Labour costs eat a considerable portion of your business finances. Which is why this is the common area where business owners tend to make budget cuts, thinking they can stretch hours and pile up tasks after tasks and expectations on one staff.
Business sales fluctuate. Normally, you would want to be able to serve as many customers with safety, taste and quality in mind, but you have to make sure that you are still continuously netting profits at the end of the day.
I understand that. I also understand that efficiency is the name of the game.
Ideally, a chef already knows how to maximize his time, supplies, work area and strength to accomplish a day’s work. Chefs can be meticulously organized, efficient, deadline-driven and productive. All this comes with daily practice and because they have to be. We have to be.
However, as business owner/venue manager, you should be on top of things and the more that you are familiar with productivity systems, you will be able to work hand in hand with your chefs or be able to provide the real leadership and guidance for your kitchen team.
1. Preparing the Workspace and your Team
“Mise en place” French pronunciation: [mi zɑ̃ ˈplas]) is a basic rule followed by every chef in the kitchen. It is a French culinary phrase which means “putting in place” or “everything in its place.” It is a philosophy… It is a system where preparation before the actual work is given importance. Everything is set up in an orderly fashion — ingredients, tools and equipment.
How does this maximize productivity?
It is a concept of readiness. When everything is set up ahead, there is less time and energy wasted by doing redundant tasks such as running back to the pantry to get an ingredient. In a restaurant or during food prep for an event, every second count.
A person has to be responsible for himself on this. During actual preparation, one has to make sure that what is needed is right in front of him/her, or an arm’s length away or at least 2 meters away. This is so that no time is wasted to look for items. This system allows your team to cook and serve an elaborate meal in a short time.
It is not a good practice for a chef to dive immediately into work without him assessing his kitchen, his supplies, and team for the entire shift or workday. A good practice is for him to create a production list for the day. This will enable him to be on top of things such as the inventory. Checking of fresh produce is usually done in the mornings since that is when supplies typically arrive. Tracking inventory also includes making sure that the rest of the kitchen stocks is not yet passed expiration. Or it could be having copies of recipes on every section.
This practice enables him to anticipate and react accordingly to any potential issues of the day.
And not just supplies too!
The food business includes human factors, therefore, as the actual doer of the work, your people should be prepared for the stressful day ahead. Start with a team huddle. This is an opportunity for everyone to discuss the menu for the day, ask questions and get clarification so that everyone has a crystal clear understanding of the goal and process.
2. Train, Empower and Encourage staff teamwork
A trained team can perform with minimal supervision, allowing the attention to be focused on other essential scopes of the kitchen work.
For a smoother workflow in the kitchen, a chef can delegate tasks to the rest of the team. He can quickly validate reactions and responses when he knows that his team is competent. There is less time spent to double check or micromanage everyone, which I might add is a BIG PRODUCTIVITY KILLER.
Micromanaging erodes trust and can turn a workplace toxic over time. Who wants to have someone always breathing on his neck checking every little thing he is doing? A perceived lack of trust can be detrimental to an employee’s psyche.
RELATED READ: Why Chefs Should Speak Up About Their Mental Health
How does this maximize productivity?
- A trained and supported staff is empowered, and an empowered team is more productive. According to a study led by Scott Seibert, professor of management and organizations at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business, properly implemented empowerment initiatives can lead to higher job satisfaction, lower turnover and reduced stress among workers. Empowered employees also are more innovative and perform better at their jobs.
- The training ensures that everyone knows the scope of their job which minimizes room for mistakes. Ongoing and regular training can highlight the best practices for your kitchen.
- Make your staff learn from each other. If you have training conducted for your team, encourage the one who demonstrates fast learning and who executes the right best skills to help out the rest who are having difficulty. It could be by showing them how he/she was able to do the task. Not everyone learns and improve at the same rate, but by fostering support among each other, they will have the opportunity to grow as a team.
- Establish a team of chefs with similar positive values and the right skills. They can help you train the rest of your team.
- Unfortunately, some chefs get promoted up through the ranks because of their length of tenure and not on their skill set. Sometimes, it is because of the relationship with the business owner. Do your best to evaluate your kitchen team and reward accordingly. You want to promote fairness and emphasis on quality by putting the right person in charge. This will prevent demoralization within your team, and you will receive the correct work output that you expect.
3. Uphold the Clean As You Go Policy
“Clean As You Go” is a technique that involves finding opportunities to continually clean throughout the day as part of the routine. For purposes of this topic, I am speaking of its effect on efficiency.
The two types of cleaning are:
Urgent – immediate attending to a potential health and safety hazard such as spills.
Non-urgent – part of the routine tasks such as wiping of surfaces, disposing of trash bins, etc.
How does this maximize productivity?
- When cleanup is continuously done throughout the working day, there is no piling up of dirty tools and surfaces at the end of the shift when your team is just about dead tired from work. This will prevent your team from being overwhelmed and additionally stressed which may encourage them to do shortcuts in cleaning or skip it altogether.
- Valuable time is spent on other areas where attention is also needed.
- You will be able to identify who among your team are motivated and who are those who waste time. Use this information as a basis if additional staff training is needed or if you need to review its effectivity. Worst case scenario, you can remove them from your team and replace them.
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Some important reminders :
- Be clear on what expectations and standards are for peak hours or slow hours.
- Create or review your existing kitchen pre-close procedures so that they are clear and the assigned staff is aware of his responsibility. Have a Pre-close checklist posted in an area in your kitchen where your team can use as a reference. Some restaurant kitchens perform their preclose activities 1 ½ hours before closing or depending upon the sales volume for the day.
- Staff needs to know the designated place to store clean work equipment and where spill kits are kept around the premises for easy access.A spill kit may include:
- Disposable gloves
- Highly absorbent materials, for example, sand / sawdust or the likes of Spill Aid / Spill Magic
- Paper towels
- Bucket or receptacle to put the used absorbent materials
- Brush and dustpan
- Disposable Cloths
- Clean equipment after use to decrease bacterias and pathogens from harbouring in the towels and cleaning materials. The longer these pathogens stay, the more they multiply. And in case you need to reuse them, you will have them readily available instead of putting it off for later at the end of the shift.
- Remove outer packaging of raw materials and produce from the production area straight after use. Do not let these items accumulate in a particular spot in your area for later pickup.
- Use rubbish containers with lids and keep them in easy to access locations so that disposal is quickly done.
- Train your staff so that it should be second nature to them to remove trash or boxes in high traffic areas to minimize slipping accidents or blockage of that area.
- Trash Bins should be emptied throughout the day to avoid build up.
- Find out the areas where your customers and staff tend to leave trash and include a plan to clean those areas throughout the day.
4. Attention to Tools, Equipment and Space
How does this maximize productivity?
Simply put, tools that are in good condition and at the ready can make the cooking faster for your waiting customers and make the work convenient for your kitchen team. They enable the chef to do multitasking. Thus he/she can accomplish more tasks in the kitchen.This is a great help when dealing with large orders of food at a swift pace.
A kitchen layout that is too spread out may require additional staff. While a compact kitchen though can be manned efficiently with minimal staff, it may potentially be unable to meet the demands if sales volume increase.
Here are some reminders:
- Recall Mise en place. Sharpen all knives to be used in food preparation. Not only will they allow slicing much faster, but the integrity of the meat or produce is retained compared to using a blunt one. On top of that the chef will also save energy and prevent shoulder pain as a result of exerting more effort when cutting / slicing.
- This next one should be considered during the construction planning of the restaurant itself. Often the size of the dining area is prioritized over the size of the restaurant kitchen. Therefore the kitchen layout should be efficiently laid out to compensate for if space will be a challenge.
- Have work surfaces and storage areas set up so that your staff doesn’t have to move more than 2 meters max during the service.
- Invest in time-saving kitchen tools/equipment such as mechanical peelers, choppers, and mixers. When buying, keep your target business volume in mind. For example, if you buy a too large mixer, it is not only impractical money wise, but will also entail extra time to clean and maintain it. And if you get a blender that’s too small, you will be unable to mix the required quantities in a single batch, causing repetition of the process.
5. Review Performance Standards and Revise if Needed
Performance standards or Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s) provide your staff with specific performance expectations for each primary duty. These standards explain how the job is to be done as well as the expected results for satisfactory job performance. In other words, these standards describe what a good job looks like or at the least, acceptable.
For example: Be clear with the recipe specifications and the cooking steps involved. As well as providing clear photographs on how the dishes should look to provide dish consistency for your customers.
Having well defined SOPs (standard operating procedures) will make evaluations much more accurate and fair.
How does it maximize productivity?
When you have a clear and specific tool to measure productivity through these sets of standards, you can evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your team members.
However, by definition itself, these SOPs must be achievable by most of your kitchen team for most of the time.
If only a few of your kitchen staff can achieve the standard, then maybe the training practices or the trainer is ineffective. Or perhaps the rules are not realistically attainable. This is when review and revision come in.
Here are some questions that you can use as a guide:
- To improve efficiency, is there a particular task that can be removed or skipped?
- Do you need to provide additional training to a particular staff or to the whole team to improve skills?
- Which task can be reassigned to a person who is not busy?
- Do you need to simplify your menu?
- Do you need to make changes in the layout of your kitchen to accommodate changes in the customer volume? Peak or slow season?
- Do you need to use slow hours as prep time for the peak hours?
- Can you use ready prepared items to improve preparation speed without reducing the expected food quality?
These are just guides, and you can definitely come up with your own. What helps is when you:
- Get feedback from your team about the problems they are encountering. Use their insights and you start from there.
- List down alternative solutions and evaluate them if they are feasible.
- Once you have chosen which solution will work best for your team, train your team and start implementing.
- THEN REVIEW AND EVALUATE again.
Yes, it is an ongoing process. You as the business owner or your manager should initiate this routine evaluation so you can assess if there are new issues that are coming up. If as a result of your assessment, that something is not right or effective, change it the soonest that you can so that you can see improvements much faster.
6. Use apps or technology
Here are some systems that may help boost productivity in your kitchen. I am not in any way affiliated with the following companies, but I want to share them with you so you can check them out for yourself to find out if these technologies can help your business.
- OpenSimSim: Free Online Work Schedule Maker – This is a Free employee scheduling software to help you easily create and adjust schedule . This product aims to help employers manage their workers by having access to employee schedules, know employee availability, assign shifts, approve day-off requests and other various features that will help employers in the management of their staff.
- Trello – Trello is a cloud-based project management app designed to help individuals and teams collaborate better and keep their projects organized.Trello’s approach to task and project management is visual. It uses boards that correspond to projects. Within boards, there are cards that represent individual tasks. Users can set up task lists and cards that can be assigned to specific team members. Think of Trello as a digital whiteboard with high-tech sticky notes.
- Xero – is an accounting software that you can sync to your POS system for easy management of sales. It can also help you keep control of your stock inventory, menu pricing and more…
It took me 15 years of hard work before I learned that I don’t have to work harder, instead work smarter.
Productivity can be achieved in one area, at a time. Yet your goal as the business owner should be for your team to demonstrate productivity in more than one aspect of your business.
I would like to make it clear that performance standards and productivity actually are on the opposite side of the spectrum. If the performance standards are high, productivity may be low because time and attention are much needed to perform the task. This is why when you evaluate and work on productivity, you have to look at the bigger picture. If you are firm that you want very high standards for your product then make sure that you provide training for your team and you don’t add unreasonable tasks if you want them to focus on quality. Look elsewhere for feasible solutions to help your team perform their best while reaching profit goals.
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