Give someone that knows the restaurant business ten minutes in a start-up kitchen and they’ll be able to make a good, solid guess as to the potential success or failure of the restaurant. An efficient and consistent kitchen is like a well-oiled machine. The executive chef, sous chef, line cooks and expeditors are concise in their efforts and minimal in their speech. There is a steady flow, like a stream rushing downhill, which leads to a consistent, quality product. One slip-up, one inattentive line cook or delayed server, and the steady rush becomes an uphill battle. The best of kitchens have made efficiency and organization their standard operating procedure. It’s the best way to give the BOH staff a fighting chance.
This is, to a large degree, the end-all, be-all of an efficient kitchen. Without an organized structure in place for prep—quality, consistency and food costs are hard to control. Create a master prep spreadsheet that can be filtered out for daily needs. Prep in large batches for items that age well. You’ll know you have succeeded in this area when every station has what it needs to get through the service. A system that ensures correct inventory and ordering will enable your prep cooks to have the items they need to be successful. Shortages will inevitably happen. If you notice an increase, something is askew in the BOH.
Outside of direct observations and customer satisfaction, your food cost will be your data-driven proof as to whether your kitchen is operating at its peak performance. If the dishes have been priced well, your operations standardized—including portion control and waste management– and your kitchen is running efficiently, then your food costs will be in line with your targeted goal. Ideal food costs range between 28 to 35 percent. If the figures aren’t quite adding up, start by initiating a BOH log that keeps track of discarded food due to spoilage or customer returns.
In order to streamline the BOH, there are a few procedures that must be put into place and will be dependent on the size of the operation and the number of chefs and refrigerator/freezers that are available. In larger kitchens, dishes can be more complex and numerous. In smaller kitchens it is best to pare down to the best-of-the-best.
Every dish must be well thought out as to the number of ingredients. Recipes containing exact measurements should be written down and shared with any new employees. Use measuring devices such as scales and portion spoons.
Use everything and create specials accordingly. If your chef has cut a beef tenderloin for filets, save the smaller muscle for stews or chili and ground the trim for use in fresh ground beef.
Stations should be kept clean and organized. There is a place for everything and everything is in its place. As long as they’re holding their own on the line, let each cook set up their station to their own preference.
An expeditor should be the communication link between the FOH and the BOH. If there’s a return or a re-fire, the server tells the expeditor, not the line. When a plate goes up, the expeditor checks for quality and portion control, cleans it up for presentation and garnishes. They ensure everyone at one table is served simultaneously, that the dishes are the correct temperature, and that there is the correct amount of time between appetizers, entrees and desserts. While a good POS system can definitely help streamline, don’t let it take the place of communication. If there’s a change in an order, the server needs to relay that to the expeditor to ensure a successful dining experience for your guests.
An executive chef that leads. While the expediter is the conductor, the executive chef is the composer. An efficient kitchen relies to a large degree upon the knowledge and temperament of your executive chef. A clear leader who communicates well and inspires the staff to produce and be their best is the cornerstone of an efficient, successful BOH.