Q: Unrealistic expectations – staff numbers vs quality does this happen everywhere???

(06 /11 /2015)

This week we had a question relating to unrealistic expectations on staff, where food quality begins to suffer! Matt shares some of his experience:

Unfortunately this does happen quite a lot. I have experienced this in a few of my positions throughout my career. I would like to share one with you.

The situation was a hotel where the kitchen staff numbers were well below the level needed to run the kitchen effectively.  16 meal services = 6 x Chefs, 2 x Kitchen Hands; out-dated ingredient prices for the last 6 months; costed menu out-dated; stock take not done for 6 months; staff had no time and were worn out.

Leading up to Christmas when I got there, service numbers were already high, with no staff to cover the shifts and pressure on to cut the cost blow out. My first stock take was a disaster, 62% after my first week. The boss who had gotten me in to evaluate and turnaround the place had a fit and carried on that he has spent all this money to get me in and this is what he was getting in return.  I had to explain that the stocktake had not been done for over six months, the menu costings were out of date, and that there was no software for the kitchen to monitor what was happening.

Basically I had to rebuild the place from the ground up. Recruited in an environment when chefs, and especially good ones, were hard to come by leading to Christmas. It was a long process of cleaning up the place with a focus on creating a great working environment where people wanted to come to work, not dreaded.  This resulted in management ramping up promotions to maximise sitting.  We had up to date menu costings, stock take was weekly and I implemented software to help monitor food cost %.  Happy day!  Result was up to 35% lower food cost; kitchen brigade from 6 to 13; revenue in Winter $46 and Summer $75k including Christmas; so with a 10% drop in food cost you get an idea on the savings being made per week

Then it started to go downhill!  Just when we had found a happy balance and were working well as a team and profitable as a business, management stepped in with a ‘new direction’.

Lower the staff levels to cut costs; tighten food cost % to be below 30%; increase the spend rate per table; unrealistic promotions to get bums on seats – the promotions were a food cost % nightmare and the idea was to get people in to spend on other menu items so the cost would be soaked up. This didn’t work so the kitchen had to wear the cost blow out, but kept records so it wouldn’t blow up in my face with the owners.  Add to this a Manager who would come in during the middle of service to talk about new menu items based on celebrity chef’s cookbooks – wanting us to recreate these items based on high end ingredients! He couldn’t understand my concerns about high end ingredients = high end cost = too pricey for our restaurant!

So in the end I resisted the call for lower staffing numbers and lower food costs as I felt that morale and sanity were really important and that the business was going well and as a result I was pushed out. The idea was that the systems were now in place and therefore would just continue as normal by replacing me with someone more willing to ‘bend’.  The sad thing was that all the hard work was undone within 2 months.

Unfortunately, some Managers and Owners don’t understand that the importance of a smooth running kitchen is their team.  The systems and procedures you guys put in to make the kitchen work are all because of individuals working together.   They need to understand capacity and sanity and not just see the $$ signs. Good luck!  You sound like me!  Passionate about what you do!  There are great places out there!

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