A short order cook is a cook who specializes in preparing simple dishes that can be made very quickly. These types of cooks work in places like diners and fast food restaurants, where speedy service is emphasized, and the menu tends to be kept very simple. Some have formal training, but others learn through apprenticeship by working in kitchens and seeing experienced cooks on the job. Work is usually easy to find for a this type of cook, because restaurants often need new staff.
Typically, short order cooks can prepare the items listed on the menu, along with a few variations. Some create special dishes that are not formally listed or disclosed to diners, but can be made for those “in the know” who are familiar with the cook's repertoire. These cooks work primarily at the grill, although they also use a stove in the preparation of some dishes, and they may prepare baked goods such as biscuits as well.
The work can be grueling. Like other cooking professionals, they spend most of their time on their feet, in very hot, humid conditions. They need to have a great deal of manual dexterity, and they must also be good at juggling multiple tasks at once. Rarely does the cook have the luxury of preparing one order at a time. Instead, he or she must work with multiple orders and an ever growing stack of order slips, getting hot food out of the kitchen as quickly as possible.
Some types of foods prepared by short order cooks include breakfast foods such as pancakes, hash browns, country fried potatoes, eggs, sausages, and bacon, along with lunch items like hamburgers and sandwiches. In addition to preparing food, most do their own prep work, coming in to work early to slice vegetables, organize the refrigerator, and perform other tasks that will ensure that they day in the kitchen runs as smoothly as possible.
Short order cooks are usually found in small kitchens, sometimes working the kitchen alone with a dishwasher and a single waitress or pair of waitresses in the front of the restaurant. The hours can be variable, as many diners are open early in the morning and well into the evening, with shifts usually lasting around eight hours. Cooks may also need to manage the ordering of food and supplies, which can become very complex, even in a small establishment.