This article is the last in a series about facing the reality of staffing levels in today’s changing industry. If you missed the last two articles Hours of Operations and Menu Size and Purchase vs Produce In-House, make sure to read those too. To round out this discussion, I will focus on fine-tuning and redesigning your processes for long-term sustainability.   

In the past efficiencies and productivity improvements were looked at to reduce payroll costs, It is hard to imagine currently that anyone would have an excess of employees. Now, we are looking at changing the operation to match the number of employees needed just to operate. 

With the exception of leaders that embraced ownership, the payroll reductions of the past were generally driven down from the top. Managers would make the cuts and in many cases, the employees were left to “figure it out” and adjust to the changes. Why, because the cuts were arbitrary numbers instead of a process that identified specific areas or actions that could result in efficiency and labour savings. At the end of the day the goal would be achieved, the boss was happy, and life went on. This type of environment did not inspire employees or create an environment of loyalty and trust. For the leaders, it did not equip them to be able to navigate through the staffing challenges that they are experiencing today. 

Let’s start with the situation that you formally had 10 cooks and now only have 8. Where do you start? What you need to do is identify areas of inefficiency through design, layout, processes or all of the above.  You may already know where the opportunities are but in the past, the effort to correct them seemed to outweigh the benefit. Now, you are forced to do it at a time when you are already stretched thin. So, you need a well-defined approach as time is of the essence.

Redesign the Kitchen and Processes

In the past, you may have been able to execute very well with a kitchen layout that was less than perfect and frankly may have been the reason that you needed 10 cooks in the first place. This solution can be the most impactful, but it takes time, planning and the open-mindedness to explore options. Before jumping into the process, it is important to make sure that taking on this project is necessary.


Ask, Observe, Ask, Repeat

It is important to look at the operation objectively and not defend or criticize anything. It is what it is at this point and the important thing is that you are committed to improving it. How is your kitchen?                                         

  • Ask the team – What slows you down? What is frustrating when you are busy? How about when it is slow? What could be improved? You will not act on this information, but it gives you some insights into areas for the next steps.
  • Observe the operation in action. 

Watch the team looking for motion that results in wasted effort and people crossing over. Do people have to walk back and forth to a cooler? Do they have to wait for someone to finish with a piece of equipment?

The lean process uses helpful tools such as spaghetti charts and waste observation sheets to capture the picture. Have someone that you respect and understands processes come and do it with you. Make sure you tell the team that you are not watching their performance but rather the performance of the kitchen.

  • Ask – After the observations, you may have some ideas in mind, but you are not ready to take action. Ask the team more questions based on your observations to gain a deeper understanding. From this you will determine one of three levels:
      1. For the most part, the kitchen functions very well. With some fine-tuning, training, and balancing the workload you may have done all that you can do.
      2. The kitchen functions but lacks certain pieces of equipment that can improve holding to speed execution and reduce steps. 
      3. There are many inefficiencies and solving one problem may create another.

If you selected number 1 you have workspaces that function well, and you just need to refine them. Set up every station with purpose, have a plan and make sure everyone follows it. Proper setup that is done during slow periods or prior to service can save a great deal of time and frustration when it is busy.

If number 2 or 3 is your answer, then read on.

The challenge with this is you need to be able to sit back from what you have always done to see the possibilities.     You need imagination, a mind for seeing processes that don’t exist yet, data, flexibility, duct tape and cardboard.

Duct tape and cardboard? I’ll explain later.

Let’s start with the Data:

Unlike when opening a new restaurant, you have valuable information about your top sellers. That is your starting point and you want to make sure that the processes and setup consider those items first, so you are able to execute the biggest sellers. 

Now, reimagine the kitchen and come up with some different layouts. Create templates for your team and have them come up with their own design. Take all this information and come up with what you think is the best layout. It may be a combination of all the ideas, or one plan checks all the boxes. Use as much existing equipment as possible but do not limit yourself. Keep in mind with this example your goal is to have 100% of the revenue with 20% less labour cost. Quick math: a cook @ $20/hour X 2080 Hours X 2 cooks is $83,200. Investing in new equipment will not only allow you to meet the objective but it will also reduce breakdowns and maintenance if you have older equipment. 

As for the duct tape and cardboard, you will need this to redesign the workspace. We all know how much it costs to move or purchase equipment and so you want to know the changes will work without a lot of cost or work or disruption.

Step Back and Step Out

It is time to step back and step out of the kitchen with your duct tape, cardboard, measuring tap, floor plan and dimensions and build a new kitchen, out of cardboard. That’s right – a 3-dimensional kitchen built to scale out of cardboard. Moving a cardboard stove is much easier than moving the one in your kitchen. That way you can easily move pieces around and see how space and flow are impacted. 

Once you come up with a design that seems to work, collect a handful of real orders from the day before, put the cooks in their new stations and start to call out the orders and watch the flow. 

How does it look? Is there little to no crossover and motion? Everything has a place and counters are not cluttered. Equipment that is shared is positioned appropriately. If yes, then fine-tune every detail for storage and processes. Or keep adjusting until it is right. This is your chance to make it great. 

Now, remove 3 people from the line and run it with 5 people. That way you will be able to see what the stations look like during slower periods or if something happens that you are short. No matter what, it is important to test the boundaries. This will also bring to light any unbalance in workload, not only do you want an efficient and well-functioning line, but it has to have balance. If all the top sellers end up on one person, then you will have created another problem. Spread out the high-volume items

You would be amazed how repositioning equipment and realigning stations can impact the execution, the number of employees needed and bring the team together making it a better place for your team to work. Working hard and getting slammed is what some of us enjoy the most, but there is nothing worse than having to work harder because of poor design and failing equipment.

Want to learn more? Schedule a call with CORE here. 

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