So, you’ve decided the restaurant kitchen is the place for you, professionally speaking, and, in doing so, secured a coveted position as a stage. Here’s your guide to setting yourself up for success.

First, you have to prepare

Number one, make sure you have the necessary gear. For clothing, you should have black chef pants, a t-shirt, and a white chef’s jacket, all of which can be found at a restaurant supply store or from the web. If you’re working multiple days in a row, be sure to get more than one set so you don’t have to go home exhausted and immediately do laundry.

You’ll also need a way to cover your hair (unless you don’t have any). And you’ll need comfortable shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty. Pro-tip: it’s best to have shoes you can wipe off, meaning not tennis shoes because they’ll get gross and stay gross.

Pro-tip: it’s best to have shoes you can wipe off, meaning not tennis shoes because they’ll get gross and stay gross.

Don’t forget the knives! At a minimum, you’ll want an 8″ chef’s knife, a paring knife, a serrated bread knife, a steel, and a vegetable peeler, and all should be sharpened beforehand. You’ll feel best if you put them in a knife bag, which you can also pick up at the restaurant supply store.

While we’re on the topic, make sure to practice your knife skills leading up to your start day. Go buy a ten-pound sack of onions and another of potatoes and makes sure you can quickly, neatly, and uniformly slice, dice, mince, julienne, etc.

It’s the day of, here’s what to expect

Most importantly, show up on time, and when I say on time, I mean 5-10 minutes early, ready to work. Go to the back door. Open it, step confidently in, and say to the first person you see,

“Hi, I’m Stefanie. I’m scheduled to stage today.”

They will know what to do, which is likely to deliver you to a station lead, who may well be slightly annoyed that you’re under their wing. They know how to work their station like the back of their hand, and you’re going to slow them down, at least, that’s what they think.

It sounds negative, and maybe they won’t feel that way, but it’s best to be prepared for the worst case.

Anyway, they will most likely show you where to get your apron and a side towel, set you up with a cutting board next to them, and give you something very basic to do, like peel and rough-chop vegetables or pick herb leafs off their stems.

Another thing you’ll want to be prepared for is being asked, “where are you coming to us from?” If you have some experience under your belt, especially at a reputable restaurant, this question isn’t a big deal. However, if this is your first stage, saying so can be a little intimidating. Don’t let it get to you though; just be honest!

Now, set yourself up for a great stage

Your overall goal is to demonstrate that you can be a net plus in the kitchen, so that by later in your stage you’ll be allowed to do more interesting things and learn as much as possible. So, how can you do this?

Be a hard worker, which means always be working. Start by doing the project given to you, working as quickly and cleanly as possible, and do a great job of it. Then label and put away your project (asking if you aren’t sure where it goes), clean up your area, put all your dirty stuff in the dish pit, and ask what you can do next.

If for some reason you don’t have something to do, maybe because your supervisor is temporarily tied up, ask others if there is something you can help with. If nothing else, find something to clean.

This is the number one source of respect available to you. If you are working hard and trying to contribute, you’ll be off to a great start.

Be prepared to ask questions, because you’ll have to just to complete what seem like the simplest tasks. This is ok – it is much better to ask than to do a project wrong and have to start over. If you don’t understand the explanation, ask for clarification or a demonstration right away. Just say, “can you show me how you want that done?” Then leave the example piece in a corner of your cutting board so that you can reference it later.

Pro-tip: don’t ask the same question twice, so really pay attention to the answers and write them down if need be.

Once the prep phase is complete, it’s time for service…

This is when your role changes. In some restaurants, you might not be allowed to do anything but watch, unless it’s prepping backups. In others, you might be given one simple dish to plate up repeatedly.

In any event, be aware of your surroundings: stay out of the way of the professionals and do what you are asked.

At the end of the night, every station has a whole list of things to do, with which you’ll need to help. Again, you’ll be given tasks, and if not, ask for them. When you’re good to go, your station lead will let you know. It’s poor form to ask if and when you can leave, so don’t do it!

Whatever you do, your attitude should be one of humility and respect when interacting with all of the restaurant’s employees.

Even if you think you know a better way to do something, you really don’t know until you’re at least a few days in, and you also don’t know how your suggestions will be received. After you’ve established some rapport with your coworkers, you’ll sense whether it would be ok to put forth your idea.

Some final tips

  • Say “behind you”, “hot behind”, “sharp behind”, “corner”, “oven open”, etc. in all applicable instances. It is a matter of both safety and respect to let each other know where the hazards are.
  • Be nice to the folks in the dish pit. They are the backbone of a kitchen and often some of the most valuable employees. Learn where they want stuff stacked, and which things (typically anything sharp) you wash yourself.
  • If for some reason you get chewed out, so be it. Accept the criticism, correct the mistake, and move on.
  • If you get cut or burned, ask where the medical kit is and cover the damage with a bandaid and glove before returning to work.
  • Hygiene is essential. Wash your hands well and frequently, anytime you handle anything messy or go to the bathroom.

Last but not least, good luck on your first day of staging! 

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