Are you overloading your kitchen stations?

Long ticket times are a common problem in restaurants, and nothing will scare a potential regular customer away like having to wait 45+ minutes to get their food.There are many factors that can increase ticket times. In this post, I would like to cover one of those issues, overloading a kitchen station.Part of designing a menu that works is making sure you are not overloading one station in the kitchen, or one piece of equipment. Your menu needs to be designed with constraints in mind to prevent you from doing this. Here's some tips.
create a graph showing which kitchen station(s) each menu item is prepared in
within that graph, list which piece of equipment is necessary to the production of each item
balance your menu items between each kitchen station and each piece of equipment within stations
eliminate or change menu items that require production from more than two stations
It really can be as simple as that. Without the graph as a visual tool, it's easy to overlook the fact that you have overloaded a particular station. You'll likely have a propencity to do just that, based on your own tastes and experiences in cooking particular dishes.When you sit down to write a menu, I think it's a good idea to have a rough "sketched to scale" diagram of your kitchen in front of you. You need to constantly be thinking about how many burners you have, how many ovens, how much flat top space, and what your fryer capacity and recovery ability is. With a sketch in front of you, you'll consider all these factors during the origination process of your menu, instead of after your first 45 minute ticket time.Remember, you only have one chance to make a good first impression. Work out details like this before you open your doors, or you'll be closing them a lot sooner than you want to.
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  • Great input everyone, I have a couple thoughts to add. From past ecperience that even if a menu is in harmony with all stations in the Kitchen there will be "crunch" times and I think also looking at the FOH's responsibilty is important too. A smooth oredering system is vital and not "bogging" the kitchen down. Staggering the tickets going into the kitchen(or not holding tickets until the server has taken orders from 3-4 talbles then punching in the orders) even by 30 seconds apart during the rush can really help the kitchen staff to cope with the enevitable onslot of orders we all want to have on a nightly basis. This FOH planning can help reduce stress, wait times, and increase the kitchens effeciency even in the bussiest of times.
  • Menu design is a poor excuse for overloading stations, if the items are not getting out of the kitchen in time then take it off the menu, if the food is prepped then what is the hold up?. If your menu or restaurant theme requires you to have more burners then get a property that has more burners. People get in trouble when trying to put a square peg in a round hole. Before you open a restaurant every single institution you come across (bank, equipment sales people, consultants) ask for your menu design. Menu design is key in your decision making process before you even sign the papers. If you are already in the property then change then menu to make it work for you.

    A 5-star restaurant in San Francisco has a $75 steak dinner (probably cost more today) the thing takes about 45 or at least in my 3 experiences one hour to come out of the kitchen. But before I order I am informed of how long it is going to take before the entree comes out and I can plan accordingly. If your kitchen is running behind tell the customers they are not monsters 99.9% of them will be fine, you “Rush” the .1% and make them happy.

    All I am saying is when you plan your menu, the human factor matters: your decision making and management. Menu design problems is a management issue, overloading is a management issue, is a manager blames staff for restaurant issues then that is also a management issue.

    Thanks for offering the group information, but I am very well aware of what my issue is.

    Andy, your world seems like the perfect world, can you please tell me what Kitchen Display system you use?
  • You are right coming from our world Brandon. As we create new menu items and randomly decide which station has to produce it, the line does get out of balance causing operational issues. Our Kitchen Display system fortunately reports the balance of each station so we can quickly re-adjust to these operational issues. We all should be so lucky to have this kind of system!
  • There's many different things that can happen to slow down production Abie. All the things you mention included. This article just concentrates on one of these aspects that is often overlooked. If that issue doesn't explain what happened in your kitchen, you may want to look through some of my other articles that deal with other issues. It's certainly not the issue if EVERY station is overloaded regularly.

    In regards to production speed, other major factors could include:

    Having enough prep
    Prep complexity
    Employee training
    Employee motivation
    Employee ability
    Par cooking
    Ticket system
    Expeditor ability (having a well-trained expeditor isn't a "lucky" thing, it's an absolute necessity)
    Equipment quality or ability

    If you want to know the hard truth, most production problems that are blamed on staff are really menu design issues. The most common issue is having too large a menu. Don't believe that no amount of equipment or menu design can help if you're overloaded every night and running at capacity. As a matter of fact, it is most likely that your issues ARE due to a menu design problem if the problems are persistent. While it is possible for an ongoing problem to be staff related (a weak link for example), staff improve and develop even on their own and problems should improve at least somewhat. NO employee LIKES to be in the weeds. Systems however, and a poor menu design cannot fix themselves, ever. Persistent production issues are usually due to menu design flaws.

    You should join the Menu Development group Abie and share the details of your situation. I'm sure we can figure out what your issue is no matter the cause.
  • Brandon, kitchen and menu design are important, please don't get me wrong but if you are running at capacity and your stations are overloaded every night (this is a good thing is dealt with properly) no amount of equipment or menu design can help. You need cooks/chefs, that don't go straight into tunnel vision mode and focus on one ticket at a time when they have 6 or 7 tickets waiting to be served.

    When designing your menu, you should think equipment, ingredients and most important human factor both front of the house and back of house. Training your servers to pace the orders - apps, soup, salad, etc, if you are lucky have an expediter that can help communicate with the kitchen, and cooks that look at more than one ticket at a time.

    Had one of those nights tonight, I am still wired going over what happened and trying to unwind but since it is not the first time I have had this scenario, I can honestly say, if your people are not moving at the pace of the restaurant, you need to go back to the drawing board and start training.

    One more thing, once you open your doors chances are you will not be buying more equipment to accommodate the menu, expect in cases where the need is glaring, you simply need to find a way to balance things out.
  • Most restaurants are bought, not built in my experience, so most menus are created after the equipment is already in place. Of course equipment should be adjusted to meet the needs of the menu, but the "norm" in my experience is a gung-ho owner writing an over-ambitious menu for a kitchen that is already in place. For a restaurant being built, the menu should absolutely come first, but even then, overloading one station is still possible even when the equipment isn't overloaded. Balancing production between stations is imperative regardless.
  • Brandon
    All good points as usual, however conventional wisdom dictates a kitchen be designed around the menu, rather than the opposite.
    But, having said that, a properly designed kitchen can easily accomodate just about any menu, especially if your points above are taken into account.
    And let's not forget the reality that few original menus remain intact for as long as the restaurant is in business anyway.
    I would also add that when designing a kitchen, leave some room for additional equipment as your business grows. You don't ever want to have to replace an exhaust hood to allow for more equipment, trust me.
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