Resistance and Benefits to Centralized Production Kitchens
Most people that work in large kitchens and operations appreciate and understand the value that the three major production areas provide the operation. When properly developed and managed, they can produce significant cost savings, address a variety of labor challenges, and dramatically improve quality/consistency.
Whether you have production kitchens in place, are considering them, or wonder how you can incorporate some of the principles into your operation, it is important to understand the resistance, benefits, and challenges you may already have or will face.
It may seem out of order to start with resistance, and you may think that the resistance involves employees. Well, it does, but that is more of a challenge. In this case, it is resistance from Owners/GMs/Controllers who may not fully understand or appreciate the value of production areas. If this resistance is not realized and addressed, then the creation or expansion of production areas may not continue. The reason is that there needs to be financial (capital) support and support from other departments to make it work.
I usually avoid pointing out specific groups or departments, but this is based on real experience, and it is important to understand where the resistance stems from. Why would owners and GMs resist a concept that has so many benefits? They wouldn’t, so where does the resistance come from? In many cases, it comes down to accounting and the finance team. A coach/mentor and friend of mine once said that ‘if the controller and chef don’t have a fight in the kitchen, then something is wrong’. He was a controller.
Why would someone with a financial background and someone in tune with every aspect of the numbers not like to save money? The inner workings of large kitchens are complex, difficult to understand no matter how long you are in the business, and they can be an accounting and control nightmare. If not structured properly, production areas can be hard to quantify. This is mainly because they are not attached to any one source of revenue, and it is easier to measure each outlet’s contribution separately in these large operations. Not having a direct connection to revenue causes people to see these areas as a burden. Yes, production areas do add some complexity to the numbers game, but they are far from being a burden, and one of the greatest parts of operating a large facility is taking advantage of scale and production.
For the finance team, the numbers from production areas can be a mess to deal with. Everything from tracking costs, dealing with unallocated costs, and allocating labor costs from production areas (based on revenue doesn’t work because high revenue doesn’t mean that they receive the most product) can be difficult.
For the most part, food is easier to track than labor costs, and this is where the battle begins. Here are two options:
- Just leave the payroll in a bucket of its own – but where is the accountability?
- Let’s track it based on covers – No, this still doesn’t work.
Before we can look at the benefits and how to create a structure that everyone will appreciate, the most important thing is that the Chef, Controller, and General Manager/Owner are all on the same page when it comes to the importance and measurement of these areas. Otherwise, they will not be fully and effectively utilized, and conflict can result from making the wrong decisions.
There are several benefits to the production areas. Labor savings and food cost would be the most obvious, but it is important to truly understand the full depth of their contributions.
This may seem like a strange benefit, but resistance is necessary to ensure that everything is well-planned. That planning and the outcome can be game changers when it comes to the relationships and culture within the organization, leading to even greater things. There is nothing more powerful than a directive supported by the owner/GM that involves departments working together.
It is important for all the players to understand that this is new and it will be uncomfortable. The chef needs to understand the importance of transparency and clarity in the process, and the accounting team will need to offer support in ways they may not have experienced. It is not about giving up power or taking on a few small tasks, it is about operating a successful business. So, head to the kitchen and have your last fight. You are about to embark on a journey that will set you apart from most of the competition.
Consistency / Quality
Consistency is the same recipe, process, and steps performed every time and perfectly controlled.
The best way to control quality is to remove unpredictability from each day. Whether it is staffing shortages, increased business volumes, or a specification change of an ingredient, they can all have a detrimental impact on quality.
Production areas reduce the workload of the people who are directly serving the customers. They provide stable and consistent quality partially since they are less impacted by the day’s events, primarily because they are, or need to be, looking days and, in some cases, weeks ahead.
The Last Straw
In my last article, The Evolution of Centralized Production Kitchens, one specific operation was mentioned. What was not mentioned was the last straw that drove the change. It was the soup of the day called Chef’s Creation. Every night ended with the same scramble to find time to put together the soup that carried my title for the next day. I can’t remember the soup, but it was the equivalent of corn water with some other odds and ends. That was a regular occurrence, followed by the morning shift trying to “fix” the soup. The soup was always impacted by the day’s events and there was a better way.
Production kitchens reduce the overall labor costs at the outlet level and the banquet operation by effectively utilizing the workforce.
Looking back at the last article, it is like the cook who diced my red onions while I chopped her parsley but on a much bigger scale. Yes, the act of chopping more saves time, but it is the setup, packaging, and cleanup of each task where most of the savings are made.
It is a straightforward concept: labor savings are immediately realized by having a few people prepare certain items at a central location rather than many people making that same item in several locations. Again, these items are either high volume or used in multiple outlets. This can reduce the number of FTEs required at the outlet level, which would typically have employees scheduled to perform these tasks.
Beyond the obvious savings, there are some significant fringe benefits:
1) Ability to efficiently increase output
This is very important in operations with fluctuating demands of banquet operations. Not only can production be efficiently increased to prepare for the events, but it can also be increased in advance to free up employees to facilitate the banquet events and reduce possible overtime.
2) The realities of the workforce
As we all know, there are some challenges with the workforce. From shortages to lack of skill and the aging population, production departments help address these issues.
3) New labor pools and lower-skilled employees
Think of the production area as an operating room. Generally, you only need one surgeon, and behind the scenes, people organize their devices, prepare the room, and take care of cleaning up so the surgeon can move on. The possibility exists to look at staffing and recruiting differently. Looking to non-conventional labor pools and skill sets can allow you to marry skilled labor with a less skilled workforce.
I remember helping the pastry department, and all I would do is scale ingredients. The team could focus on the process, and by working in pairs, the output was more than doubled.
4) Aging workforce
We all know the strain that years of work in the industry can have on our bodies, and no one dreams of being a line cook for 40+ years. The production areas provide meaningful and productive work for these highly skilled veterans, as well as people requiring modified work programs. The success stories are endless, and if you have a few hours, we can talk.
5) Isn’t production work hard?
The term ‘production’ makes the work sound hard and heavy, but advances in technology and equipment lighten the load significantly. From scissor tables, hoists, dollies, dicers, slicers, vacuum bagging, etc… the list is endless, making production areas the most ergonomically friendly part of the kitchen.
The food cost savings from centralized production are seen at multiple levels.
- Reduction of waste due to overproduction and/or slumping sales at the outlet level. Daily transfers ensure the product that was first prepared can be directed for use first.
- Preparing for multiple areas increases the volume to a level that allows for the use of more advanced cooking procedures and equipment that is geared towards improving yield.
- Outlets are required to carry less product in coolers, which provides more visibility and improved rotation.
- Less reliance on purchasing processed items such as cut vegetables required advance notice to vendors and often results in waste due to lead time and business fluctuations.
- Production levels are varied and controlled based on a larger scale.
- Raw materials require less lead time and are processed to maximize shelf life.
Utility Costs and Environmental Sustainability
In many operations, running cold water thaws food and cools soups and sauces. This can be eliminated through effective production planning, food storage, and introducing contained chillers. The key is to have the right chiller for the right product.
The advancement of technology and the efficiency of equipment has increased the ability to complete more cooking overnight when utility costs are lower.
Savings add up when fewer utilities are utilized throughout the property at the same time to complete the same tasks.
Generally speaking, equipment in production areas is better cared for which increases its operating efficiency.
Production areas have the advantage of using larger containers, and reducing processed foods also reduces packaging.
For example, tomatoes in a 55-gallon reusable drum save on 88 X 100 oz of cans.
The positive environmental impact is slightly offset by the increased use of vacuum bags used in many kitchens.
Let’s look at the pastry department. Over the past few decades, it was the first area to be closed in many kitchens.
There are many reasons why the pastry kitchen is shut down, and, in many cases, just as many reasons why it shouldn’t be. One of the greatest reasons is having a pastry shop involves having a pastry chef and their skills can be drawn upon for many show pieces, customized desserts, amenities, and everything else you can imagine. This can give you an upper hand over the competition as the pastry shop can impact every aspect of the operation.
Having skilled chefs in these specialized areas gives a greater focus to the quality and uniqueness of your offering. Otherwise, you will be the same as everyone else, and that is not inspiring, especially with how the up-and-coming generations crave experience, authenticity, and quality.
In the next edition of CORE Profit Strategies, it all comes together. We will discuss the challenges to be aware of and how to effectively establish or reimagine your production areas.