Why your kitchen workflow matters
Is there any workplace more melodramatic than a commercial kitchen? Movies depict restaurant workflow and kitchens with the same shaky camera and quick cuts used in a car chase or a fight scene. Photographs of chefs usually involve low angles and big flames—and let’s just agree that Anthony Bourdain wrote things in Kitchen Confidential that we’d rather not talk about.
There’s truth in all of these ideas about the frenetic kitchens of hospitality, but the fast pace doesn’t have to mean chaos.
When you’ve taken the time to design your kitchen workflow, the hustle and bustle just become a kind of high-speed choreography. Roles and movements are clearly defined, communication is standardized, technology assists, and delicious meals get made.
This high degree of planning was once usually the strict domain of high-end restaurants, large banquet facilities, and big chain restaurants. These businesses can afford the consultants and technology needed to develop highly personalized workflows, for both front- and back-of-house.
Restaurant procedures for smaller kitchens
Smaller, independent businesses have their own processes, too, but without the more advanced tools that are financially out of reach. Because of this, their processes don’t usually result in a well-oiled machine so much as a loose collection of ad hoc practices developed over time. This isn’t the ideal foundation for restaurant workflow.
Related: Finding your chi – the art of commercial kitchen design.
The good news is that small businesses can now afford the same kind of technology bigger businesses have been using for years.
This news becomes especially good because small businesses are learning they can no longer afford to provide anything less than an exceptional experience. The proliferation of online reviews and social networking means any little mistake or disruption has the possibility of spiraling out of control with the wrong kind of customer. Timely service, order accuracy, and a hassle-free meal are crucial to keeping customers happy.
Staying on top of all the moving parts of your restaurant—order flow, communications, inventory, stock counts, seating, takeaway service—gets much easier when you’ve got the right tools to do the heavy lifting. And by integrating these tools into the front- and back-of-house protocol, your small restaurant can be running as efficiently as a national chain.
Features that can facilitate a smoother workflow are now built right into Point of Sale software—the software worth using, anyway—and don’t require a big investment in some proprietary system. If you’re already running a modern, mobile Point of Sale, then you know the benefits.
But if your Point of Sale software doesn’t have the kinds of features a foodservice business needs, you’re still setting yourself up for failure. Use software designed for hospitality, and you’ll suddenly be able to redesign the way you do everything, from the ground up.
1. Where it All Begins: Define Your Inventory Processes
Any proper design of restaurant procedures should begin with the back-of-house. All the way in the back-of-house, actually, where the food comes through the door and into the kitchen.
Everything about opening a restaurant begins with an idea about food, and every action taken inside the restaurant pushes toward the goal of preparing and serving that food.
So, the food is where we begin, with these two directives:
- Record every item of food that enters your kitchen using your Point of Sale’s inventory module.
- Record every item of food that is wasted, and the reason for its waste.
If you’re an owner-chef of a small restaurant, that could be as simple as making sure you’ve got your smartphone handy to receive the ingredients into your inventory. If you’re a little bigger and have kitchen staff with a clear division of labor, it’s also pretty simple to delegate that responsibility out.
Nowhere is this simplicity more evident than in the fact that there’s no next step. Your Point of Sale automates everything else.
More visibility means your team can run more efficiently.
When you record the receipt of new inventory directly in the Point of Sale, that information is available in real-time to everyone who needs to see it. The chef can check and see if she’s got everything she needs for that evening’s service (and if there’s an abundance of something, she can plan on a special to push that ingredient out).
The same goes for recording wastage. If ingredients spoil, you’ll want to note that in your Point of Sale. This alerts the person responsible for buying new stock—if levels are too low. With Kounta, that alert comes with an auto-generated purchase order, ready to be sent upon approval.
You can see here how much can be done with just a few simple actions. If you were to write an employee manual detailing the instructions on inventory management, it would be comically simple:
- When receiving new stock from suppliers, identify and record the quantity of each item.
- Every day, check existing stock for spoiled items. Record what gets discarded, and why.
And that’s it. Your Point of Sale automates everything else behind-the-scenes: it records what ingredients get consumed as part of which menu item, it tracks the cost of each dish, and records the sale of each item (alone or as part of a recipe)—and this is just the tip of the iceberg.
The point is, operating a small restaurant no longer has to be that loose collection of ad hoc processes. Everything can be tied together in a logical way, with software automating the things that can be automated while people are better able to execute their jobs.
With that in mind, let’s move into the customer experience and see how you can redefine your operations with automation.
2. Front of House: Please Wait to be Seated
If you’re a sit-down and serve kind of place, your operational protocols begin the moment a customer walks through the door. It’s a familiar dance, a warm welcome followed by the confirmation of the number of guests to be seated. With an old-school method of keeping track of your tables—probably a laminated layout with a wax pencil—it’s pretty obvious what to do when there’s an empty table.
But what about when the dining room’s full?
In a well-run restaurant, waitstaff stays in constant contact with the host, giving updates on the status of soon-to-be vacated seats. In a more casual place, the host may just have to take a quick survey of the landscape to figure out how long the wait might be.
In either case, there’s a combination of math and art to arrive at the estimated wait time. And then there’s the time it takes just to figure that out or flag down a server to get the best estimate.
There is a better way.
Using a Point of Sale with dining room management capability drastically levels the playing field.
At a glance, color-coded tables on a digital display instantly narrow the field—a table that’s just been filled but hasn’t ordered needn’t be considered. Drill down further, and get instant stats on the length of time each table’s been occupied, the order associated with the table, as well as what stage of the meal your customers are in. If no one’s checked in with the party at a table within a predefined set of time, that fact is plainly visible on the screen.
This way, the information transfer is automatic
Those with access to view and update the tables layout need only tap on a screen to see or share information about the parties they’re serving. Again, your restaurant workflow becomes very easy to execute. Each member of the front-of-house staff should be trained on the use of the software, and their responsibilities for interacting with it need to be spelled out.
Ultimately, the front-of-house staff is expected to provide good service and a positive experience for customers. By automating the communication, staff is free to achieve that goal. Their attention can be focused on the customers, leaving the point of sale to coordinate communications with the kitchen.
Front of House: May I Take Your Order?
The order taking phase of your customers’ experience is critical. It’s not that everything rides on that interaction, it’s just that—well…everything rides on that interaction. If the server can’t answer questions about the dishes, or if he forgets to ask how they want their steak cooked, or if he gets the order wrong, or if he got it right but the kitchen staff misinterpret it—there are too many opportunities for things to go wrong, even with your best waitstaff.
Have you defined each items’ order flow?
To keep things running smoothly, a little preparation goes a long way—starting with the menu. Nearly every item in your menu will have its own discrete order flow. Even simple things like a cup of specialty coffee can get complicated: What size is it? Milk? Soy? Cream? Black? Sugar? Artificial sweetener?
For ordering, the first workflows you’ll design will be in the Point of Sale, for each item on your menu where it’s needed. This way, the selection of an entree causes prompts with variations and modifications. So when someone orders a steak, there’s no forgetting how to proceed:
- How would you like that cooked?
- Which side would you like?
- Do you want us to pair it with our recommended wine for only $5 a glass?
You can create order flows that are as detailed as you need them to be, including custom modifications at the customer’s request. And notice how the workflow can include clever little upsell opportunities like the one at the end.
When your waitstaff doesn’t have to remember every little detail about each dish, they can better engage with their customers with these kinds of additional items. Most importantly, though, order accuracy becomes something the Point of Sale software takes ownership of by making sure the server hits every last detail.
And by creating these custom order flows, you set yourself up nicely to maintain an orderly kitchen.
3. Back of House: Stand the Heat, Stay in the Kitchen
Standardizing your order flow has the added benefit of standardizing the way the information is transmitted to the kitchen (or bar, but more on that later). Using remote production printers or displays means that the details of each order are automatically sent where they need to go. This is another case of advanced preparation setting you up for success.
You can define at the item level where the order prints. This means the people who receive the tickets only see what they need to. Ring up a customer who wants a cheeseburger—with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and ketchup—with a beer to drink, and the food order prints in the kitchen. Because you predefined the order flow for the burger, it’s going to print out in the kitchen with every modification clearly spelled out.
Meanwhile, the beer goes to the bar for the bartender to take care of. If the bartender has her own register, you can set it up so that production tickets don’t print from it, overriding the item specific instructions. Your bartender doesn’t need to print a ticket for the order she just took.
These printing and display setups can be as robust as you need them to be. Fine-dining establishments, where specialization in the kitchen is a fact of life, might want to put printers at various stations in the kitchen. One printer is probably all that’s necessary for a cafe. Production printers should be facilitating kitchen workflow, not dictating it.
But here we see again how letting the point of sale automate communication keeps everyone focused on their jobs. Your wait staff don’t need to run handwritten tickets back to the kitchen; they can just move on to the next table or head right back to get drinks. Your kitchen staff won’t need explanations of special requests because they’ve got all the info they need on their production ticket. The host will know that the people at that table have only just ordered and will look elsewhere for the next available opening for customers at the door. And no one will have to go back to the guests and explain they can’t have what they ordered because the kitchen ran out of the ingredients.
It takes preparation, thorough training, and a bit of choreography to pull it off. But once everyone learns their part, a carefully designed approach to operating your restaurant will pay off in spades. It’s not just that service is quick and efficient: it’s that there’s no confusion or stress about the mechanics of serving food.
Your dining room might be full, and the kitchen might get slammed—it might even look like the chaos of a cinematic kitchen. Under all the movement, though, will be a team of people who are focused and on-task. That’s what good operations design does for you, and the best design starts with good software.