cook.

Training Required On-the-job
Key Skills Physical stamina, sense of urgency, comprehension, sense of taste and smell
Job Growth (2014-2024) -5% (decline)*
Average Salary (2015) $21,940*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Education is Required for a Career as a Short Order Cook?

There are no formal education requirements for short order cooks, and many learn their skills on the job. Employers generally give training in safe and sanitary food handling procedures and cooking techniques. Some high schools and vocational programs may provide food service preparatory training. State employment agencies might be another source of training for short order cooks.

If you have aspirations of becoming a cook or chef in a fine restaurant at some point, it is advisable that you acquire post secondary training. You can enroll in culinary programs offered by community colleges, vocational and culinary arts schools, working towards a certificate or an associate's degree. These training programs can take up to two years to complete. If you choose to attend a culinary school, ensure that it is accredited by the American Culinary Federation.

A culinary arts certificate program typically offers courses in food preparation, baking, beverage management, sanitation management, marketing and restaurant management. Some culinary arts associate's degree programs offer classes in buffet catering, menu planning, food and beverage purchasing, pastry arts, table service, and preparation techniques for breakfast foods, sandwiches, salads and breads.

What Might My Job Duties Be?

Short order cooks take food orders from customers and prepare them according to their specifications. You might grill steaks and hamburgers, and cook items such as French fries, eggs, coffee and pancakes. You must prepare all food quickly so that customers aren't kept waiting. Additionally, you'll be responsible for keeping kitchen areas well-stocked with supplies and for keeping work areas, counters and equipment clean. It may often be necessary to prepare several orders at once, so you should be able to multi-task efficiently.

Are There Opportunities for Career Advancement?

There may be opportunities to advance your career if you have the requisite experience and training. You may be able to acquire supervisory or management positions with work and dedication. Or, if you attend a culinary arts school, in time you might become a chef or head cook at a more upscale restaurant or other food service establishment.

What Salary Can I Expect to Earn?

PayScale.com estimated that salaries for short order cooks between the 10th and 90th percentiles ranged from $16,869 to $29,848 as of January 2017, which includes any possible tips and overtime. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, short order cooks in restaurants earned $21,570 on average in 2015 (www.bls.gov). Grocery store employees earned approximately $22,830 annually.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Instead of working as a short order cook, you could look for cooking job in another specialized area. For instance, you could become a grill cook, where you would work primarily with grilling meats and vegetables, or a pantry cook, where you would be responsible for preparing cold foods like salads and cheese plates. Alternatively, you might be interested in getting a job as a baker, where you would follow recipes to mix and bake products like breads and pastries. You don't need a formal education to become a cook or baker, but a postsecondary certificate or associate's degree program in culinary arts or baking/pastry arts may boost your job prospects.

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