Ken Burgin

Kitchen Management

Successful Kitchen Management for Non-Chefs and Restaurant Owners

If you depend on the profits of a food operation, you need to understand kitchen management, and how to move in that space with confidence.

Here’s a quick guide to how a non-chef can become much more skilled in managing ‘secret kitchen business’ – it can be satisfying and very profitable to understand the workings of production, staffing and cost control.

Create Effective and Easy-to-Use Kitchen Management Systems

Introduce a Digital Ordering System. No more scraps of paper or late-night phone calls. Most suppliers now have an online portal to place orders, with instant price tracking and notification if anything is out of stock. If a supplier does not provide this, it may be time to switch. Now the chef and the owner have access to the same data, and price tracking can be done from the same information. Plus tracking order history and less need for negotiation with salespeople.

Take Ordering to the Next Level with Online Recipe & Menu Management – these give instant updates on menu profitability and the effect of ingredient price changes. Check the range of recipe management systems available – use one that includes ordering options and not just recipe costing. Assist the chef with data entry – the setup for these can take time, and other people could be much faster with typing. This is also an excellent job for a keen young chef or apprentice, and gives them ownership of the systems, which will need to be updated regularly.

Improve Food Delivery and Storage Systems. Many errors can happen with a stock count, security and deterioration. Have heavy-duty scales available for checking the weight of delivered items, plus locks on storerooms and label shelves. Use barcode and QR code scanning to record deliveries, and make it clear what time deliveries are allowed and signatures required. If you use camera monitoring, have them in storage areas and outside the back door.

Have temperature monitoring set up in the coolroom and freezer, with instant notification of system failures – this will reduce expensive stock loss. Shelving for dry and cold goods should be spacious and easy to clean, with enough room for items to be found quickly – if it’s piled up and squashed, it’s easy to lose. Food Safety systems are a high priority in many venues, and can be undertaken by anyone, usually in short, practical courses – there’s lots to learn for foodservice operators, even if you can’t use a knife or cook a busy service!

Keep Equipment Modern, Maintained and Sparkling Clean. Commercial-grade stoves, fryers and microwaves are needed to get food out quickly, and nothing frustrates staff more than having two stove burners out of action or a fryer that doesn’t come up to heat quickly. Make sure that the kitchen is easy to clean, with the right chemicals and water pressure available. This is where kitchen staff often work 40-50 hours every week, so make it as pleasant as possible.

Install Electronic Costing Scales – these are an important investment, and are like the ones used in a delicatessen to weigh food and give a unit cost. They’re also inexpensive – the owner can put on a burger to see if it’s been portioned to the exact 250gm, or the prawns, scallops and fish for a spaghetti marinara – the cost is always much more than expected! Here are some examples.

Organise the Workflow and Reduce Bottlenecks. You can soon tell if staff are working efficiently, or if equipment needs to be rearranged. There may need to be larger pieces of equipment, or duplication e.g. a second fryer pan or a better toaster. Can short staff reach high equipment, and is there enough lighting? Are there benches available for hot and heavy pots? Would a small trolley make movement quicker? Explore the possibility of a Kitchen Display System for the food orders – a large screen for chefs to work off, instead of printed dockets. Not only do they change the dynamic in the kitchen, they also give valuable information on order times and production bottlenecks. Work carefully but resolutely on this – they are mainly used in cafes and QSR’s.

Trust your instincts and ask questions; improvements like this are greatly appreciated by staff.

Make Sure the Point-of-Sale is Used Properly – it’s the point of truth for what’s selling and what is not. It shows the most and least popular items and how well desserts and side-orders are selling. Block the ‘Open Key’, which can be used by the staff as a shortcut for items they’re not sure about – this corrupts the accuracy of your data.

Build a Strong Menu. A good menu has items that are both profitable and popular. Your recipe system lets you check the profit margin on each menu item rather than just relying on percentages. Make sure you have a good range of popular desserts and grazing items. A modern bistro menu should aim for overall food costs of 25% or less. Setting menu prices is ultimately a marketing decision, based on accurate food costs and influenced by location, market segment and overall profit targets. Yes, it’s OK to serve delicious nachos for $18.50, even if it only cost you $4 to put on the plate!

Hire People Who Will Use and Follow Kitchen Management Systems

Employ Competent Staff and Pay Them Well. For the leader, you want someone who can get the best from a team, are knowledgeable about food issues, strong, fast, able to train staff quickly, reliable with numbers and happy to report to you regularly. But this superwoman or superman can be hard to find, so the more you create robust systems, the more you can support people to do a great job even if they’re not strong on one of these issues. Chances are you have some great people with English as their second language – great systems will help overcome any barriers that might concern them.

For the cooks and production crew, you want people with good energy, keen to work, willing to be part of a team and ready to follow recipe cards and systems the same way every day.

Use a Modern Rostering System – there are many available, listed here, and it’s one less headache for the head chef if they have an easy system to use instead of relying on endless phone calls. It also sets up proper accountability for current and future wage costs.

Share the Numbers. The quickest way to find out food costs is to compare total weekly purchases (from deliveries) against weekly sales, making sure that it compares ‘like with like’, i.e. don’t include milk and beverage purchases when doing a food cost calculation.  This gives a ‘close enough’ figure and identifies problems quickly. It is also valuable to know per-head sales for food, side-orders, desserts and beverages – all available from the Point of Sale. A short meeting each week can look at accurate results on a one-page Dashboard, comparing this week with last week and the same time the previous year. The more you open the books, the more staff will feel a sense of ownership and responsibility.

Finally, Play Dumb To Be Smart. Cooking is manufacturing, so watch closely how the process works and ask questions. Compare it with the operation of a well-organised bar or another production system that’s not hospitality. They all need sound, accurate systems, affordable supplies, the right equipment and staff who are willing to repeat a process the same way every time. Then, when you turn the key and turn on the lights, you will have a system that works every time!

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