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Now You’re Cooking!

Here are three best practices to help you build a cost-effective and productive kitchen staff.

Get your Dishwashers More Involved…

Keeping your staff busy and on schedule for tomorrow’s prep work is the first place to focus on cutting prep costs. Regardless of your restaurant’s concept, involving dishwashers is a smart move.

Approached like a mentoring project, many hardworking and dedicated dishwashers can move into prep jobs. They can perform all the busy work that puts prep-ready items into a skilled cook’s hands. Peeling garlic, shallots, onions, carrots and potatoes are just a few possible duties. Preparing celery and spinach, de-veining shrimp, cleaning squid and scrubbing clams are others. These are the kinds of tasks that can be delegated to the dish crew with a minimal amount of training. The key is to keep your highest-paid cooks from wasting time. Get products into their hands in a usable form. Nothing should make a chef crazy faster than watching a $14-an-hour sauté cook peel onions. Keeping ample amounts of ready-to-use mirepoix in the walk-in always keep cooks at the stove.Finally, don’t forget to train dishwashers in food safety techniques before they assume prep duties. This includes proper hand sanitation.

Waste Not, Want Not…

Prepared vegetables often leave a bounty of fresh trimmings that are perfect for the soup pot. Vary your soup offerings to take advantage of your vegetable purchases. Staying in close contact with your produce purveyor can result in savings for soups. A case of overripe tomatoes will make an easy batch of tomato bisque. Adding a slice of toasted day-old bread slathered with some pureed avocado or melted goat cheese with roasted garlic, and the selling price easily goes up a buck. The key with soup is watching for quality ingredients that get overlooked or even thrown away. A quick training tip for new prep cooks or line cooks is to make them save every scrap as they set up for their shift. Before service, sift through the saved food, explaining to them along the way what’s usable and why. When your staff can differentiate between trash and treasure, you won’t spend as much time looking in the garbage for their waste.

Fine-tune Prep Work by Daypart…

The definition of efficient prep work changes by daypart. The basics are the same for each meal, but to really cut costs you need to look at the specific challenges of breakfast, lunch and dinner service.

Turn and burn for efficient breakfast service. If an operation serves breakfast or brunch, speed is always essential for guest satisfaction. Keeping tables turning is especially important for lower-check-average dayparts like breakfast. Certain kitchen tricks are necessary to “turn and burn,” maintaining quality and keeping guests satisfied. In high-volume operations, prepared items like liquid eggs that can be poured into a waiting omelet pan can save measurable man-hours in cracking eggs. Pre-shredded cheese eliminates the fuss of setting up and cleaning food processors. Products that you only have to reach for save the short-order cook time and keep finished plates flying out of the kitchen.

Prepared foods like scoop-and-bake muffin mixes help save time. Likewise for the increasingly high-quality, par-baked artisan breads, which are available in many flavors and sizes. High-quality, thick, crusty, fresh bread adds value to many morning menu items. Breakfast sandwiches and grilled Paninis get an added value lift from high-quality breads. Because these breads are at their best on the day they are baked, the remaining loaf or two make excellent fresh croutons for the afternoon lunch soup or salad.

Make use of yesterday’s dinner protein leftovers for this morning’s hash special. Prime rib translates into roast beef hash, a sure sellout brunch item. Those salmon scraps from the Saturday butcher work right into griddled salmon cakes. Use your crab cake recipe and substitute fresh salmon that has been lightly pulsed in the food processor. Ideas like these add a fresh look to your specials card and black ink to your profit-and-loss statement.

Other Tips

  • Sliced tomatoes should always be stored in slotted pans for service and storage, allowing the water to separate from the fruit, extending the shelf life.
  • Keep sandwich spreads in large squeeze bottles for neatness and speed, and keep ready at hand filled backups for service. Buying prewashed mixed greens keeps pantry cooks with salad-ready greens at hand; but you should consider mixing in chopped romaine to extend the mix with crunchy green lettuce.
  • Mix creative ingredients into mayonnaise or mustards to add zip to sandwich spreads. Fresh chopped herbs like tarragon and rosemary marry well in Dijon mustard, with a touch of honey. Puree avocado and roast tomato into homemade or quality store-bought mayonnaise for a tasty touch on good bread.
  • Watch your menu mix carefully every night. Items that your guests aren’t ordering may need to be reworked or removed. This information should help dictate the amount of product ordered and prepped. This is especially important during menu changes, when new items are first introduced to your customer. Careful tracking of items sold gives you the information to make quick decisions before an item or items take a bite out of your food cost.
  • Dinner bread is one of the kitchen’s biggest challenges. If you work with a bakery and receive daily deliveries, create a moving par. Set your daily bread pars, and work closely with your bakery, seeing that you are allowed to slide your next day order up or down the night before. Even making small changes on a nightly basis will add up to real savings, and keeps unwanted bread out of the freezer or trash can.
  • Taking the time to rewrap and ice fish at the end of each day is a pain. But proper storage can add days to the shelf life of fish. Make the investment in the correct storage pans allowing for drainage of melting ice and a suitable amount of ice to last until the next shift begins.
  • When building your menu, avoid out-of-season items that are expensive, such as asparagus, strawberries and citrus. Try to be as seasonal as your concept allows. Use items at the peak of their flavor and when their cost is lowest.

In the end, prep and labor savings are all around. Rally the staff and always trumpet the message that wage increases and bonuses are tied to efforts that cut waste and save on labor.