Your front of house is beautiful. Your staff are friendly. Your food is fantastic. But your customers are sick of waiting for it to arrive, and it’s driving them straight to the front door of your competitors.
There are a lot of factors that could be slowing down your service, but one common issue we see all the time is disorganization in the back of house. Fortunately, there are a few simple things you can easily implement to get your team working more coherently. You’ll get that food out faster, without compromising the high quality cuisine your customers demand.
1. Encourage proper kitchen communications
If your back of house staff aren’t performing at the speed you need, one of the first things you need to do is stop and listen. Are your kitchen hands talking to your line cooks? Are the line cooks talking to the sous chef? Is the head chef talking at all?
If your team isn’t communicating effectively back of house, you’re never going to have smooth operations. What’s more, while we all know that back of house language is never for the faint hearted, there needs to be positive feedback as well as negative. It’s never good to fall into the trap of having a kitchen culture where the only time staff speak to one another is to yell about mistakes.
Also, don’t forget to look at how your front of house staff communicate with the kitchen – it doesn’t matter if your kitchen is the most well-oiled machine in the industry if the instructions they’re getting from front of house are wrong to begin with.
2. Get the right kitchen equipment for the job
So often when we hear from restaurant owners who are struggling with back of house performance, the root of the problem is using the wrong tool for the job. Your kitchen is only as good as your equipment – make sure you know what you need, and your staff know how to use it to its full potential.
Neglecting regular maintenance can be a problem too. Like anything, if you’re using a piece of equipment all day every day to get your food out, it’s going to degrade over time. Faulty machinery leads to poor results, either in the quality of the food or in the extra time spent compensating for the equipment not working correctly.
3. Get the right people assigned to the right kitchen station
There’s no greater impediment to a smooth-running kitchen than having the wrong people in the wrong place at the wrong time. While your restaurant has departments – front of house, back of house, management – so too should your kitchen. One thing you will always see in successful kitchens are clearly defined “stations”, with staff assigned to that station for the night. If one of your line chefs is manning the range-top, they shouldn’t also be taking things out of the oven and plating at the same time.
Ensuring that certain roles are assigned to certain areas of the kitchen - and that certain people are assigned strictly to those roles - is important. But it’s equally as important to rotate, whether it’s mid-shift or on different nights. Otherwise, you’ll find your turnover rates creeping up as staff are forced to do the same repetitive task each and every night.
4. Establish proper chain of command
In all of the top restaurants around the world, you’ll find a stricter hierarchy back of house than you will in most militaries. The head chef is a brutal dictator, the sous chef the loyal general. Line cooks take orders without question, while the dishwashers and kitchen hands are dedicated grunts on the front line looking to get their stripes. It’s a formula that has ensured success in every Michelin starred restaurant you’ve ever heard of.
But you’d be shocked how often this chain of command is completely absent from smaller kitchens and fast food establishments. If your back of house is missing this clear hierarchy, or if your staff ignore it, you may well have just found the cause of your speed problems.
We’ve spoken with a number of restaurant owners who’ve found themselves in this exact situation, and often the knee-jerk reaction to solving this issue is firing “problem” staff. While that may be necessary in extreme cases, often there are far less drastic solutions.
Teach everyone in the kitchen how the hierarchy needs to work, and then collaborate with the leaders of your team (specifically the head and sous chef) to identify the staff who are adhering to the new system the best. You can then offer incentives for others to be more like them. A desirable RDO or a small pay bonus at the end of the week can go a long way to improving back of house behaviour.
Don’t forget that the problem may start at the top – study how your leadership team are dealing with those below them. Respect is a vital part of any commercial kitchen, but it needs to be earned.