Typical Kitchen Hierarchy of a Professional Hotel Restaurant

It’s been said that too many cooks spoil the broth. But the opposite is true in the professional, hotel kitchens I’ve visited.

On a recent field trip along with fellow students from CulinaryLab Cooking School in Tustin, I got a firsthand look at the teamwork on display at one of Southern California’s most prestigious hotels, the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel.

Behind the scenes, as we weaved through the multiple sub-kitchens, we met groups of bustling staffers working on their craft, from garde manger, to pastry to saute. At the Ritz-Carlton, 80 to 100 workers make up the hotel’s kitchen staff for a handful of restaurants onsite.

As an aspiring chef, I wanted to know how the staff is organized. To get a better understanding of their hierarchy or “kitchen brigade” , I interviewed Executive Chef Andrew Litherland. Litherland, 49, joined his 10th Ritz-Carlton in Laguna Niguel about a year ago. He began his career at 11 years old, and has worked all over the world, including his native New Zealand, Japan, Dubai and the East Coast.

Here’s a general overview of his staff, depicting the hierarchy of a large professional kitchen, starting from the bottom:

The Kitchen Hierarchy Explained

Dishwasher, Porter, Steward

Though they don’t typically do food preparation, the job of a dishwasher, porter or steward is a valuable piece in the kitchen hierarchy. These workers do most of the cleaning and assist with tasks wherever needed.

These roles generally do not require restaurant experience or culinary training. The pay is very low.

Cooks: What is the Difference Between Commis 1, 2, 3 and 4?

There are many roles in a professional kitchen, including junior cooks or “commis” roles.

At the Ritz-Carlton, cooks are separated into “cook 1,” “cook 2,” “cook 3” and “cook 4.”

  • Cook 4’s are usually fresh out of culinary school or are interns. Their role is similar to prep cooks at other restaurants. These cooks, if they are paid, can expect $12-$13 an hour.
  • Cook 3’s have a year or two of experience. At this point, they are assigned into a specific kitchen, i.e. pastry or garde manger, to assist in food prep and some line cooking. These cooks usually earn $13-$15 an hour.
  • Cook 2’s are similar to line cooks at other restaurants. They usually have three or four years’ experience in their specific field. They can lead and work on the line, from the fry station, to saute, or grill. These cooks earn $15-$17 an hour, in general. Some prefer to stay at this level because it’s the highest level before entering into a management role, Chef Litherland says.
  • Cook 1 is a higher level lead position, bringing a lot more responsibility and mastery of their specific skills. “When we get to this level, we’re kind of getting them ready for that next step in their careers, which is the leadership beast,” Chef Litherland says. “This will be the biggest transition that most cooks go through. Getting someone to the point where they are ready to lead people takes time.”

Sous Chef

In every kitchen I’ve worked in, the sous chef (meaning second chef) is one of the most important roles. The sous chef has an active role in the day-to-day running of the kitchen, including menu development, payroll, ordering and managing the staff. All questions and problems seem to go to the sous chef.

A lot depends on the size of the restaurant, but a sous chef is typically paid $20-$23 an hour.

Head Chef

Sometimes referred to as Chef de Cuisine, the head chef takes on a sort of COO role in the kitchen. At the Ritz-Carlton, there are several head chefs, called banquet chef, executive pastry chef and executive sous chef.

The head chef de cuisine will spend very little time on the line, but rather at a desk working on things like event planning, menu development and calling on clients. “This is a stepping stone into the role of an executive chef,” Chef Litherland said. “They can be in all areas throughout the kitchen. (They) should have a background in all areas of the restaurant.”

Head chefs can be paid $50k to $80k a year, depending on the restaurant.

Executive Chef

This is the top of the food chain, says Chef Litherland. “The role is almost the heart of the hotel’s vision. It’s kind of all of the above.” He says his role includes communicating with other departments — marketing, food and beverage, the general manager — planning, purchasing and employee development.

“I enjoy it. I still get into the kitchen, over a stove once in a while,” Chef Litherland says. “But I enjoy the bigger vision of the operation.”


So there you have it. That’s the kitchen hierarchy of a very well known hotel. As you can see, there are a lot of cooks in a typical kitchen.


Author Bio

After 30 years in the newspaper industry, Orange County native Joe Ardent decided to put down the press pass in favor of a chef coat. Joe was a reporter, editor and page designer at the Orange County Register and The Press-Enterprise in Riverside, CA. He interviewed professional athletes, rock stars, comedians and others during the 1990s and 2000s. In 2018, he set out to pursue his dream in the food industry.