How to improve labour productivity in the kitchen


The shortage of skilled kitchen staff won’t end anytime soon, and wages are unlikely to come down.

Stop waiting for miracles and change the way your kitchen operates. How can two cooks do the work previously done by three, or two kitchen hands handle the work of four? You’ll also need to have a hard look at your menu, not to reduce the quality, but to redesign laborious processes. Here are some of the options:

Use 100% of your Combi Oven. With different sizes available, these highly-versatile pieces of equipment increase the quality of roasts, function menus and all the food you serve on a busy shift. The combination of heat and moisture cooking reduces waste and gives exact control over time and temperature – pre-set controls mean almost anyone can use them. Overnight cooking means meat is ready when staff arrive. Time to get the supplier’s support chefs out to help you put a lot more of your menu through these great machines - most are only used to 20% of capacity.

Add a Conveyor Pizza Oven - raw food in one end and cooked food comes out the other. It’s hard to go wrong, and they can be used for a lot more than pizza. Consulting chef Paul Rifkin makes them his #1 recommendation for handling a busy kitchen with semi-skilled staff. Menu items will need to be designed around the equipment, but that’s an easy job for a consultant if you don’t have a chef.

Use Speed Ovens (like Merrychef) create hot meals from cold ingredients at the press of a button. You’ve seen speed ovens at work toasting your roll at Subway – they’re a combination of microwave and convection oven. The timer makes sure that nothing is burnt, and most food is ready in 30 seconds – put one behind the counter so bar staff can serve snacks and light meals all day.

Cut the Work Needed for Cleaning: Cutlery Polishers will halve the endless hours of drying and polishing knives, forks and spoons. One staff member can do the work of three, and everyone goes home earlier. The same applies with Reverse Osmosis or Self-Polishing Glass Washers - eliminate hours of drying and polishing glassware. These machines are fairly new technology, and a big hit with large bars. They pay for themselves over and over as you cut staff time at the end of every shift.

If you’re doing large numbers, the latest conveyor dishwashers include a pre-rinse to avoid messy plate scraping – wait staff scrape and stack onto the rack, and the kitchenhand is just doing pots and stacking clean plates. Equipment consultant Cathy Goodwin recommends these, and a good oil filtering system (like Vito) to reduce fryer cleaning time and avoid maintenance issues – it will also extend the life of the oil.

Control Workflow and Timing: it’s time to make the POS ordering process visible in the kitchen – say goodbye to paper dockets. Large screens that show all the orders together let you track the flow and production time – the whole process is available in one view. Individual screens can be made available for different sections. This is radically different to how chefs are used to working, and often resisted. The data available shows where to make roster changes, and how to eliminate bottlenecks.

Separate Preparation and Service. Are you still expecting all the prep to be done on the morning shift? If you have the volume, work your space 20 hours a day with a special 4am production shift that gets all the slicing, cutting, desserts and baking done before the day shift arrives. Then the service shift arrives fresh and ready to push out the food – different skills for different tasks. There are a lot of chefs looking for daytime work.