Advice on the running of a kitchen

Joined Apr 13, 2016

I would really appreciate some advice please.  I have cooked and run a kitchen for a 45 place restaurant - had two helpers but I am going on to a bigger restaurant due to open in the next month in France and although I am confident in my menu I am very worried about how to organise the service and about finding the right team. 

The restaurant is 30 place downstairs and 20 place upstairs (we could have more upstairs and will do in the winter when the terrasse is not usable) with a terrasse for up to 30 more places.

I am not certain of the best way to organise who does what when it comes to the service because it is so much larger than my previous restaurant and here we are likely to have at least 50 every lunchtime for the plat du jour.

I am looking to hire another cook to work with me - but again not sure how many hours I should ask for as employing people in france is very expensive in charges and complicated so it is important I get it right.  Then someone to prepare the veg and salads and wash up.  There will be two waitors/waitresses and a third in busy season. My husband is running the bar and soft drinks.

The menu consists of various home made burgers - home made pies - veggie dishes - curry dish - salads - fish and chips ( I ran a fish and chippy in France for a year and the french love them ) - there are sharing platters on the menu and a brunch.  We also offer a selection of home made cakes etc and have a baby changing room for the young parents who we hope to encourage.

I had thought it would be a good idea to have a lunchtime chef and an evening chef to work alongside me which would help in sickness holidays etc to ensure we had cover.  Apart from this the hours are too long for one person full time - we are open 6 days a week from 9 am and in the week we will close at 10pm but Friday and Saturdays will be later.

It really worries me about the best way to organise the service from the kitchen side.  The items that need cooking to order do not take long to cook but I am not sure how to divide the workload to ensure it runs smoothly.  

The kitchen is divided in to three - at the back we have our cold room and our potato peeler and sink for veg preparation, then we have a kitchen where the main oven is and the main prep cooking will take place - this also has the washing up area and then finally we have a kitchen in the restaurant where the fryers are and the rings are and where the food is served up.  This is so our customers can see us working.

Anyway thank you for taking the time to read this and for any advice.
Joined Oct 31, 2012
That's great. So you have the authority to analyze and make whatever decisions you need to.

 My first thought is to question why you will be open those hours. From your post it sounds like you will be buying an existing place. so the hours they are open are not hours you decided on. 

    So as a new owner, I would want to make sure there is a reason to be open; customers actually coming in and spending money. Being open costs money and time so you need a certain level of business to maintain those hours, not just being open for the sake of being open. The same for being open six days a week. As you noted, that's too much time for one person, you and your husband included. 

     Given how you describe the kitchen, you can't be in two/three places at once. So either the prep in one area gets done first, then you move to the second or third location or you have two or three people, one for each area but hopefully only during service hours. 

       Second, how much activity is required in those areas at any given time? You are opening for lunch. I don't think of lunch as beginning at 9am. So I wonder when the first customers actually arrive for lunch. Closer to eleven perhaps?

 Immediately after arriving at work and unlocking the door  typically requires some one to walk around and turn on lights, equipment, check for problems, make coffee, etc. So if lunch prep is done the day before and is ready to go and the first serious round of customers arrive closer to eleven, you can arrive at 9am to perform opening duties but have the other cook not arrive until 10 or 10:30.  

Likewise at dinner. Do you have customers between 2pm and 5pm? Could you open just for lunch service, then close for a couple of hours and reopen for dinner service? 

    I'll stop there for now. 
Joined Apr 13, 2016
Hi again

Sorry gave wrong impression - it was a creperie but has been closed for months and tbh was in no state to re open and use without major works.  The electrics was unsafe and we have had to have it completely rewired and the plumbing was not much cop either so we had to have lots of plumbing works done.  That was just the start of it - we have completely revamped the whole place and put in two extra kitchens.  New ceilings and walls have been put in - the toilets replaced and a baby changing room created.  The whole of the outside had to be redone as it was in a state.  It has been a long job - a serious amount of expense and we are two very exhausted peeps trying to get the last of the works done so that we can open soon.

It is a licensed bar hence the opening hours - we are open for drinks and coffees etc in the mornings and at weekends we will serve brunch - lunches start here from 12pm but they are intense between 12 and 12.30 we can expect anything from 40 to 80 customers and for me that is what worries me - coping and organising the running of the service between 12 and 3.  The afternoons will be quieter with drinks and afternoon teas and cakes and tbh in the week having surveyed the area for a long time - I think we will be quietish in the week but busy on a Friday and Saturday.  

So I was thinking of getting someone in to prep all the veg etc from 9 and then the sous chef from 10 - trouble is i am not sure what to expect from people ability wise.  Hence the hours are difficult.  I will do masses of cooking and prep before the lunch service and in the next fortnight I will be making quantities of each item on the menu to see how long it takes etc and study storage - how long it keeps warm etc before looking or not being usable and although everything will be fresh I want to freeze certain things and see how the recook etc.

We can't close in the afternoon due to being a bar and also wanting to attract families etc - mums who want to meet up etc.  

For the evening shift I was thinking that I would only need one sous chef to help but then for the washing up would I need someone for a few hours.  

One of the biggies is reading through the comments on the forum do I get the sous chef to be responsible say for the starters and puddings and I concentrate more on the mains - who would you suggest I get to check things off before they go out would that be me? or maybe my prep person or the head waitress? 

Thank you again so kind of you to help me :)
Joined Oct 31, 2012
In no particular order are some thoughts. 

Forget the titles like sous chef. You just need help. Definitely a dishwasher/prep person to wash dishes during service times. you can also have that person come in earlier to help with prep and stay after service to help put things away and mop the floor. You can tell the new employees they can call themselves whatever they want.

Depending on your menu, you can do 40 or more orders by yourself if you have done your food preparation in advance but i would suggest having some one else on hand to help things go smoothly and to keep you calm.

    With the limited idea I have of your menu, I would suggest one person handle the burgers and fish and chips and a second person handles the salads and cold plates during service. One of you keeps track of the tickets. You should be checking the plates before they go out to the dining room but be sure the waitress knows that if she sees something that doesn't look right, she should speak up and say something before the plate leaves the kitchen.  you are a new place, still trying to figure things out so everyone needs to work together to make sure the plates of food are good. 

As you may already know, much of the cutting of raw vegetables for salads, burgers, etc, can be done the night before. Dressings can be made ahead, pies made ahead, lettuce for the salads washed and ready for service, batter for fish and chips made ahead, cut potatoes for the chips and keep in cold water or blanch in oil first. 

The morning of the first day you should have almost everything ready so you have time for little things you forgot. 

I wouldn't worry about making batches and freezing yet. you don't know yet what will sell and what won't and you should be making as much as possible as fresh as possible until you figure things out. 

     Since you have the restaurant all ready, why not do a practice run? Set up some of the menu, get some friends in to be experimental customers and some one to play waitress and have a trial run. Be sure your friends know you are working out problems and want their help. that way you can see in advance some of the tight spots you will have in the kitchen, and how things might work better if you arrange things differently. 

     I think the most important thing to remember is to stay calm. You are going to screw this up and make mistakes. You will run out of food. You will burn someone's order and have to do it over again. You will forget to make something. You will lose someones' order. The waitress will be late. 

The cook won't know exactly what he is doing because you don't know exactly what you are doing. So keep remembering to take deep breaths, be nice to your husband and the rest of the staff.  Keep adjusting every day. 

    I wish I had the money for the plane ticket. It would be a fun trip to come see the place. 
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Joined Apr 13, 2016
Thanks again Chefwriter :) I am not really worried about using titles but I have just had to learn them as in France they use them.  I totally get what you are saying and it was on the lines of what I was expecting.  The freezing side I will drop for now - really it was so I could see how my waffles fared as I am doing a waffle burger.  Should I run out it would mean I would have spares.

Lol love the bit about being nice to the husband :) I am a calm person under pressure and definitely not one to get stroppy with my team - unless of course they are not pulling their weight. I love the team ethic - we are all equal in the  kitchen and we are there to make everything work, and although people will have clear job descriptions I would hope that they would sense a need to jump in and help if someone needs it.

I am hoping not to have too many disasters ! The French are not that forgiving and they have been waiting for me to open for a long time - so I do feel pressure to get it right.  

The other thing I am not sure about is quantities to have prepared as obviously I dont really know what is going to sell - so I was thinking along the llines of having 20 pies made in advance, 40 burgers, enough chicken curry and macaroni cheese made up for 15 portions of each - it is really a stab in the dark to know what is going to sell.  The obvious side is the plat du jours at lunchtimes I will need enough for 40 for those.  Restaurants here do run out when it gets to 1.30 ish so i would get away with that. I will post the menu on here when it is finalised I am currently cooking things and getting used to the new equipment whilst hubby - finishes off the restoration works.

You are right I can cope with 40 - I used to cope with 45 on my own and once had 20 turn up at the same time needing to eat and be out in 45 minutes as they were going to a concert - a bit of warning would have been nice lol but I coped.  I think tho because this is in the centre of town I need to have some back up - you have got me thinking on the hours maybe one come in at ten and the other at 11 as hubby will do a load of prep with me during queit times.

I wanted to do a trial run and I also wanted to plant some awkward customers to see how the waitors etc coped.  Bit mean maybe but I need to be sure they are smiley and receptive even with the awkward customers. 

Where are you from? It would be great if you ever did make it over i would love to meet you.  Your advice is really helpful. Do you write about restaurants or do you work in one? Have a great weekend.
Joined Oct 31, 2012
       I am in upstate NY. I like to write about food and cooking and have a couple of articles on this website. I've been cooking for many years in lots of different places. 

I'm looking forward to seeing your menu when you have it finished.

     Before I forget, I would like to suggest you get a software program like Quickbooks to help you keep your finances in order, if you are not already intending to do so. Get in the habit early on of putting the bills you pay into the program on a regular basis. The inventory as well.   There are other software programs but you should definitely use one or the other. The computer programs can manipulate the information in a variety of very helpful ways and let you know very quickly how you are doing. It is very worth it to spend some time figuring out the programs so you can really use them for all the things they are meant to do for a small business.  Quickbooks here in the US will also do your payroll and if you sign up for the support service, all taxes are figured for you with updated tax schedules on a regular basis so you are never behind. there are also alerts for tax issues throughout the year. That's a huge help for a small payroll. When you use the other features of the program as well like accounts receivable and things like that, you can really keep accurate track of what your businesses is doing. 

     Likewise with a Point of Sale system. Here in the US they can be kind of expensive but they really solve a lot of problems once you get them up and running. In the long run they are worth the time and effort (and expense). 
Joined Apr 13, 2016
Thank you very much for that advice I will definitely look at the software programme although I think there is something with the till that I am going to be using and the accountant has access direct to it but I will look in to it and check that it covers everything.

I am really sorry I have not replied but I have been unwell and at the same time trying desperately to get everything sorted to open in three weeks although it still does not feel like it is going to happen. 101 things to do such as detailing the menu for the till company so that they can programme it, designing and ordering the menus, prep lists - finalising suppliers and orders - the jobs are advertised now which is great and have had a few replies in tho no one stands out specifically. They were only advertised yesterday so I am being impatient!

The whole thing has taken months and months to get ready and has used all our finances - way way more than ever expected.  I was so excited about it all but the cost and time schedule together with obstacles has dragged me down and i need to get my 'arse' in gear and find my mojo !

Anyway I will post my menu on here very soon - just finalising it for the till guy who is coming next Friday - it does not help that we have no telephone or internet at home and have been without that since mid march due to a dispute  between suppliers so getting work done at nights is just not happening.

Sorry moan over!! 

Thanks again for your advice really really appreciate any advice.

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