Multitasking… there are a few people in the world who seem to thrive on it, but those people probably mastered the art of rapid set shifting, something a little different from multitasking. Set shifting “… means consciously and completely shifting…attention from one task to the next, focusing on the task at hand.” Giving full attention to a task in the moment improves productivity and creativity and causes fewer mistakes. “Set shifting is a sign of brain fitness and agility…”

If there is any life that requires this ability for rapid set shifting, it’s the life of a line cook. The best line cooks work quickly and with absolute focus. Receiving instructions and requests from multiple directions at once and with several different mini-events happening on different schedules under their watch, a line cook requires this rare ability for rapid set shifting.

If line cooks didn’t have this ability but instead multitasked in the way most of us think about it, order fulfillment would suffer; orders would slow and be filled with mistakes. Unanticipated problems occur in any commercial dining scenario, and line cooks, without this rapid set shifting ability, cannot create solutions.

Beyond set shifting, line cooks require a few other specific skills and lifestyle preferences. Let’s take a look.

“Set shifting is a sign of brain fitness and agility…”

Sharp and sharply focused

“Set shifting is a sign of brain fitness and agility…” A line cook is the person in the room who catches subtle cues quickly and whose responses are quick, intelligent and on target. Issues don’t sit on their mind while they weigh alternatives — they don’t have time for that. A line cook resolves issues instinctively and immediately and moves on to the next mini-event with complete focus.


Sometimes the most intelligent people in the world move slowly or clumsily. The best line order cooks move quickly and gracefully, positioning their bodies and hands effortlessly and instinctively exactly where they need to be. The objective is to preserve every ounce of mental and physical capacity for the food prep task at hand without distraction.


Seriously. Sounds crazy, but if a line order cook is conventionally multitasking instead of rapidly set shifting, they accumulate stress, contributing to a poor health profile. Add to this proximity to sweets and processed foods with little time to stop and focus on eating, and you are on the way to poor health. Poor health chips away at mental capacity, reduces focus and invites sluggishness. In contrast, someone who eats the right foods, drinks plenty of water and is active is more alert, focused and energetic.

A line cook who loves the taste and appearance of food knows instinctively when something isn’t quite right.

Love food and food preparation

If you don’t love good food and have some artistic sensibility about it, you cannot prepare a tasty, visually appealing dish. A line cook who loves the taste and appearance of food knows instinctively when something isn’t quite right and makes adjustments. Someone with no feeling for it or passion about it? Not so much. And there’s no time to check a recipe. While it’s true that line cooks don’t make the menu choices or have final responsibility for dishes that go out, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and in establishments with fixed menus, a line cook is often the only person preparing food.

Strive for excellence

Of course, we should all strive for excellence in whatever we do, no matter how great or small the task. The story is in the details, and a good line cook takes pride in every item they prepare, in its taste, aroma and appearance. Serving good food with flair and attention to detail ensures customers return.

A natural and trained awareness of food sanitation best practices

Of course you want your line cook to have sanitation training and certification, but hopefully that line cook reaches a level of ease and naturalness with best practices. Interrupting focused rapid set shifting to remember whether you should turn off hand-washing water before drying your hands or after adds unnecessary distraction to the work.

A line order cook is someone with a natural gift honed by training and experience. A good one is a rare find, and restauranteurs who find great line cooks are smart to show their appreciation to these employees.

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