What is a Short Order Cook?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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.

A short order cook prepares foods that can be made quickly.
A short order cook prepares foods that can be made quickly.

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.

Short order cooks often prepare breakfast meats such as bacon.
Short order cooks often prepare breakfast meats such as bacon.

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.

Short order cooks often prepare burgers and other quick foods.
Short order cooks often prepare burgers and other quick foods.

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 often make pancakes.
Short order cooks often make pancakes.

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.

Short order cooks usually work by themselves or with a minimal staff.
Short order cooks usually work by themselves or with a minimal staff.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I was a short order cook in a pancake house. You have no idea how demanding it could be on Sunday when people would stop to eat after church services. The reason is, as various churches would let out, 60 to 100 people would reach the business at the same time! A typical Sunday kitchen would have three cooks and an expediter.

The expediter was required because each cook had a "station" such as pancake grill, meat grill and egg grill. The expediter would call out each order and we had to time our part to all reach the plate as soon as it moved down the line to us.

To make it more challenging, the menu had photos of the dishes and our presentation had to match the photo. The expediter also handled side dishes that were not part of the standard order. He also had to add decoration to the kids' orders.


When we went on a cruise they had short order cooks at different stations around the ship. This was a great way to get a burger or something quick to eat without sitting down at a table or waiting for someone to come and take your order.

I got kind of spoiled being able to have a short order cook just about any time of the day. When we got back home there was certainly nobody waiting around to fix what I wanted whenever something sounded good to eat.

I do think this job would have its challenges being on your feet all day, working in hot conditions and trying to please everybody. On the other hand, if you knew you were fixing good food that people enjoyed, that could be rewarding as well.


When I my son was a baby I remember my pediatrician telling me not to become a short order cook for my kids. This was very good advice that I thought about many times over the years.

I wasn't always successful at it, but it was a very good reminder for me. What he meant by this was to fix one meal for my family and not try to cater to everyone just because one person may not like what I was fixing. My son was a picky eater and this was hard to do sometimes, but he did learn that I wasn't going to always cater to him and make him whatever he wanted at every meal.


When I think of a short order cook I am reminded of the cooks at a hotel restaurant who will make up a special omelette for you. This may take a little bit longer than just going through the buffet line, but at least you can get exactly what you want.


I don't think I would ever make it as a short order cook. First of all, I don't like being in the kitchen, and I am not a very good cook. Because of that nothing I make ever turns out the same.

I can follow the same recipe or make the same dish and it might turn out different every time. Sometimes it tastes pretty good, and other times it wouldn't be fit to serve to someone else.

While I would never want to be short order cook, I am sure glad there are people who are willing to do it and are good at it. Since I don't like to cook, I eat out a lot and enjoy having someone make something for me that I special ordered.

What is the average short order cook salary? Do they make more than your typical line cook?

Being a short order cook is a lot harder than many people expect. The work is fast and furious and takes a lot of organization and planning on the fly. You have to be able to maximize the amount of food that you can cook on a very small amount of space. You have to cook 3-9 different things at once and keep track of all the customers individual preferences. It is not for the timid of heart, trust me.


I worked as a short order cook in college. It was not a bad job. I didn't make a ton of money but I liked the work and got all the free food I could eat which was a huge perk when I was 19. The only drawback was that I came home smelling like grease which drove my girlfriend crazy.


@ Babalaas- I have to agree with you, but I would also like to add that a successful short-order cook is consistent. Whether a cook does 30 covers or 100 in a shift, that person must consistently serve good food. The tastes, portions, and presentation have to be the same every time.

I have a favorite diner in my city, and one thing I notice is the food is always consistent. My food is always hot and fresh and service is speedy. I am confident that I could order my favorite burger and have it cooked the same every time.


Many short-order cooks have a preference over what type of meal they like to cook. Some cooks specialize in breakfast, others in steaks and burgers, still others specialize in comfort foods, or seafood.

Because of this many short-order cooks have certain shifts that they prefer to work. It can take years to become a solid short-order cook that can work at a busy restaurant or diner.

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