Improving kitchen productivity

How do you calculate the level of productivity your kitchen has? And why even calculate it?

While we stress on how important it is to make sure that your staff is as productive as possible, we should also take a deeper look into one segment of your staff that needs to be more productive than the rest. Your kitchen staff. Your kitchen staff are arguably the most important people in your restaurant since if they weren't around, your restaurant would have no food, and a restaurant without food isn't a restaurant!

So how do you ensure that your kitchen staff is as productive as possible?

Firstly, forcing your kitchen staff to rush and cook faster beyond their limits is something you should never do. If the recipe says to cook for 10 minutes at 150 degrees, you won’t be able to get the same result by cooking for 5 minutes at 300 degrees. You cannot rush to greatness, nor is this the correct way to achieve efficiency in your kitchen. If they can't go faster, then don’t push them, because a rushed kitchen staff may lead to a bunch of rushed dishes, accidents, disorganization and eventually to customers leaving a very angry review on how the meat was still raw.

It is evident that having your kitchen staff go at full speed isn’t the best way to ensure that you get bang for your buck, but speed and efficiency are two different things that somehow go hand in hand. If your kitchen staff is efficient, then they will inevitably be fast.

The answer is to use an interesting French saying: Mise en place.

The meaning of the saying is very simple: everything in its place. While this is a bit of wisdom that can be used both inside and outside of your restaurant, it is more applicable than ever in your kitchen. In fact, this term was invented for the kitchen! That's how important an organised kitchen is. See, cooking is an art, and you can't do art if you can't find your paintbrush. Just head over to your kitchen on a busy evening and observe quietly how your kitchen staff works. How long do they take to find the spoon they left on the other side of the kitchen? How many drawers do they open before they manage to find where the meat is?

In a way, it is like programming. One programmer famously mentioned that people spend 90% of their time crawling through program code, and only 10% of the time actually doing any development on it. While the 9:1 ratio is not really applicable in the kitchen, this is an interesting point to take into consideration. How much time is your kitchen staff wasting just looking for stuff?

You don’t necessarily have to answer this question. Unless you are very picky about details, you don’t need to take a stopwatch and see how long people spend walking around the kitchen looking for what they need. Just general observation should give you the idea that your kitchen being more organised would undoubtedly reduce the amount of time it takes for your kitchen staff to convert a bunch of vegetables to a delicious meal, and have it out on a platter for you expectant customer.

This is where “everything in its place” can help you. If you kitchen staff knows exactly where to look for something, their life would be so much easier. They would be able to get the food ready faster, and you’ll end up with a happier customer.

Mise en place doesn't only refer to how the layout of your kitchen should be or how you organize your kitchen utensils. Of course, this is a start, once you have organized and optimized the kitchen layout and put the most used utensils in easy to reach places, it’s time to look how we can optimize the production of our recipes.

Start off by having all the ingredients ready before rush hour. That would give your kitchen staff a very good overview over what’s missing, what’s useful, and what’s not. If there are any special ingredients or any special equipment, your staff could get to know what to expect. If there are any ingredients that go together, they should be grouped together. That way, you don’t need to go halfway across the restaurant to get all the ingredients for one dish.

As mentioned before, we also need to organize our day to be efficient, by deciding what we will cook and how we are going to manage. It’s a good start to forecast which products you will use, and how much of it so you can start to prepare the ingredients before the peak hours (breakfast, lunch, and dinner). It’s important for a business manager to let your kitchen staff know who much they need to prepare beforehand so they can start to put together the ingredients for the recipes. Doing this preparation will save a lot of time once the 'Service hours' start, you can have most of the food already cooked and only 'assemble' the plates during peak hours. This will save a lot of time. Its common practice for a 6-hour slow cook meat, to be cooked before (no customer will wait 6 hours for a dish!) So think on it, what are you doing before service time? How does your kitchen staff prepare for the most crucial hours?

In addition to all this, cooking is supposed to be fun. And I'll tell you when cooking is not fun. It's when you're trying to cook while also trying to multitask. Just get your kitchen staff to follow the simple, organised rules, and they'll start enjoying cooking. You know that an enjoyably cooked meal is undoubtedly going to be a good meal.

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