March 1, 2011 |

Restaurant Kitchen: Keep it Neat

By Jeffrey Freehof

A neat, clean and organized kitchen is always a happy kitchen. Life in our pizzerias can be hectic. When compared to other restaurants, I think we put out a larger menu with a much smaller space, for the most part. It creates a lot of work and a lot of prep –– all in tight spaces. We want to make sure that we’re also keeping up with board of health regulations. That’s why it’s so important that we are organized in everything we do. Not only does everything need to have its own place, we as leaders need to make sure our staff is aware of it and follows the plan.

The one thing I’ve learned in my 30-plus years of doing this is that even though we may try to find responsible and mature individuals to work with us, we still need to bring our procedures to an elementary level. It’s really the best way to make sure things get done properly and consistently. First and foremost, daily prep lists and checklists are critical to ensure everything gets done properly. Also, closing checklists have saved me from so many headaches. Sure, we can assume that our staff should know what to do by now — but the checklist is king! Have a place for them to initial each item that gets done.

Once we know those tasks are being completed thoroughly, we now want to take a look at the streamlining of our operation. I’ve actually designed menus around equipment that I had at a restaurant that I would take over, and I’ve had the opportunity to move some equipment around to better suit the flow of the operation. Look at your menu mix and the tasks that need to be done during high volume. Do you find yourself running around like a mad man or woman from one end of the kitchen to the other just to complete a dish? Where do you keep your plates or to-go boxes? Are they at your fingertips, or are they around the corner? Here are some ways to streamline your actions:

• Add inexpensive shelving in your work area to put things like plates, to- go boxes, bags, dressing cups and fork kits. This can save hundreds of steps per shift, which increases productivity drastically. When everything is at arm’s length, ticket times speed up. I promise your customers will love getting their food quicker.

I was a chef at a restaurant many years ago where the kitchen was actually way too big for the volume we were doing. On a slow Monday night, I felt like I was running a marathon because things were spread out too far. The most efficient kitchen I ever worked in was a small, tight kitchen where I could practically reach everything with a little side step to the right or left. Whatever your space is, make sure you design your space where everything is stocked and at your fingertips!

• How about your reach-in refrigerators? Are they neat with everything accessible, or do you have to move everything around just to find the anchovies? Having smaller containers for all the ingredients needed for the menu is an excellent choice so that you’re not fumbling around looking for what you need. Obviously, you’ll need large enough containers for the items that you go through more of, like a small container for pineapple and anchovies and a larger space for mozzarella. Set it up so you have enough for the shift. I think it’s better to have to restock for each shift because it allows you to clean your containers and shelves while you’re re-stocking.

• Think of your kitchen set-up in the same way you have your pizza make station set up. You certainly wouldn’t have your pizza makers put the cheese before the sauce. You want a nice, continuous flow. Every aspect should be prepared in the same way from start to finish when making the dishes on your menu. It also helps tremendously when it’s time to have a co-worker step in to help during peak times.

• Once you have figured out where you want everything, make laminated labels. That keeps everyone on the same page.

Now that you’ve created your daily prep lists and check lists and you are ensuring they are getting done daily, and you’ve got your shop neat, clean and organized with everything in its place, there’s just one more philosophy I want you to adopt: “close to open.” As the end of the night approaches, what’s on everyone’s mind is usually, “how quick can I get out of here?” So many times the day crew will come in and have to re-stock everything, along with their prep, and that starts the shift with a less-than- perfect attitude. Once the night crew understands that before they leave the entire store needs to be stocked and ready to open the next day, the faster they’ll get it done. They will learn to stock as they go during their shift, which saves labor dollars. Now, the day crew can focus solely on prep and get off to a very quick and happy start. This can even allow you to bring some morning crew in a little later, saving even more labor dollars.

Hang the NCO –– neat, clean and orderly –– signs up around the restaurant. Make it a priority and make it happen. Then you, as a leader, will be able to focus on other important areas of your operation.

Jeffrey Freehof owns The Garlic Clove in Evans, Georgia. He is a frequent speaker at the Pizza Expo family of tradeshows.