February 17, 2015 |

Get Busy

By Jeffrey Freehof


chef table

Don’t overlook restaurant kitchen design for maximum efficiency

We all know that location, location, location is oh-so-important to our business success.

By now we’ve come to understand the basics to restaurant success and that is, besides location, great food and great customer service at a good value.

I want to take this time to break down the customer service part of that recipe because it really can be the most complex part of what we do. Every customer and their specific needs create a unique opportunity to either “get things right” or “miss the mark,” which will greatly impact their rate of return one way or the other.

Of course a friendly greeting, a warm smile and a fond farewell are critical steps to what we do and how we connect with our customers, but efficiency in everything we do is what impacts our customers the most, in my humble opinion. Having a disorganized flow of how we operate will greatly affect the timeliness of our whole operation. Customers can see and sense it –– not to mention our staff and how frustrated they can get if the way we produce our menu items are inefficient.

If you have a very tight kitchen, you might not think you have the opportunity to be efficient. I actually think the opposite. The smaller the kitchen we have, the more we need to perhaps think outside the box in how we prepare ourselves before the peak meal period hits. Be sure to have clearly defined roles for each staff member so you are not crossing over each other trying to get things done.

You’d be shocked if you realized what small kitchen space some of the busiest restaurants have. Their success derives from their efficiency!

Output is king. I remember two of my pizza shops in Massachusetts had very small space to produce all of our pizza, subs, salads and pasta meals. So having everything prepped before mealtime was essential. It’s nice to have half or third pans in the top of our refrigerated pizza prep table, but if you don’t have enough space for all of your pizza toppings, then you need to break it down into smaller containers so all of your toppings are at your fingertips. You may need to convert to some sixth pans for less popular toppings or even ninth pans for toppings you use only once or twice a shift. Remember that during a busy shift, having to stop and get a topping out from under the cooler and open a container and then put it back away can truly slow your production down. It’s the same for your sandwich make station. Have all of your ingredients readily accessible with back-ups to cruise right along during production.

Let me give you an example of the opposite of what I’m talking about. I did a consulting job several years ago for a pizza shop that had a great location, great food and a friendly staff. Sounds like a recipe for success, doesn’t it? They said they started out very busy, but sales really declined quickly and they didn’t know why. In my observation, I learned on day one that they didn’t understand the concept of prepping ahead of time and they simply took too long to make anything. That is what drove customers away.

makelineI watched a customer come in and order a sandwich and a salad. The cook grabbed all the ingredients out for the salad and starting slicing the cucumber and tomato and all the other ingredients and it took more than five minutes to make one side salad. No wonder they had no customers left. We live in an express world where people are generally in a hurry and are used to getting everything they need and want NOW!

I don’t want you to over prepare your veggies and meats to the point that they will go to waste and end up in the trash, but you’ve got to understand the more prepped we are, the more efficient we are and the quicker the customer is served. The quicker they are served, the faster they return and the happier we are with our sales growth.

In my first café I opened in Georgia almost 10 years ago, we had wraps and grilled paninis along with several different salads that came in two sizes: side salad or full salad. We knew approximately how many salads we would go through in each meal period, so we’d prep up enough side salads and full salads per meal period, and as the customers order their Honey Ginger Almond Chicken Salad or their Lemon Pecan Chicken Salad from the cashier, the cook would grab that garden salad already prepped that morning (which was the base to all of our salads) and they would top it with the additional toppings for that particular salad and put the dressing cup with the salad and it would be handed to the customer about as fast as they were getting their change. The customer’s response would always be “wow!” They were always impressed. We noticed that they would also be back sometime two or three times a week because they knew where to find fresh and fast.

For efficiency and food cost purposes, you may want to have your meats portioned, especially if it’s a combination of meats and cheeses for an Italian sub. Grabbing this meat/cheese pack creates fantastic speed for our customer instead of pulling out the genoa salami, capicola, mortadella and provolone for each Italian sub.

Larger kitchens are nice to have, but in all honestly, too large of a kitchen can have you running around like a chicken with your head cut off. If your kitchen is large, try to designate a section of it for where you prep your ingredients and another smaller space where you produce your menu items to order in an efficient and expeditious way to provide your customers with a wow experience!

Jeff Freehof owns The Garlic Clove in Evans, Georgia. He is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today and a speaker at International Pizza Expo.

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