Helping your Sous to Excel

Use these tips to teach your Sous become better at running that line. These tips are also great for your new Exec Chef, or even managers.

When the chef is out, you are it. You are the main guy that everyone, cooks, dishwashers, bartenders, and servers look to for all the answers. The minute you panic, they all panic. Keep a cool head and split your problems up. Delegate: Delegate with authority and confidence. Never place blame: On equipment or persons. If you are the IT guy, you are to blame no matter the problem. If something wasn’t prepped, complain to yourself or the chef, NEVER to another subordinate. Problems are meant to stay contained, and NEVER expressed to anyone else. Complaining will happen, but don’t place it on one person unless venting to an equal or manager.

When the line gets “slammed”, take it like you love it. “I love when its slammed, it’s when I shine”. Your talents as acting kitchen manager, assistant kitchen manager, or sous chef should shine through when managing, with unforeseen problems, and when no one else can keep up but you or the chef. Show up the chef: Make everyone wish it was you on the line and not the Chef de Cuisine or Executive Chef. His talents should be with kitchen management, financials, ordering, recipe construction, kitchen construction, tips and direction. Yours should be managing and running the line. Anytime the kitchen gets “buried” with tickets, it should be your name shouted from the kitchen, not his. Learn as much as you can from him/her. Without his direction and mentorship, you will never succeed; without your work ethic and skills, he/she will never succeed. You are a viable and crucial commodity. Make your restaurant see that you are not replaceable, and you won’t be replaced. Show them you are just another line cook that gets scared when it is busy, then you are easily replaceable, and will be.


Delegate, delegate, delegate! As stated before, with your title everyone relies on you; whether they are 16 years old or 60 years old. Show them you are a professional and “save them”. When tickets come through during busy times, announce the ticket as usual, then delegate what to throw and when. We as Chefs see the big picture, line cooks see “oh my god we are busy, if I don’t get this out I’m going to get yelled at/fired/suspended/kicked off the line.” As the sous chef, or executive chef, you must see it as “I WILL catch up and get this food out with confidence, timing, and quality. My restaurant depends on it. When the restaurant loses money, I lose money. When the servers have customers walking out, they are not walking out on them; they are walking out on me.” The survivability of YOUR restaurant depends on YOU. Bad service can be corrected and forgotten by scolding a server, hiring a new one, and talking down the customer. Bad food can never be forgotten. Think about the worst meal you’ve had, or even the longest it took you to get your food. What is your impression of that institution? Most likely bad. You should never want that to be a thought of your restaurant. Every Restaurant’s survivability depends on 3 things: A good accountant, talented chefs, and its employees.

Focus. Focus is KEY. A great Chef once told an employee, “This line is your area. Nothing can get in your area, and nothing can harm you here.” Everything that is in your life outside the walls of YOUR restaurant stays there. Emergencies are an exception. There are a few things in life that help you forget your problems; spending money you don’t have and cooking. Your life is removed out there. Out there you are Mr. Smith. Here you are Sous Chef John. You are the owner, executive, manager, destroyer of worlds in this kitchen. Everything is treated as yours, because here it is yours. No matter if you’re busy or slow, you work as if your busy. For one you are paid for your time, so be worth it. And two, this is your livelihood. Live up to expectation and focus on what is happening around you. See everything, hear everything, taste everything, touch everything, and smell everything. This is your world. Attempt to never disappoint the “man in charge”, and NEVER disappoint yourself. The minute you disappoint yourself is the minute you fail as a Sous and Manager. Create your own personal rules, keep them to yourself and use them. “I will never lose focus. I will never let myself panic. I will never need to rely on someone else for something I know I can do myself.” Use these rules. They help.

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  • This is fantastic.  Lane, you read me mind!  I really think so many employees would benefit from reading this.  These are basic kitchen truths that ring true in any situation...  As the saute chef for the night, YOU are responsible.  YOU are there to make the sous's job as smooth as possible.  You want everyone to know that you are in control...  I think having this attitude, whether its your first kitchen job, and you're working pantry, or you "have made it," is exactly the mindset that will eventually land you the sous chef title. 

    Great thought!

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