The main business of any restaurant is providing the highest quality of food possible to keep the customers satisfied. This effort is completely dependent on the kitchen staff and how proficient they are in making the dishes that the restaurant offers. Key members of that staff include the food preparers known as prep cooks, who "set the table" for the chefs and line cooks.
The job of a prep cook is an entry-level position in the kitchen. The prep cook is often required to perform a variety of tasks other than preparing food, such as receiving deliveries, storing food in refrigerators and in containers, rotating stock to maintain freshness standards, removing garbage from the kitchen area, and cleaning the food-preparation areas. Other duties can include writing order lists and keeping the kitchen organized.
The primary duty of this position involves preparing the ingredients for daily menu offerings. This includes preparing vegetables by washing, chopping, grating and slicing them for inclusion in side dishes, salads, soups, and appetizers. Meats also must be prepared for cooking, which may involve cutting or slicing them into appropriate portions. In many cases, the prep cook is responsible for actually making soups, salads, and appetizers to free up the chefs and line cooks.
The type of restaurant in which the prep cook works has a lot to do with his duty list. Specialty restaurants, such as vegan or ethnic establishments, may require special food-handling skills that must be learned on the job. Some smaller restaurants require the prep cook to bus tables and do the nightly cleanup of the entire kitchen. Most restaurants require the prep cook to be available to fill in around the kitchen as needed, including cooking when staff shortages occur.
The entry-level status of many prep cook positions translates into on-the-job training. Some restaurants hire people without previous food-handling experience in order to train them in food preparation according to the unique style of the establishment, but some background in the food industry is generally an asset for a prep cook. Attention to detail is useful for reading and following recipes correctly. Willingness to take direction is another aspect of the job that is crucial in a busy work environment.
The prep cook position in most restaurants is on the lower end, depending on the venue and the quality of the establishment. Some prep cooks may earn more if their duty list is extensive, and the capacity for advancement provides a motivation for many prep cooks to learn as much as possible about meal preparation and general cooking. According to simplyhired.com, the average annual salary for a prep cook in the U.S. was $17,000 as of May 2010.