Short video honours the hard work of Kitchen Hands…

This Canadian documentary spends time with the kitchen hands at several Montreal restaurants, highlighting the fast, heavy and relentless pace of their work.

Without them there are no clean plates, no pans for chefs to cook with, no clean floors or cutlery for the table. It’s a job often done by people of colour and the marginalised, showing how the hierarchy still works in manual labour. We say we ‘couldn’t live without them’, but they’re rarely given a proper uniform or a bearable, efficient work space. Ever worked in one of those plastic aprons in a hot space? It’s tough.

The video gives an unflinching view of this hard labour, and the humanity of the people who do it…

Simple, low-cost Recipe Software – this looks just the ticket!

I found CookKeepBook through a social media mention, and it seems to have all the functions for recipe software that an independent operator needs. For many years we sold Profitable Recipe Manager, and its combination of simplicity and accuracy helped thousands of businesses control their food and recipe costs. Since retiring that product a few years ago, I’ve been looking for an inexpensive, cloud-based alternative.

There are some excellent high-end products such as Cooking the Books, MasterTracker, Menu Coster, Parsley, Hospitality Genie, the less expensive Fillet, and the venerable CalcMenu and Resort Software (waiting for them to go cloud-based), with integrations to POS systems, invoices, ordering and bookkeeping. Many of these are loaded with features, and fairly expensive for a small operator – no-one escapes subscription pricing these days!

In my experience, most people want a simple solution that can be used anywhere – PC, Mac, iPad or phone. They know that every time a recipe is costed, there will be surprises – sometimes good, usually not! The process should be as simple as: 1. enter the ingredients, 2. write the recipe and 3. create a costed recipe to print or share on iPad for daily use. When ingredient costs go up or down, changing a price adjusts the costing on all the relevant recipes.

CookKeepBook seems to have all that’s necessary for daily use, with a free version (not just a trial), and the annual cost to include a lot more features is only $69. I’ve been in touch with the developers and they are responsive and working on regular updates and new features. Highly recommended!

Interviews with Ken Burgin on Restaurant Management and Podcasting

It was great to meet Adam Yee through Linkedin, when I commented on an article he wrote a few months back. He’s a food scientist and also has his own podcast, with the discussion often focused on food flavours. It’s a topic that was on my interview wish list, and now I had found an expert!

Enjoy the discussions I had with Adam on his My Food Job Rocks podcast…

Interview: My Work as a Restaurant Management Advisor

Bonus Interview: Podcasting and How to Build an Online Platform

Reversing the tables, here’s the interview I did with Adam about Food Flavours for the Profitable Hospitality podcast – it’s well worth your time…

Simplifying Business – a Good Theme for 2018

Simpler is usually better. Processes can be done more quickly, there are fewer costs, fewer moving parts, less need for highly-skilled staff, and fewer mistakes – this is not about ‘dumbing down’. Make SIMPLIFY your theme for 2018, rather than a list of ‘resolutions’ that are soon forgotten.

To get started, make a list of things that seem to be complicated and difficult. Ask your staff – they’ll have plenty of suggestions! Here are a few more…

Simplify your Website, and be especially conscious of how it’s seen on a mobile device. The key information people want are phone number, hours of opening and address – are they easy to find? Have common inquiries on a Frequently Asked Questions page eg function information, menu variations, group sizes etc…

Simplify Customer Bookings – usually they don’t want to call, but just book online. Time to join one of the booking services or add a simple form to your website – the small cost of fees will be more than covered by increased customer numbers.

Simplify Recruitment – standard job ads, an automated application process with a web form (check Wufoo) and SMS responses, standardised interview questions and a set induction process. Maybe a little bit of work to setup, then it will flow smoothly.

Simplify Rostering – get rid of the paper roster and clunky spreadsheets. Online systems like Tanda make it easier to design and cost your staff schedule, and notify staff. Also cuts costs – you can tell hour by hour how much staff are costing you each week.

Simplify Recipes – how many moves or touch points are involved in each dish? Is that justified by the price and staff skills you have? This is not about removing style or flavour, but making it easier to serve quickly and economically.

Simplify the Menu – a useful report on your POS shows the best and worst selling items. Check it over month so there’s plenty of data. How many of those slow-sellers can be removed and no-one will notice? Can garnishes and ingredients be used across more dishes? How many individual food items do you keep in stock – it might be a surprise!

Simplify the Wine List – apply the same ‘best and worst seller’ process to your beverages. This can lead to big, big savings – cellars can easily balloon into massive investments if you’re not careful.

Simplify the Bar and Front Counter Setup – make it easier to serve, especially when it’s busy. Have equipment and supplies in their logical place – run what used to be called a ‘time and motion study’. Staff can do a lot of this for you…

Simplify Purchasing – start to deal with suppliers who allow you to order online and work off agreed lists. Simpler, and easier to do price comparisons. Some small operators are slow to embrace this – remind them that this is 2018, not 1998.

Simplify Payments – ready to be radical and eliminate cash payments?! It’s been done by a few businesses, and they’re loving easier POS systems, greater security and simpler end of shift reconciliation. It’s coming…

Simplify Bookkeeping and Accounts – online services like Xero put all your bookkeeping on a web page, accessible from anywhere. There are a raft of skilled people who can help set this up – the cost is more than covered by savings on business expenses, tax filing fees and the daily access you have to the real state of your business.

Simplify your Text Messaging Routine – I’ve seen so many owners and managers who are dominated by random and unnecessary messages from staff and suppliers. Set some new rules…

Simplify your Daily Routine – how is it now? One hint – don’t start the day by checking emails – it will dominate your morning.

What else can you do to simplify business? Watch for updates on this list…

How to Measure Restaurant Kitchen Costs and Efficiency

There’s a business saying: ‘if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it!’

Smart managers need reliable and accurate figures on which to base decisions. If there are problems, you can take corrective action quickly. If you are having success, you’ll know what to do more of! They also give a fuller understanding of what happened – if it’s a quiet month (when  suppliers are telling you ‘everyone’s quiet!’) you may see that some of your KPI’s have improved (eg sales per-head) because you’ve doubled down on service. Well done – its not all doom and gloom!

Here’s a list of KPI’s you’ll want to watch for the Kitchen…

Food Cost % can be measured quickly by adding up food purchases for the week and measuring them against your food sales. This is based on the assumption that you are not holding much stock (as it’s perishable, you need to sell it or throw it out!). You may also do a stock-take regularly to get a more accurate food cost percentage, although the burden of kitchen stocktaking often means it is not done very often.
Total Food Costs – how much was your total food bill? Sometimes a useful figure to show staff who think you are made of money!
Food Costs per-head. It can be useful to see every week how much it costs to feed an average customer – this is an easy figure for your staff to understand. If your menu and sales style is consistent, this should also remain much the same. If it starts to go up, you will have to find out what’s happening! To measure this, use the total amount of food purchased and divide by the number of customers. eg $3000 of purchases divided by 600 customers = $5 per head food costs. If you work out an accurate Stock Value (see below), use that figure instead of purchases.
Kitchen Labour % – it’s only fair to measure kitchen productivity by comparing kitchen labour cost against food sales, not total sales (alcohol and beverage sales may be influenced by other factors).
Kitchen Labour Hours – how many hours worked in this section? Compare against sales to measure productivity, and divide total kitchen labour cost by the number of customers – it can be surprising.
Stock Value – how much food stock are you holding? It should be less than a week’s use, but can slip out if you are storing frozen seafood or cryovac meat. Opening Stock + Purchases – Closing Stock = Cost of Goods Used.
Best and worst selling items – check the weekly sales from your POS or dockets. Do you know what the best sellers were? Should some of the worst sellers be removed?
Kitchen linen costs – the cost of uniforms, aprons and tea-towels can be a shock! How many tea-towels are you using each day? (thought about laundering them yourself?).
Food waste by weight – if you’re watching waste carefully, it’s possible to measure how many bins or kilos you’re throwing out. When it becomes a focus, it’s interesting to see how this can be reduced.
Fuel and water costs – sometimes these can be measured separately for the kitchen. If so, watch the ups and downs, comparing to the number of customers served.

Which of these figures can you access quickly, and which ones are the most useful?

Two Restaurant Service Techniques That Add Style and Pizzazz…

People keep saying that ‘fine dining is dead’ – maybe. But there are lots of techniques from traditional fine dining that add flair, service speed and a point of difference. And with the first one shown here, silver-service, it’s also quicker and more efficient – one of the many ways you can exceed expectations.

If you have employees who have worked in a traditional restaurant, ask them to train the other service staff – it’s a nice thing for them to use when there are bread rolls or vegetables to share out.

How to do Silver Service…

Napkin folding also adds flare – worth checking the cost of cloth napkins compared to the heavy paper ones, as the real thing may not be much more expensive. If you want to upgrade your function service, stylishly presented napkins can make a big difference…

Here are more napkin videos and you’ll find lots of them online.

Interview: Understanding Food Flavours

What makes food taste wonderful, or bland, or maybe it’s sour, hot or bitter? There are so many things to understand with food flavours, so we asked Adam Yee, a food scientist for assistance. He talks with Ken Burgin about the chemistry of flavours, how we experience them, and how a chef can use this knowledge to create memorable tastes and popular recipes.

We also discussed potato chips, smoky flavours, snacks, desserts and what makes ethnic food so popular. The food scientist sees the essential elements of taste coming from flavour, texture, depth, time, heat and moisture – everyone in the kitchen is a scientist in one way or another!

Positioning is why people don’t ‘get’ your special food concept

Feel like eating out?
Let’s go to a Thai place – red curry, stir fry, fish cakes… mmm
Or maybe Mexican – spicy beans, tacos, burritos… yum!

What about that new Filippino place? Or the Ethiopian one? Huh??
Most people are fairly conservative in their tastes, and 8/10 want the same as last time. They may range across Pizza, Mexican, Thai and Subway, but each of these concepts has a clearly defined position in our brains – we understand the flavours and experience when just one word is mentioned.

It can even happen with countries – if you’re thinking about a holiday in Italy, Spain or Thailand, each of them brings up clear images that have been built up over a long time. What about a few weeks in Belgium, Estonia or Bulgaria? You hesitate because their positioning is weak, and people who are unsure usually decide not to spend.

Positioning as a marketing concept was first popularised by Al Ries and Jack Trout in their classic book Positioning: the Battle for Your Mind – there’s a new 20th anniversary edition now available and it’s a great read. It’s one of the basic books I’d like everyone who does my Restaurant Startup workshop to study!

Understanding positioning is also important if you’re not the first, the best or the most famous cafe, gelato shop, Italian or Turkish restaurant – you need to create a new and understandable space not claimed by the leader.

And if you do want to showcase food from the Philippines, or Ethiopia, Sudan or Myanmar, you will have some special challenges to help people understand what your food is like and why they should plan to visit this week! Not unsurmountable, but just being proud of your cuisine isn’t nearly enough – there’s a big city you also need to educate.

The famous risotto scene from the movie Big Night

Two Italian immigrant brothers struggle to Americanise themselves and their restaurant.  The younger one Secondo is more willing to adapt; his older brother Primo finds the food preferences of Americans strange and upsetting.

If you’ve ever worked with a chef who has ‘standards’, you will recognise this scene! Find and watch this wonderful movie on iTunes, Netflix  or on DVD – it’s a treat…

How to Promote your Green Credentials for a Marketing Bonus

Whatever you’re doing on the environmental front, it’s worth talking about and publicising. Consumers are very interested, and so are corporate and government clients – in some cases, they’ve been told to make this a priority in their choice of venues.

Put a short Environmental Action Statement on your website, and  keep adding to it as you make improvements. Here’s what to include:

Energy Efficiency: how you work to reduce energy use with lighting, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, appliances, office equipment, and transport.

Green Power: is your electricity supply contract from renewable resources that use wind, solar, geothermal or hydro-electric?

Carbon Offset Program: explain the program you use and the savings made. Comparing the numbers before and after can be very impressive.

Water Conservation: methods used for kitchen appliances, equipment and landscaping, and in a way that does not compromise hygiene and cleanliness.

Recycling: glass, plastic, metal, cardboard, paper, corks, waste oil, ink and toner cartridges are all a part of daily operations. Describe how you recycle them.

Source Reduction: Do suppliers take back the packaging supplied with deliveries or eliminate it altogether? Are polystyrene foam boxes and package still accepted with deliveries?

Sustainable Food: used where possible to support the long-term viability of agriculture, fishing and grazing. Sourcing food locally to reduce the use of fossil fuel in transport.

Tree-free Products: used wherever possible, ensuring that wooden furniture and any wooden items do not come from old-growth forests.

Non-toxic Cleaning Products: are used that are biodegradable, free of hazardous ingredients, and safe for people and the environment.

Employee Education: at the heart of an environmental commitment – how are staff educated and how is their commitment sustained? It would not be possible without their contribution.

Start with what you do now, and update as you add activities – it won’t take long for the page to be impressive! Need inspiration? Listen to this recent Podcast on Sustainability for Cafes & the Coffee Industry.