Controlling Quality: Ideal vs Reality
Have you ever gone to a restaurant and the service and food were fantastic? Then, on your next visit, your experience is completely different? It may not have been bad, but it just wasn’t the same. A key ingredient for success is consistency. You don’t need to be the best, but you need to be consistent in your quality.
In past articles of CORE Profit Strategies, we talked about how the consistency of quality was impacted because recipes were not properly costed, were changed to increase profit, and some other causes such as volume exceeds capability, disorganized work areas, inconsistent processes, disengaged employees, lack of training, and lack of standard procedures/recipes.
In this article, we will talk about processes and unrealistic preparation methods that do not take into consideration the equipment and volume.
Ideals Over Reality
Let me set the stage, an all-day restaurant that would serve 900+ covers from 4:00 pm -11:00 pm, has two deep fryers. As with most all-day restaurants in hotels, there were a number of items that were cooked in the deep-fryer.
As complaints of wait times for food murmured from the servers and managers, it was easy to see where the problem was. Actually, you didn’t need to see it because everyone could hear it: “We are always waiting for fish & chips” or “We are getting complaints about the fish…again”.
There are certain dishes that resonate with chefs for certain reasons. It may be a family recipe or something that was a signature dish in the area that the chef was from. These dishes can be great additions to the menu, and in the case of the fish and chips, they were fantastic – that is, when they were prepared one order at a time.
What Went Wrong?
How could something like fish and chips, a staple, cause so many issues? What went wrong?
As I rounded the corner to see what was happening at the deep fryer, the problem was very evident and required no explanation. There stood a cook who had spent the last few hours being accosted and asked to do the impossible. To add insult to injury, his hand, coated in fish batter, was three times its normal size.
“I am going as fast as I can,” he said.
The problem was not the cook or the recipe. The problem was that the volume of fish exceeded the capacity and would require one cook to solely manage one out of 25 menu items.
Fish and chips were one of the highest-selling menu items, and there would have needed to be three deep fryers for that one item just to keep up. As the business levels increased, so did the amount of fish going into the deep fryer. That caused the temperature of the oil to drop, which slowed the cooking time and led to a pale and sometimes greasy result. There were other challenges that occurred when it was slow, but let’s just say that the entire process was the issue.
Have it Removed!
The initial reaction for many was to remove the fish and chips from the menu on busy nights. It made no sense to remove the highest-selling and profit item from the menu. It also didn’t solve the problems they were having during slower periods.
Something had to change in order to produce a consistent product no matter what time of day or how busy it was.
The mistake was not looking at the reality of the situation. Many times, when recipes are developed it is in a perfect world under the watchful eye of the top chef. Then they expect the team to replicate that in less-than-ideal circumstances.
The Best and Worst Time to Control Quality
The key is control. Most will agree during peak times it is controlled chaos at best, and you are juggling hundreds of different things at one time. The best time to control quality is during downtime.
In the case of the fish and chips, the solution was immediate. Start to prepare the fish in advance, blast chill, and then finish the cooking process at the last minute. The goal was to produce a consistent product all the time and reduce the cooking time and strain on the equipment.
As I floated the idea, the resistance was immediate. The same people who were complaining and calling to remove it from the menu also argued that it was a staple item. Yes, a staple and inconsistent item. It was explained that the goal had to be consistenty, and that may not be perfect. Over the next few days, the chatter reached the top brass of the property, and a call was made.
“What is this? You are changing the fish and chips?”
“Yes, there are a lot of issues, and we are going to have a fantastic and consistent product.”
The reality is that when senior leaders eat in restaurants, everything is perfect. They never experience waiting 45 minutes for a pale and greasy piece of fish.
We were already testing a new process and were ready for the final test on the line. The naysayers and senior team were invited for a tasting. They were served two pieces of fish, one the new way and one the old way, and were asked to pick the best one. The results were as expected. No one would go out on a limb to say one was better than the other because what if they picked the one that was prepared the new way?
The reality of the situation was they could not tell the difference. The fish was prepared in the production kitchen from that point on where a cook could efficiently and properly cook the fish, cool it, and store it for service. The change on the busy nights was incredible, and no one questioned any future changes.
This is one example of many, and it comes down to providing a perfect product. Don’t let ideals stand in the way of quality. When there is a quality issue look at removing some, or all, of the preparation from the chaos.