Kitchen Operations and Food Prep Systems for Success

how to lower restaurant labor cost kitchen management systems labor cost restaurant prep
Kitchen Operations and Food Prep Systems for Success

When it comes to managing your kitchen, what if I told you that one kitchen system can change your struggle with food cost and labor cost? I'm about to open your eyes to the power of a great prep system and the impact it can have on both your restaurant food cost and labor cost.

Let's get started with one quick question. When does your kitchen tend to fall down? What do I mean by fall down? Long ticket times, unhappy customers, dishes going up in the window that are out of timing, everyone in the window is dying, and you're either remaking it or worse, putting it out on the floor. That’s a falling down kitchen.

Those are the symptoms of a falling down kitchen. The cause is not being fully prepped and ready for the rush. When somebody on the line goes, “Crap! I need onions!” Then jumps off the line and starts dicing onions in the middle of the rush as other items are getting cooked. They're falling behind, and now you’re screwed.

I would tend to say 90 percent of all your problems happen when you're ill prepared for the shift. It ends up costing labor dollars because you’re behind or adding labor for prep because you had a knee-jerk reaction.

Being behind on prep costs comped meals, missed ticket times, waste from items dying in the window or food sent back.

One simple system can virtually change all of this. A solid prep system. A prep system is not cooks coming in and deciding what they need at the beginning of the shift. A good prep system involves the whole kitchen, but it's a clipboard system run by management.

Clipboard system is my reference to a chart of some kind that you create on an 8” x 11” piece of paper and hang in plain view of the people who need to see it. This clipboard system is a sheet of paper that says Prep System. It has the date for the week and everything is broken down into columns.

  • The first column may be the items you’re prepping.
  • The second column is the container, where the items are stored.
  • Then you have a column for each day of the week, seven days of the week.
    • Inside each, you break into three different columns: inventory, par level and prep.

For the sake of example, let’s start at the grill station and let’s say you have an item that is a 1/3 pound burger. The container may be a two-layer half sheet that has nine burgers, so we might list it out as nine in parentheses, then “two layer half-sheet.”

Next, look at Monday and do your inventory count. The count is the count from the shift before, so it's already filled. That's what you have on hand. If your par level is 18, and you have two on hand, then you need 16. But you have to prep in full batches, so you prep 18, not 16. As the days of the week go by, we may have more than the bar, but as long as the product depletes at a reasonable rate, you’ll become more efficient with your prep and not waste food.

The result is enough product on hand and the rest of the problems don’t happen and the kitchen doesn’t fall down, or at least it doesn’t fall down because of a lack of prep.

As another example, let's say you have polenta cakes and the container is 48 polenta cakes on a half-sheet. Monday, your inventory is three on hand, your par level is 24, your prep is 48. Why? To make that half-sheet, you make 48 because you make a full batch.

Here are the general rules to follow to make this easier.

  1. Each cook who's standing in their station will do the count at the end of their shift for the next shift. Think about it this way: Who is going to be faster at counting their stuff? Somebody walking in the door, a manager going through the kitchen, or the person who made sure they were all parred up for the beginning of the shift and worked six to eight hours in that position? They have a better general idea, so you want the cook who's finishing the shift to fill out the par sheet in their station.
  2. Kitchen management prepares the prep list before the next shift comes in. They have their numbers from the last shift, which are for the next shift, and they can see what needs to be prepped based on par levels for their shift. This way when the next shift walks in, they don’t spend any time looking around, wasting your time. Think about four cooks walking in for their shift, talking, catching up with each other, trying to take stock, and trying to decide what they think you need for that day when management has the numbers and can do a better job. With the prep sheet, you can get them efficient as soon as they walk in the door.
  3. Each cook’s prep list will be 100 percent completed by the end of the shift. If not, there are consequences – possibly being fired. The prep sheet is that important. You know that if you’re not prepped, you fall down. This leads to bad reviews, lower sales, higher costs, making it unacceptable to go into the dinner shift not ready to go. So if you punch out at four o'clock and your prep isn't done, you'll face consequences. The exception to this would be asking for help before the end of your shift, of course.
  4. Once you have several weeks of prep filled out, you can laser focus on your par levels, even without software. You can see where you're prepping too much or where you're prepping too little. You can make the changes to your business.

When you control your prep, you can :

  • Reduce waste from overproduction.
  • Reduce cooking errors instead of things being timed improperly, cooked incorrectly, not having the ingredients.
  • Reduce comps and lost business due to long ticket times.
  • Consolidate your prep hours instead of prepping every single day. When you can take a week-long view, you can prep more product more days in advance (when it holds up).
  • Look at your menu and decide what needs to change to reduce the number of man hours you're spending in your kitchen.

If you find your menu is truly so prep heavy, you can start to examine opportunities for consolidating sauces, proteins, etc., and using them in different ways, but all being prepared the same way.

If you're serious about reducing your food cost and labor cost in your kitchen, implement, train and hold your team accountable to a prep system today.

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