Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Scrumtrulescent Sixty

Today we sat down for session two of Blathnaid Bergin's "Cooking for Pleasure and Profit: The Business of Making Food Pay". I have to say, she really knows her stuff! She runs a kitchen like a Five-Star General organizes a military assault. Every tiny aspect of the business is put into a system, processed, and spat out with militaristic precision. My German blood really took a shine to this approach!

We went over writing a standard recipe (so that an Average Joe, on his first day on the job, could produce the same apple tart that the ye olde veteran in the corner has been making for years), costing food (everything from a pinch of salt or a drizzle of olive oil is factored into the cost of a dish), portion control, scrutinizing waste, and the importance of management, Management, Management! She suggested a weekly or daily "running of the numbers" to see how your business is faring (McDonald's gets statistics every hour!).

In the end, running a successful food business is about as easy as planning D-Day. This is not to say it cannot be done. You just have to be the right man (or freakishly organized robot) for the job. The perfect candidate has a hard-nosed business sense coupled with a strong creative gene. It helps if the person's a little crazy, too (like inexplicably quitting her secure employment in New York and moving to Ireland to go to cooking school).

Some interesting insights from today's seminar:

- The average restaurant makes 3-6% in returns. Fast food restaurants make around 7-8%. So, unless you are going to start the next McDonald's, maybe put your money in Treasury Bills!

- The kitchen is the engine room of any food business - spend your money there first! No one will see the lovely mosaic on the wall if you cannot open your doors because your oven won't turn on.

- McDonald's has a totally standardized way of producing food. Each Big Mac or McNugget is weighed to a T. They even have calibrated "guns" distributing exact portions of sauce (these guns get reset every morning to guarantee accuracy). This ensures a consistent product, and allows the McDonald's Lieutenants (AKA accountants) to know exactly how much the franchise spends on the ingredients in each item. If you want a successful food business (or any business, for that matter), take a page out of McDonald's book!

- The person who deals with the suppliers & deliveries at the back door of your kitchen should be trustworthy and extremely capable. So many restaurants stick the village simpleton back there to sign the order form and lug the supplies into storage. There is a lot of room for mistakes (and fraud) at this crucial step.

- Replace your black garbage bags with clear ones. Then you'll be able to see (and hopefully regulate) the waste going into them.

- On this same vein, have a clear plastic container at each prep chef's workstation for him to throw away his trash. You'll get a good idea of who is throwing away what!

- Never underestimate the negative effects of a staff member with "a face as long as a wedding weekend" (-Blathnaid) walking around your store and serving your customers.

- Interestingly enough, McDonald's has recently withdrawn from operating in Iceland. Icelanders, in the midst of financial crisis, have almost entirely switched to buying inexpensive, local ingredients from local suppliers. McDonald's, shipping in their ingredients, could not compete with these local prices.

- The dishwasher in any restaurant will have the best idea of which food items are consistently coming back into the kitchen uneaten or unfinished. They should be trained (and feel comfortable!) to approach the head chef and manager with this valuable information.

- Keep records of everything! (Excel follows you wherever you go...)

- Everything in your cold room or dry-store area should be covered, labeled, dated, and signed.

- In order to have a prayer at generating profit, your food should cost, on average, only 30% of what you are actually charging for it.

Before I go, finally a sourdough success! Born November 18th at 9:10 AM; 1 lb, 10 oz. Both the mother and the child are doing well.

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