Chefs... how do you estimate prep time?

Joined Dec 2, 2007
Hello... I've always struggled with this... an outside caterer.. I've been asked to plan prep time for food before an event... always multitasking.. eg. Beef in the oven while making a salad, what with answering the phone, washing up, accepting deliveries - lots always going on... how do estimate how long to do one thing... especially if it's new to you? Many thanks [emoji]128522[/emoji]
Joined Oct 31, 2012
Welcome to Cheftalk.

      I'll try and come back and answer your question when I have more time but meanwhile I expect someone else will jump in. There are a lot of experienced people here. 

Just allow a day or two for replies to any queries. Time zones and work schedules can prevent immediate responses. 
Joined Mar 25, 2017
Well, it all depends.  Are you prepping for 50 or 400?  There are so many variables its difficult to give you a set answer.  But you indicated you are new to this so my first suggestions would be to give yourself as much time as possible and prep as much as you can a day in advance.  Most of my items are cooked in 4" disposable pans or 4" hotel pans and I use a convection oven usually at 325.  I usually plan on 1 1/2 hours in the oven before we load our delivery van or plan on putting the food out.  Dense foods often need stirred once during this cycle and ALWAYS temp your food.  The larger your event the more juggling you need to do so always plan on more time until you get your systems down.  Hope that helped.
Joined Oct 31, 2012
How to plan prep time? By timing it. Get a timer. Begin chopping onions. See how long it took you. 

Make a salad dressing. Time yourself. Write down how long it took you. 

Start timing yourself getting the beef ready for the oven. Stop timing when it goes in the oven. Start timing when you take it out of the oven and begin carving/slicing. 

Do this with a few things and you will begin to develop a sense of how long you take to do things. You may be faster or slower than another employee but you will have a general sense of what things take. So making a dressing might take ten minutes. Maybe eight or fifteen for someone else but you find it takes you ten minutes. So that's the prep time. 

Answering the phone is not part of prep. Accepting deliveries is not part of prep. 

Those are part of the general kitchen activities. 

Knowing prep time for various activities can be helpful for understanding labor costs. No one should be spending three hours to peel twenty pounds of onions, unless they are fresh pearl onions with those annoyingly tight paper skins.  Having an understanding of actual prep times for various recipes makes understanding overall costs much easier. 

Naturally you will spend most of your time multi tasking. But it is not difficult to isolate tasks and measure them. 

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