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JAssad80

New to Back of House - Advice please!!!

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Good morning, 

So, I recently started a job as a kitchen manager, which is a position I've never had before nor qualified for; I find that there are a number of hiccups in the operation, as the gross profit is not what it should be, and the food costs are slightly higher than desired. 
Firstly: the main issue is in the cold kitchen, where the salads are costing a huge amount (basically more than the profit they're generating), how would I prevent or lessen any wastage or theft, or using too much ingredients. We have now started portioning the cheeses, meats, olives etc, but how would I control the "little stuff," e.g. cucumber, lettuce, onion? And what sort of a system can be set in place to measure stock against what is sold? 
Then in the dry goods - what would be the best way of controlling items out? Apart from counting tins of apple sauce or packet of sugar every morning and then recording it whenever it is issued as everything is done manually - we do not have a stock management option on our POS. 
Lastly, the owner has also asked me to contribute in growing the business; it's been in operation for over 30years (there's a bar as well), but I personally feel it could do with some updates, especially to the menu. But how would this be accomplished without turning away those patrons who are used to the menu? What promotions / events / special 'events' would be the easiest to implement for good profit? 
I realise this is a lot to ask, but I am new to this environment, so any advice here would be very much appreciated. I live in South Africa, if that is of any relevance. 

Thank you very much,
Justine 

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Well @JAssad80,

 

As a front of house veteran from long ago, food lover and avid home cook, it sounds like you would be much happier and more effective in an administrative function, namely bean counter. 

 

You approach your role in the restaurant with no passion for the food or consideration for the long-time patrons. Only cost concerns. That's a recipe for failure, IMHO. Your perspective can kill the most successful restaurant in a heartbeat.

 

You fail to even tell us food enthusiasts what sort of food your restaurant serves. Do you want to perhaps make another run at it, or move on to an accounting site? :)

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Basically what you're asking for is Restaurant Management 101. There are plenty of books and sites to provide that, and resources from the National Restaurant Association and similar bodies. Unfortunately you've already been plunked into the soup, so you don't have the luxury of immersing yourself in learning materials for a month or two before you get started. I still highly recommend that you spend as much time as you can with the best training materials you can find (ask a local culinary school what texts they use to teach restaurant management, for example) but you'll probably have to fit it in during non-working hours, aka "when I'd otherwise be sleeping."

 

21 hours ago, JAssad80 said:

Firstly: the main issue is in the cold kitchen, where the salads are costing a huge amount (basically more than the profit they're generating), how would I prevent or lessen any wastage or theft, or using too much ingredients. We have now started portioning the cheeses, meats, olives etc, but how would I control the "little stuff," e.g. cucumber, lettuce, onion? And what sort of a system can be set in place to measure stock against what is sold

 

Portioning and monitoring those ingredients is a bit of a challenge. The ideal way to do it is with a scale - so many grams of lettuce, then so many of cucumber, of onion, and so on - but that's not usually going to cut it when you're busy. For lettuce, I'd start with a yield test. Take 10 heads of lettuce, weigh them as they come from the supplier, and then weigh the prepped lettuce after the outer leaves are discarded, cores removed etc. You know how many heads of lettuce you purchase per case, so if you know how many grams (or ounces) your prepared salad is *supposed* to have, you can calculate how many salads you can make from a given case. Anything less is spoilage, over-portioning or unrecorded sales (it's possible you have a herbivorous line cook filching lettuce, but relatively unlikely). 

 

You can do similar yield tests for any other ingredient. It helps if you specify the size of dice or thinness of slice for each preparation, wherever possible. With cukes, for example, you could specify that they be cut to a standard thickness on a mandoline, rather than being sliced by hand. There will always be some variability with your ingredients, so the target weight of your finished salad will be a range rather than a specific number. That's especially true if your formal recipe (I'm assuming here that your recipes are formalized and standardized, with specific portions for the ingredients...if not, you need to start by doing that).

 

Tare your scale with an empty bowl, then put a full bowl on it and see how much the salad weighs. Record that figure, and do the same for at least another 8 to 10 salads made "to spec" under the watchful eye of yourself or your chef. That gives you your allowable range of weights. During service, intercept a salad periodically and weigh it to make sure it falls within that range. If it doesn't, then someone needs to speak to that particular cook about portion control. It's a PITA, but it has to happen. 

 

Another thing you might need to do is scrutinize waste in that department. At one of my jobs, I had each of my prep cooks place their waste in a hotel pan (bus pan, at some stations) as they prepped vegetables, and I had to see the pan before it was discarded. If someone was wasting too much bell pepper, or trimming away half the usable portion from a pineapple, then we would have a talk and I would demonstrate the correct way to do it (*again*...sigh). Lather, rinse, repeat. 

 

21 hours ago, JAssad80 said:

Then in the dry goods - what would be the best way of controlling items out? Apart from counting tins of apple sauce or packet of sugar every morning and then recording it whenever it is issued as everything is done manually - we do not have a stock management option on our POS. 

 

You do have to count, but probably not every item every day. Those tins of applesauce, for example: You probably use them for just a couple of recipes. If you know how often those recipes are made, and how many tins they call for, you can monitor that one relatively easily. If you prepare those recipes once or twice a week, then you can do a quick weekly count and you're good. Ingredients you use more often must be checked more often. Items like individual sugar packets are problematic, because customers are prone to filling their purses/pockets with 'em, which buggers your inventory. All you can do is limit the quantity that's set out for customers. Having someone to issue the supplies and record what goes in and out is probably not an option, because of labor cost, though it's what larger kitchens used to do before computerization streamlined things. 

 

22 hours ago, JAssad80 said:

Lastly, the owner has also asked me to contribute in growing the business; it's been in operation for over 30years (there's a bar as well), but I personally feel it could do with some updates, especially to the menu. But how would this be accomplished without turning away those patrons who are used to the menu? What promotions / events / special 'events' would be the easiest to implement for good profit? 

 

That's a whole masterclass in its own right. If it's still the same menu after 30 years, it'll almost certainly require some updating. :P

 

Your menu will always contain some higher-margin and some lower-margin dishes. It will also contain some that are very popular, and others which don't sell as well. Make yourself a grid and plot them out on the two axes of profitability and popularity. The ones that are both high-margin and high-popularity are your best-performing dishes. The ones that are low-margin and low-popularity are the low-hanging fruit, when you start dropping menu items to make room for new ones. The in-betweens, the ones that are either popular but not profitable or profitable but not popular, are candidates for tweaking. 

 

Specials make a good way to test-drive new dishes. I used to challenge my cooks to come up with new dishes using our existing ingredients and/or prepped items (ie, stocks and sauces). I'd put those on as weekly specials, name-checking the cook on my signboard (it's good to stroke their egos a bit, especially if you're raising their hackles the rest of the week by monitoring their portion control and prepping...). The popular dishes got added to the menu. After a while it gets to be a healthy competition between the cooks, which stimulates their creativity and makes life more fun. That's a solid win, because food and morale improve and you also get to assess the talent you have in your kitchen. That lets you identify the people you want to promote. 

 

I can't advise you on specific promotional ideas because I don't know your market and your clientele, but when you're looking to do things on the cheap social media can be your best friend. If the restaurant/bar doesn't already have a Facebook page you should set one up, as well as an Instagram account or whatever the current fave is in South Africa. Have someone reliable post regularly, or do it yourself, and fill it with appetizing photos of the food (especially new dishes you want to promote, or profitable dishes you'd like to push to greater popularity). Solicit "likes" and "shares," and periodically give away a meal or a gift certificate to someone who's responded (some establishments in my neck of the woods do this weekly). 

 

You could also use social media as a way to test ideas for events or dishes. Put up a couple of choices, and invite your followers to vote on them and select a winner. It drives engagement, and gives you something other than guesswork to determine whether a dish is likely to succeed. It's not foolproof, but it's at least something. 

 

I hope this is at least some help to you. Don't be shy to think of yourself as a "bean counter"...the term is used disparagingly, but if you use beans they do, by God, need to be counted. Margins are tight in the restaurant business, and you can't be giving away any profit if it's avoidable. Passion is all well and good, but unless you have the management skills to back it up it's hard to be successful. 

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Yes, the latter. In my first years I was a hyper-bean counter and ultimately relaxed enough to find the balance. What I would like to add is why are you having these concerns? Tell us what you actual food costs are and your average margin across the menu. Its one thing to say your costs are too high but if you come back to us at 20% then I'm going to say you're low. So we need some figures. I'm also sitting here wondering if you're a 20 person brigade or a 3 person operation. And, is it only food costs that make you have concerns about inventory disappearing. Are you that worried about theft, and if so why? If theft is your issue I would wonder who your staff is (professionals or guys who wander in off the street), and how much you're paying them, and how good and what style is the supervision (micro-manage, no supervision, pedantic, etc?)

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4 hours ago, Thanks for the Crepes said:

As a front of house veteran from long ago, food lover and avid home cook, it sounds like you would be much happier and more effective in an administrative function, namely bean counter. 

This seems like unnecessarily harsh "advice" for someone who is new to the industry and openly admits that she doesn't feel qualified for the position!

 

I agree with @gfron1 that we'd need some more information to really help much, though, and with @chromedome's suggestion that these are the ultimate fundamentals for running a restaurant. There are a number of reputable online courses in Restaurant Management that might be helpful to you, though I don't know of any free ones. And of course, you have to be able to find the time to do it!

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I would perhaps focus on the "bar" and/or wine program.  

 

Most of your profit is gonna be made here anyway.

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10 hours ago, Thanks for the Crepes said:

Well @JAssad80,

 

As a front of house veteran from long ago, food lover and avid home cook, it sounds like you would be much happier and more effective in an administrative function, namely bean counter. 

 

You approach your role in the restaurant with no passion for the food or consideration for the long-time patrons. Only cost concerns. That's a recipe for failure, IMHO. Your perspective can kill the most successful restaurant in a heartbeat.

 

You fail to even tell us food enthusiasts what sort of food your restaurant serves. Do you want to perhaps make another run at it, or move on to an accounting site? :)

I found myself in this industry through desperation, not choice; so no I don't have a burning desire for it nor for food; if that offends you, then tough. What I do have a desire for is making something out of my life, be it counting beans or cooking them or whatever the f. else...... life doesn't always happen how you planned it. But thanks for the completely irrelevant and acerbic advice. Much appreciated. 

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2 minutes ago, JAssad80 said:

I found myself in this industry through desperation, not choice; so no I don't have a burning desire for it nor for food; if that offends you, then tough. What I do have a desire for is making something out of my life, be it counting beans or cooking them or whatever the f. else...... life doesn't always happen how you planned it. But thanks for the completely irrelevant and acerbic advice. Much appreciated. 

You're too new here for that. And you came with your hand out. Pay attention to the advice given, there's plenty of it in that post.

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4 minutes ago, cakewalk said:

You're too new here for that. And you came with your hand out. Pay attention to the advice given, there's plenty of it in that post.

Pay attention to what? To change roles? And I'm not new for anything; I asked a reasonable question and received hostility because I don't have a PASSION for food. 

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I'm not quite sure what you are reading into Justine's quite reasonable request for advice here. I'm not understanding how her questions have resulted in the impression that she has no passion for food. Perhaps she doesn't / but with her questions that is irrelevant.

 

I see some very reasonable responses to her questions and she is certainly not attacking the people who made those suggestions - just those who seem to be suggesting she go away.

 

I suggest to people on a regular basis that they ask their burning questions on eG because of the helpful environment and huge knowledge base - I won't if I feel people will be attacked for asking questions.

 

I always wonder the motivation for unprovoked attacks - but suspect the attacker is the one with an unresolved issue being played out in front of the rest of us.

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By all means - i am not disparaging those users who have actually taken the time to offer useful advice (which despite m lack of enthusiasm) is very much appreciated, and I thank you. What I do take issue is with people getting personal in their responses to me. May I get what I deserve? Go be a bean counter? Who are you to pass such comments when I was really just looking for some guidance? Because I don't have a great enough passion for food? Not only does that speak of the ignorance of the posters but the immaturity. 

But to those who responded sincerely - again - thank you very much. 

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I suggest we refocus this whole thing. You had legit questions. And, there are people willing to walk you through them. See if you can't get us some hard numbers to help us in our recommendations.

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If your salads are losing money, or even generating low profit numbers, you need to reign that one in quickly. Salads should carry a ridiculous profit margin. People are willing to pay premium prices for a plate of lettuce with a few garnishes so they can feel like they're eating healthy without having to make it themselves. They're fast and, in most settings, inexpensive to make, they should never be a point of loss. If waste or excessive generosity with portioning is the problem, you'll have to address that with those doing the prep/assembly, get them on board with doing it the way you want them to and mean it. Don't let them shrug it off or do it right for a day or two and go back to what they were doing before. They'll adapt. If not, replace them. Assembling profitable salads shouldn't require micro-managing everything down to the gram. Not that there's anything actually wrong with that but, unless they're pre-assembled or you have a very large staff, there's really not time to weigh everything out each time you make a salad when it's busy. If theft is the problem, in any department, you need to get them out the door. If they've been long-term getting away with theft, they won't stop and it will be a constant battle trying to prevent it. I can honestly say that in the years I've been in this business, I've never encountered a vegetable thief. Not saying it can't happen but most of the time it tends to be higher dollar items that grow legs. Is there any chance the lack of profit is happening at the pricing end? Without having been given any numbers, it is possible that salads were just never properly priced based on cost. Somebody may have simply decided "this is what a salad should cost, it's what I'd want to pay" and went with it.

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Passion is over-rated, anyway.  If you're going to cook for a living then it really helps to love it, but speed, consistency, and being able to take/follow direction(s) are more important.  What field are you coming from?    You usually want food cost 30% or below. 

 

@chromedome and @gfron1 have good advice.  Yes, you should do inventory, and meanwhile check your invoice pricing to make sure you're up to date.  Salad being un-profitable seems odd.  Either they're putting way too many expensive goodies in, or they just need to charge more.  Keep a closer eye on meat & cheese portions, and also consider switching a few more expensive ingredients.  Now I'm not suggesting you compromise quality, just be strategic.  Candied pecans may be a lovely crunchy bit in a salad, but they are expensive.  Walnuts cost less, almonds even lower, then peanuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds.  Prices do fluctuate for produce and meat, too.  Get to know what is in season, it is usually less expensive than imported or hothouse-grown.  Do you offer staff meal?  It can be a good way to use up odds and ends and discourage staff from making their own snacks, but it does take time and materials.

 

What is the chef situation?  Is there a chef or sous chef and your role is more organizational, or is it just you and a bunch of cooks? 

 

It takes time, you'll have to look at what comes in and goes out over several weeks - are you doing all the purchasing and receiving for the kitchen?.  Maybe do inventory weekly for the next few months.  Clean out the freezer and find ways to use excess product.  Keep an eye on snacking and waste.  Is food thrown away because they made too much and it went bad?  Make a smaller batch, only enough for 2-3 days instead of a whole week. 


Edited by pastrygirl spelling (log)
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7 hours ago, JAssad80 said:

Pay attention to what? To change roles? And I'm not new for anything; I asked a reasonable question and received hostility because I don't have a PASSION for food. 

 

You asked a reasonable question and got an extensive and serious group of answers that good people spent time on.

 

And then you got full of attitude and resentment that was unwarranted.

 

Tough question for you...would you want someone like you as an employee?  Are you at all teachable?

 

 

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I'm inclined to suspect that if a post that does have some truth to it makes you that cranky, you might have trouble in the kind of high stress environment most restaurants are. Especially if you are in the position of enforcing changes people don't care for, you're going to get some attitude, and you need to be able to deal with that gracefully and professionally, not get cranky back. (I don't mean be a doormat, but it's inappropriate for someone in a management role to be squabbling with the dishwasher and exchanging insults. Throw on your rhino hide coveralls and don't be baited.)

 

Also, it sounds like you don't have much sense of what the restaurant is that you are supposed to be helping? Beans need to be counted, but you also need to know what it is about the beans that people are coming back for. If a pricy ingredient is what everyone loves about a salad, then you'd better be really careful about swapping it out for something else. (You can, but the customers need to feel the salad is BETTER for the swap, or better value. It's a perception game, not just numbers in a spreadsheet.) Likewise if large portion sizes are what people like - if you need to change that you need to package the change so people feel like they are getting something good from it, not so they come in and get half as much as they were expecting. So in addition to the dollars and cents, you need to spend some time thinking about who the regular customers are, what they like, what they expect, and then use that to inform your changes. 

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Thanks to all who have been courteous and have given advice I can actually use.

Won't be recommending anyone to this site though, not exactly what I'd call welcoming... just an unreasonable amount of vitriol 

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3 hours ago, gfweb said:

 

You asked a reasonable question and got an extensive and serious group of answers that good people spent time on.

 

And then you got full of attitude and resentment that was unwarranted.

 

Tough question for you...would you want someone like you as an employee?  Are you at all teachable?

 

 

I had 'attitude' towards those who offered not advice but judgment - as I stated. As for your tough question: why don't you just go and answer it yourself, as you seem to have already done that.... good Lord what a lovely bunch of people here...

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If the first response to a plea for help is, in essence, "find some other line of work," some attitude is justified. 

 

But if we're going to help -- and it seems clear that some very qualified people here are willing to do that -- we're going to need more information:

  • What kind of restaurant is it? How is the menu set up -- is it prix fixe or some sort, or a la carte?
  • What is the revenue? Overhead costs? Labor percentage?
  • What's the food cost? The beverage cost? Breakdown between food and beverage? Have you done menu costing or yield testing?
  • Is there someone in charge of the line cooks?
  • Who does the ordering, the requisitioning, and the portioning?

Knowing those things will inform the answers of those of us who want to help you. And if you don't know the answers, we can help you figure them out. You're not going to fix everything overnight, but now you're one more night away from that. Getting pissed off rarely creates progress. 

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