Centralized Production: The Challenges and Successful Implementation
In the previous two editions of CORE Profit Strategies, we covered the evolution, resistance to, and benefits of centralized production areas. This leads us to how to successfully implement or reimagine your production kitchens. In this final article on production kitchens, we will first look at some of the common challenges you will face. Afterward, you will have the full story that leads to the key principles of operating successful and efficient production systems.
With every new initiative, it is important to identify the potential roadblocks or challenges that you may experience along the way. Knowing the challenges upfront can save a great deal of time and energy, allowing you to proactively solve and implement actions prior to getting started.
The biggest challenges with the implementation and operation of production areas are an unclear decision-making process, poor workflow (who does what), unrealistic expectations, and lack of planning and structure.
For every initiative, the leader must have a clear and documented vision of the end result. From there, they can establish the steps, goals, and guidelines to ensure everyone is aligned. Creating the vision doesn’t mean one person develops all the ideas. Although they may know the exact steps, it is important to discuss every aspect with various people and departments to gain different perspectives. You’ll need a well-rounded plan, and considering every angle will dramatically increase the success and efficiency of implementation.
The decision-making process is a key step in building the production departments. Specifically, you’ll want to outline how decisions will be made regarding what will and will not be produced in these areas. Empowerment is important, but there needs to be an established framework to work in. I have seen chefs running a saucier department that produces 100s of liters/gallons of soups each day be bullied into making a 2-liter (1/2 gallon’ish) batch of a sauce used in one kitchen while pushing back work that should be completed in production.
Ineffective or Undefined Workflow
The workflow maps out every step in the process and who is responsible. As previously mentioned, establishing production areas will create some discomfort, only because it is new and transparent and will involve the operation and accounting/finance team taking on some new responsibilities.
The workflow will include items such as recipe development, approvals, requisitions, transfers, transportation, etc. A successful workflow will detail each task, who is responsible for completing it, what the supporting roles are, and when it should be completed. Once defined, a detailed standard operating procedure (SOP) will need to be created.
There is no question that there may be pushback, and it doesn’t matter what people think. It comes down to what makes the most sense. Keep in mind the goal is to have a process that has accountability, integrity, and efficiency.
In every case, the specific steps of the workflow must not depend on one person. It is crucial to have multiple people trained and well-versed. If one person wins the lottery and never returns to work – the show must go on.
When we want something, we can find ways to make it work. If I am doing my household budget and want to take a tropical vacation, some costs can be deflated or forgotten to make it happen. The same can happen when preparing a return on investment (ROI) for staffing requirements, capital purchases, or improvements to create production areas.
In this case, it is better to underpromise and over-deliver. If the production areas make sense and are well planned, there is no need to exaggerate yield, labor, food cost, or expense savings to create an ROI. In one case, the initial $500,000 investment initially had an ROI of 2.5 years based on reasonable and real calculations and savings. It was a combination of food costs, labor, and utility costs, not to mention having productive and meaningful work for employees on modified work programs. Start with big wins and then seal the deal with items you can easily add as the department evolves. In this case, the actual ROI was 14 months.
As you read on, it will become evident that what you promise will be measured and compared. Again, this is fully transparent.
The remainder of this article is about how to effectively set up the production areas. This is not a “wing it” or “fly by the seat of your pants” initiative. This is precision, and everything needs to be planned.
The internal resistance is real, and it is important that everyone is on the same page. The planning process needs to involve all the culinary leaders to “hash it out”. This is where everyone’s concerns can be heard and worked through. In the end, if everyone works together, there will be more ownership, teamwork, and support.
The main reason for internal resistance is loss of control and the belief that no one else can prepare the item properly. As mentioned previously, there are items that are not suitable for production, but many others are.
Here is an example of resistance I encountered on a project. The cooks in the Italian restaurant criticized the idea of using tomato sauce from a production area. Instead of trying to convince them, we got them involved. We had the Chef de Partie and a couple of cooks come over to produce the sauce in the production areas. When complete, we told them that the sauce would be used in every kitchen as the base tomato sauce. Problem solved! They were able to tell everyone that they developed the recipe.
You have committed to increasing or establishing production areas – so where do you start? The following is a step-by-step approach that will guarantee a successful implementation of your production kitchens.
This is where you address the first possible challenge and establish the process for deciding what will and will not be produced in these areas, as well as who will make the final decisions.
Determining what items should and can be produced in these areas will involve your team. As you start to identify items to produce, look for big wins right from the start. It is much easier to create a strong ROI with 20 big items than with 50 items. It is also better to start off with a reasonable workload until all the processes are worked out and the staff is trained. You can add the other 30 later as icing on the cake.
To start, look at it from a couple of angles. This can be found in your purchase history.
- Top 10 items purchased by the total cost
- Top 10 items purchased by total volume
What would happen if you prepared these in-house?
- Are there food cost savings?
- Do the labor costs to produce offset the food cost savings? If they do, it still may make sense to produce in-house to maximize overall productivity. In this case, there may be no food cost savings, which is okay. It is not about saving money with each item.
- Will the quality and/or consistency improve?
- If the work moves to the production area, what will the cook who was doing the work before do? Is there another benefit to the outlet (service improvement, labor reduction, time to spend on new initiatives, etc…)?
After the initial exercise of looking at purchased items, you can now look at the outlet menus and prep sheets. What items are prepped in multiple locations? It comes down to two things: is the volume or combined volume significant enough and/or is it used by multiple outlets?
- What items are you currently producing in all areas?
- What makes sense to compile and produce in one area?
- What items do you currently purchase that you can now produce?
- What items make sense to buy, and what makes sense to produce?
- Is there an improvement in the yield?
- Can waste be reduced?
- Does it help address labor shortages?
- Can time savings at the outlet level improve service or the ability to add services?
If everything has been well thought out the senior leadership team will have embraced this initiative which will make developing a workflow much easier.
It is unlikely that the other departments involved will be as excited to take on more or different work, and it is crucial that the workflow is well thought out and makes sense. If the workflow has everyone else doing all the heavy lifting, then it will be an uphill battle.
This is relatively straightforward and may require sourcing new items.
- Chefs provide the information to procurement or the vendor for specifications and quotes. You will have this information from building the ROI, but it is time to formalize it.
The receiving team plays a very important role, especially if larger volumes of items they typically store are expected. In some cases, this can be offset by a direct large volume to purchase that is received and immediately moved to the area.
- Do not overload the production areas with raw products and maximize centralized storage rooms. Production areas need to be left open for movement and proper rotation.
Cross Property Transportation
Who will move/pick up/deliver from the production areas?
- Receiving department may be best suited for large volumes.
- Daily or small quantities can be picked up by cooks/runners.
The tracking of the product and costs is crucial. Remember that this is a major point of resistance, especially when each aspect of the operation is measured on its own. There are three parts to the internal tracking of the food, and this is the most important to the financial team.
The most ideal and efficient way to track the food is through a recipe program. There are many options available, but the one I have used and found to be very thorough and user-friendly is Foodtrak.
How and when will the product be ordered from the production areas?
How will the order be received and approved by the outlets?
Who will complete the internal transfer of the food?
- It is best to have this part of the process completed by the finance team to ensure the amounts are accurately recorded and approved.
The planning aspect is the key element that creates the proper structure and involves the building, layout of the areas, and a proposed production cycle.
Building and Layout
Generally, changes to the building will require a capital investment that may not happen overnight. The original ROI would have included initial equipment and installation costs. The next step is to review the layout and equipment specifications, making sure that everything is covered and adequate.
For example, if you purchase new kettles that increase output do you have the cooling and storage capacity to support it?
The ROI would have been developed by looking at each item individually and documenting the savings/benefits. A smart production schedule will increase your productivity and savings.
The recipes will need to be updated with the new costs. When building the recipes, it is important to have multiple units of measure (UOM) calculated for recipe and transfer purposes.
Consistency / Structure
A production department will not succeed if there are any issues with consistency and quality, no matter what the savings are. Some chefs feel a loss of control when the product is made by someone else and will be looking for every opportunity to prove their point. A lack of structure can also increase cost, decrease productivity, cause food waste, and risk food safety.
Production areas are different from the restaurants where the cooks are preparing the same item dozens of times per day. They do it so often that they can eye the measurements with precision.
The same doesn’t go for production areas. Everything is weighed, measured, and cooked the same way for the same length of time and tasted by the chef before completion. It needs to be very regimented and specific.
Internal Ordering and Transfer Process
The workflow will map out most of this process, but internal (culinary) communication needs to be established. This involves the entire culinary leadership team, and it is crucial that the information on projected usage per area is clearly communicated and adjusted regularly. This allows the production areas to work in a more systematic approach rather than reacting to last-minute requirements or preparing too much product in advance.
As with the resistance faced by other departments, this process is a powerful team-building and alignment exercise.
It is important to remember that each element involved in implementing or expanding the production must be effectively structured, documented, and communicated. These guidelines will help you build the foundation for success, but only touch on each aspect.