Advice for changing kitchen environment

Joined May 23, 2020
Hi chefs first time posting here but looking for some advice / practical methods.
I have been a chef for 20 years but worked solely in contract catering. I am now a kitchen manager and have been for 10 years so I am very experienced in managing people, suppliers, hygiene, stock etc. I am now at a stage where I really want to try something different in a more commercial environment. I am feeling pretty anxious as I only know how to 'mass' cater buffet and banquet style and have never ran a short order / a la carte restaurant service. In my current job I cater for 300 people per service, all fresh food from scratch but I am used to cooking large quantities of food from fresh, put out on the counter and served. I really have very little clue how I would go about running a restaurant service. Is it something I would be able to adapt to quickly? How much different is it going an a la carte service for say 30 plated covers over an evening service to 300 covers in 30 minutes buffet style? I think I am pretty strong when it comes to the actual culinary knowledge it's the logistics of the service I'm most curious about. Any advice would be much appreciated.
Joined Sep 17, 2018
I don't think it will be too hard to transition, especially a 30 cover restaurant. With a little time you will learn the correct pacing, and ordering and prepping should be based off of relative numbers. Plus if there is already seasoned staff there, I see no reason they would be unwilling to help you get your bearings.
Joined Aug 21, 2004
Apples and oranges, some similarities but totally different at same time. I have multiple years of doing both and while I am sure some people will disagree with my opinion I find that people seem to transition from restaurants to catering easier than from catering to restaurants. This is not to say one is harder than the other, it is just that from what I have seen in my career, production skills transition easier from restaurants to catering due to different procedural learning curves.

The main difference between the two is that in catering you have advance knowledge of the 300 plates, in restaurants you get the knowledge of the 300 covers now.

As to comparing a 30 cover restaurant to a 300 plate catering service, I don't know of many 30 cover restaurants but they probably do exist.
Joined May 5, 2010
I agree and disagree.
In my experience cooks that work short order have a more difficult time with mass quantities.
For me, it would be easier to switch from large quantity to short order prep.
Also......cheflayne where I live in rural America, there are plenty of 30 seat places and even less than that.
Now....on to the question.
Everything revolves around your menu. Of course pricing, but also prep amounts, portion control that you must enforce, plus many other things.
No, you really have to idea how much to prep or how many customers when cooking short order. That's why you keep records of everything to cook, sell, and throw away.
There is so much information here that I believe you should research before anything else.
Joined Oct 31, 2012
I'm reminded of the movie "Hoosiers" and the scene where the team arrives at a very large stadium and are overawed by it. The coach measures the distance from center to the basket and the height of the basket to show it's the same as the small high school gym they practice in.
So let's review the obvious in your scenario.
In catering all customers eat at the same pre-arranged time. In restaurant, they eat whenever and if they arrive. So catering is far more predictable for obvious reasons. The timing of the final cooking step is the major gamble. You still need to do all the food prep for the menu without knowing if anyone will order it and without actually cooking any of it and then be able to cook multiple different items simultaneously and quickly as needed.
If you are taking over an existing place, sales records can be a huge help in knowing what to expect on any given night. (Wednesdays typically have 28 customers, most of whom order the shrimp. Friday nights get an average of 89 customers and major sellers are the salads and fish and chips). If starting a new place, you'll have to wing it a bit at first. As Chefross pointed out, prep amounts and portion control are a key problem. You can prep 15 orders of chicken and have only six people show up and order the steak. Or you can prep 15 orders of chicken and have 45 people show up and 21 of them want chicken. What to do?
Right up until service, it's food prep and you do the best you can based on the knowledge you have of the sales history, neighborhood, special holidays, product availability, etc. Keeping as many ingredients for each dish in the same area as much as possible helps keep you focused. Getting each cooked ingredient as close as possible to being service ready without the final cooking step without losing quality is a key exercise.
Between the two, I like catering better simply for the predictability. Having 15 orders of my special chicken dish get prepped and then uneaten is annoying.
Joined Aug 21, 2004
Also......cheflayne where I live in rural America, there are plenty of 30 seat places and even less than that.
I live in rural America and know 30 seat places and even less(mine wasn't much bigger) but they usually do more than one turn in order to financially make it.
30 cover, not 30 seat

From what I have seen the biggest hurdle to cooking and when the learning curve really starts for most people is when the tickets start to fly and service begins. Weeds exist on a regular basis in restaurants due to the unknown factors once service starts and while correctly done prep will minimize it will not eliminate weeds. Weeds will happen, it is a given. In catering with correctly done prep, weeds should be an exception not a rule once service starts. To me that is the biggest difference between the two.

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