Request for tips on running operations for a Buffet restaurant

7
1
Joined May 11, 2021
Good morning, chefs. I am new here, please allow me to briefly introduce myself.

I have been in the F&B industry for a few years now. I started as a kitchen helper when I was 14 and at 26 yrs old, I was given a chance to become a Head Chef at 26 yrs old.
I took it because I was young and dumb but yeah, the money was good. I am now 38 yrs old and I've been a head chef from 4 other restaurants till Covid struck last year and I've been doing something of my own to survive. I sell grazing platters and cakes, it's decent but I prefer to get back to work.

I have always been doing smaller scale restaurants around 80-100 pax. This is safe for me and I feel right at home.

But I was given this opportunity to be in charge of a bigger buffet restaurant, according to the director - they are doing 700 covers on Friday nights. Now this may not be a big number to you chefs out there, but this makes me pretty nervous.

They want me to start on the 1st June. To tell you the truth, I need this job. My side hustle is driving me crazy and I'm not sure when will i get another job.

Right now, I managed to find out a few details regarding their food cost. They are running at 48%. They have 15 man strong in the kitchen. And during service, they have 5 live stations, which includes Indian cuisine, Grill, Seafood and Southeast Asian cuisine. Oh btw, this place is actually a steamboat/mookata/self grill restaurant, where the customers would collect meat/seafood from their respective stations and cook it themselves. But other than that, back to the live stations, the customers can request to have their food cooked for them by the chefs themselves.

If you need any more details, I will try to ask and get more information from them. But other than that, I would this would suffice and I wish I could get tips and tricks on how to be efficient at running the buffet operations be it in terms of numbers or the physical monitoring of goods and staff itself.

Thank you in advance and your time, chefs! Looking forward to your suggestions and advice.
 
2,202
668
Joined Oct 31, 2012
Before your post descends in to obscurity I'll take a crack at an answer.
First, take the job. You don't learn anything by staying in your comfort zone. The size isn't really that important because it's always all about the numbers; food, labor, overhead.
I'll guess from your post you will be the executive chef. Your post isn't clear about that. Much of my advice will be dependent on the owners/directors expectations of your job and their cooperation.
Begin by gathering as much information as possible about the details of the numbers in every area.
How many covers does each station do? How many sales are needed per station for that station to be profitable? How much of the food prepared for that station gets thrown away every day? What percentage of total sales does a concept have to achieve in order to be relevant? How low do the numbers have to be before the owners' realize it's a waste of money?
How many pounds of steak, chicken, vegetables, etc get prepared each day and how much gets sold, how much gets wasted? Doing large amounts in advance may be easier but are there items that can be more quickly prepared as needed to avoid waste?
Does each station contribute to the profit margin or is it a drag on the bottom line?
Where is money being lost? Are they offering any products that no one or too few people eat?
Get detailed sales reports from the Point of Sale system to help with understanding what exactly is being sold. Don't rely on anyone's opinion for this. Individuals perceptions of sales don't reflect reality.
Get a handle on total inventory. How much is coming in, going out through service or going out through the back door?
Continue detailed fact finding with employee hours, production systems, productivity, etc.
Paper products are often an overlooked large expense. Do some price comparisons.
Time and Motion studies.
Who does what and when and where? How long does it take? Could the time be shortened by switching the order of preparation? Could a step be combined or eliminated? Are all 15 kitchen employees arranged so they are all getting the necessary work done at the best times? Anyone need to go?
Example 1, when peeling pounds of onions, you don't peel one, then dice it, then peel another, then dice it. You peel all of them, then dice all of them.
Example 2. I don't think it is a good use of employee time to be wrapping silverware in the napkin. Lots of places do it but I think it's a poor use of the waitstaffs' time.
Are various areas well utilized for efficiency? Do employees have to take extra steps for restocking, cleaning, etc that could be eliminated? Could any areas be better utilized in a different way or rearranged for greater efficiency? Just because it's that way now doesn't mean it has to stay that way.
Employee perception of your efforts will be important as they may feel threatened if they don't get what you're doing so find your own way of letting them know it isn't about their job performance, it's about how they have to perform their job. You're simply trying to make things easier. Be sure to ask and write down their frustrations, concerns and ideas. They may or may not all be relevant but you'll get better insight much quicker.
Remember that it will take some time for everyone to learn and adapt, yourself included.
Best of luck.
 
2,497
775
Joined Feb 8, 2009
Welcome to Ct. There is a lot going on in this Buffet. I'm not sure why you feel you're qualified to manage this style of Restaurant. You'll need to be involved in the ordering and menu planning. What do you know about the Cuisines in the live stations. What if someone quit the first week in the Indian or Southeast Asian cuisine station. Is this something you could walk into and train or run the station.
Feeding Seven Hundred people is a good amount. You will need to understand how to Manage volume and not over or under prep. This just takes time working with this kind of volume. I would feel much better if you were given the opportunity to work this Buffet and get trained in every stating before taking it over.
I feel you are a bit our of your comfort zone.........The Best.......ChefBillyB
 
7
1
Joined May 11, 2021
Before your post descends in to obscurity I'll take a crack at an answer.
First, take the job. You don't learn anything by staying in your comfort zone. The size isn't really that important because it's always all about the numbers; food, labor, overhead.
I'll guess from your post you will be the executive chef. Your post isn't clear about that. Much of my advice will be dependent on the owners/directors expectations of your job and their cooperation.
Begin by gathering as much information as possible about the details of the numbers in every area.
How many covers does each station do? How many sales are needed per station for that station to be profitable? How much of the food prepared for that station gets thrown away every day? What percentage of total sales does a concept have to achieve in order to be relevant? How low do the numbers have to be before the owners' realize it's a waste of money?
How many pounds of steak, chicken, vegetables, etc get prepared each day and how much gets sold, how much gets wasted? Doing large amounts in advance may be easier but are there items that can be more quickly prepared as needed to avoid waste?
Does each station contribute to the profit margin or is it a drag on the bottom line?
Where is money being lost? Are they offering any products that no one or too few people eat?
Get detailed sales reports from the Point of Sale system to help with understanding what exactly is being sold. Don't rely on anyone's opinion for this. Individuals perceptions of sales don't reflect reality.
Get a handle on total inventory. How much is coming in, going out through service or going out through the back door?
Continue detailed fact finding with employee hours, production systems, productivity, etc.
Paper products are often an overlooked large expense. Do some price comparisons.
Time and Motion studies.
Who does what and when and where? How long does it take? Could the time be shortened by switching the order of preparation? Could a step be combined or eliminated? Are all 15 kitchen employees arranged so they are all getting the necessary work done at the best times? Anyone need to go?
Example 1, when peeling pounds of onions, you don't peel one, then dice it, then peel another, then dice it. You peel all of them, then dice all of them.
Example 2. I don't think it is a good use of employee time to be wrapping silverware in the napkin. Lots of places do it but I think it's a poor use of the waitstaffs' time.
Are various areas well utilized for efficiency? Do employees have to take extra steps for restocking, cleaning, etc that could be eliminated? Could any areas be better utilized in a different way or rearranged for greater efficiency? Just because it's that way now doesn't mean it has to stay that way.
Employee perception of your efforts will be important as they may feel threatened if they don't get what you're doing so find your own way of letting them know it isn't about their job performance, it's about how they have to perform their job. You're simply trying to make things easier. Be sure to ask and write down their frustrations, concerns and ideas. They may or may not all be relevant but you'll get better insight much quicker.
Remember that it will take some time for everyone to learn and adapt, yourself included.
Best of luck.
Thank you for your reply! I, too, thought nobody is going to reply to this post. Haha!

I agree that I'm in my comfort zone for a very long time and to be honest, I am up for new challenges but I dont want to spear head blindly.

I realized that moving forward, on the first week itself, I need to retrieve all the numbers and perhaps, micro manage for the first 3-6 month until I have confidence in my cdc or sous.

I will read through what you posted again to further understand what I may be missing out on my part to get ready for the job. Thank you so much!
 
7
1
Joined May 11, 2021
Welcome to Ct. There is a lot going on in this Buffet. I'm not sure why you feel you're qualified to manage this style of Restaurant. You'll need to be involved in the ordering and menu planning. What do you know about the Cuisines in the live stations. What if someone quit the first week in the Indian or Southeast Asian cuisine station. Is this something you could walk into and train or run the station.
Feeding Seven Hundred people is a good amount. You will need to understand how to Manage volume and not over or under prep. This just takes time working with this kind of volume. I would feel much better if you were given the opportunity to work this Buffet and get trained in every stating before taking it over.
I feel you are a bit our of your comfort zone.........The Best.......ChefBillyB
I completely agree with you. I may share the same sentiments every now and then.

But the truth is there is more money to be made in catering, bulk cooking and all that jazz.

I am not unfamiliar with the cuisines and having grew up with Southeast Asian cuisine(I'm Asian btw) - plus the few restaurants I've worked in are pretty similar with the cuisines. So cuisine isn't what I am really worried about. They specifically told me that my job is get the numbers right.

At the end of the day, if the food is no good, I can teach and train. If the numbers are no good, then I am in deep doo doo.

What I need to know is what's the average food cost for a buffet?
 
2,202
668
Joined Oct 31, 2012
NO micromanaging. Definitely re-read the post.
I'll try and explain the time/motion studies better. Pioneered by Frederick Winslow Taylor. It is not about the person who is doing the job.
The process is to understand how any job can be done most efficiently.
Years ago I read a book about him and his work. One example they cited was when he was hired by a prison. The warden had the prisoners digging a trench for something. They were not getting the job done fast enough and the warden wanted to know if they were slacking off. He hired Taylor to figure it out.
Through observation and measurement of time and weights, he learned that the workers were using shovels that held about 44 pounds of material and this made them exhausted quickly. He then figured out that a shovel should hold about 21 pounds. The lesser amount meant they could keep working longer and in the long run they were much more productive. He had a long, interesting career but you can research that if you'd like.
I mentioned the onion dicing because that's an area where chefs' have already figured it out. But in any given situation there are opportunities for improving efficiency if someone takes the time to observe them.
In the place you will work there may not be many because someone has already organized things well. That would be great. Your observation may be as simple as recognizing the busboys need a cart to clear dishes so they don't have to repeatedly walk across the room every time.
Just make sure that any changes you make are demonstrably better, not just better because you thought of it. Changing something without saving money or time is just power tripping and micromanaging.
If you explain this process to the staff before you begin a particular problem, they will most likely be on board with it and happy at the results. Everyone likes to save time when working.
BTW,, the average food cost for a buffet is meaningless. What you need to know is what Your food cost is for Your buffet. The only way to do that is by the tedious, boring job of food costing, inventory, sales and record keeping.
 
7
1
Joined May 11, 2021
NO micromanaging. Definitely re-read the post.
I'll try and explain the time/motion studies better. Pioneered by Frederick Winslow Taylor. It is not about the person who is doing the job.
The process is to understand how any job can be done most efficiently.
Years ago I read a book about him and his work. One example they cited was when he was hired by a prison. The warden had the prisoners digging a trench for something. They were not getting the job done fast enough and the warden wanted to know if they were slacking off. He hired Taylor to figure it out.
Through observation and measurement of time and weights, he learned that the workers were using shovels that held about 44 pounds of material and this made them exhausted quickly. He then figured out that a shovel should hold about 21 pounds. The lesser amount meant they could keep working longer and in the long run they were much more productive. He had a long, interesting career but you can research that if you'd like.
I mentioned the onion dicing because that's an area where chefs' have already figured it out. But in any given situation there are opportunities for improving efficiency if someone takes the time to observe them.
In the place you will work there may not be many because someone has already organized things well. That would be great. Your observation may be as simple as recognizing the busboys need a cart to clear dishes so they don't have to repeatedly walk across the room every time.
Just make sure that any changes you make are demonstrably better, not just better because you thought of it. Changing something without saving money or time is just power tripping and micromanaging.
If you explain this process to the staff before you begin a particular problem, they will most likely be on board with it and happy at the results. Everyone likes to save time when working.
BTW,, the average food cost for a buffet is meaningless. What you need to know is what Your food cost is for Your buffet. The only way to do that is by the tedious, boring job of food costing, inventory, sales and record keeping.

NO micromanaging. Definitely re-read the post.
I'll try and explain the time/motion studies better. Pioneered by Frederick Winslow Taylor. It is not about the person who is doing the job.
The process is to understand how any job can be done most efficiently.
Years ago I read a book about him and his work. One example they cited was when he was hired by a prison. The warden had the prisoners digging a trench for something. They were not getting the job done fast enough and the warden wanted to know if they were slacking off. He hired Taylor to figure it out.
Through observation and measurement of time and weights, he learned that the workers were using shovels that held about 44 pounds of material and this made them exhausted quickly. He then figured out that a shovel should hold about 21 pounds. The lesser amount meant they could keep working longer and in the long run they were much more productive. He had a long, interesting career but you can research that if you'd like.
I mentioned the onion dicing because that's an area where chefs' have already figured it out. But in any given situation there are opportunities for improving efficiency if someone takes the time to observe them.
In the place you will work there may not be many because someone has already organized things well. That would be great. Your observation may be as simple as recognizing the busboys need a cart to clear dishes so they don't have to repeatedly walk across the room every time.
Just make sure that any changes you make are demonstrably better, not just better because you thought of it. Changing something without saving money or time is just power tripping and micromanaging.
If you explain this process to the staff before you begin a particular problem, they will most likely be on board with it and happy at the results. Everyone likes to save time when working.
BTW,, the average food cost for a buffet is meaningless. What you need to know is what Your food cost is for Your buffet. The only way to do that is by the tedious, boring job of food costing, inventory, sales and record keeping.
That is a good way of looking at things and I truly appreciate the insights. The over eagerness to be seen as a right candidate for the job, I fail to see the bigger picture. I have a better understanding of what needs to be done. Thank you, chefwriter chefwriter . 🙏
 
3,253
684
Joined May 5, 2010
I've waited for others to post first.
I was Sous for a dinner theater complex. On Thursdays I plated 700-800 lunches for matinee attendees. Holiday buffets were my specialty. Mother's Day we'd push 3,000 through my buffets.
There were stations, and long tables with 25 chaffing dishes. And we made two complete buffets. My bussers walked around with walkie-talkies, and let the kitchen know when a pan needed to be replaced.
All the paper work was done by hand as Microsoft hadn't invented Excel yet.
As everyone has already explained, it is not the physical work so much as the costs of everything you do. I kept records of waste, over prepping, and loss.
If you're going to oversee a production such as the one you describe, I suggest you delve into all the numbers as your first priority.
 
7
1
Joined May 11, 2021
I've waited for others to post first.
I was Sous for a dinner theater complex. On Thursdays I plated 700-800 lunches for matinee attendees. Holiday buffets were my specialty. Mother's Day we'd push 3,000 through my buffets.
There were stations, and long tables with 25 chaffing dishes. And we made two complete buffets. My bussers walked around with walkie-talkies, and let the kitchen know when a pan needed to be replaced.
All the paper work was done by hand as Microsoft hadn't invented Excel yet.
As everyone has already explained, it is not the physical work so much as the costs of everything you do. I kept records of waste, over prepping, and loss.
If you're going to oversee a production such as the one you describe, I suggest you delve into all the numbers as your first priority.
Thank you, chefross chefross !

It has became clear to me that like most kitchens I take over, the numbers will give me a decent picture to start with. I just needed to hear that from someone else to give me a little assurance.

It's festive period here and before I dive in to my new place, I would to thank everyone for giving me suggestions and advices! Much appreciated and love from Singapore!
 
2,497
775
Joined Feb 8, 2009
The problem I see in controlling food cost is not being able to reuse anything that is on the buffet. Trying to control what goes out on the buffet when things slow down would help control the loss. It sounds like it's a costly buffet with many of the items adding to the 48% food cost. With a 48% food cost you would need volume to get a good bottom line. I think when you get into the operation you'll see where the problem lies. What is the cost of the buffet ????????
 
3,253
684
Joined May 5, 2010
The problem I see in controlling food cost is not being able to reuse anything that is on the buffet. Trying to control what goes out on the buffet when things slow down would help control the loss.
This should be true but it is also a contentious subject.
In the decades that I've worked in buffets, I see a lot of food that returns to the kitchen after the buffet is over, reused again. It's not very wise and not professional at all. The sneeze guards, the spills, the oxidation, are all parts of buffets. It is what it is.
The costs of the items you make for the buffet must include the fact they are a loss. Par production plus reservations, plus walk-ins helps keep from over producing.
 
7
1
Joined May 11, 2021
The problem I see in controlling food cost is not being able to reuse anything that is on the buffet. Trying to control what goes out on the buffet when things slow down would help control the loss. It sounds like it's a costly buffet with many of the items adding to the 48% food cost. With a 48% food cost you would need volume to get a good bottom line. I think when you get into the operation you'll see where the problem lies. What is the cost of the buffet ????????
It's at SGD$65 which is USD$48.

I'm not sure how we are going to calculate here since we are from different parts of the world. We don't have minimum wage here and our products since it's flown from different parts of the world, it cost more than what it should be. For example, I am driving a toyota camry and it's SGD$160k, and I can only have it for 10 years.

After all that's been discussed here, I fear things are going for the worst here, We are about to face another partial lockdown with no dining in. I haven't got word from my future employers, but things are not looking too good.

Stay safe, guys.
 
59
17
Joined Oct 2, 2016
I'll try and explain the time/motion studies better. Pioneered by Frederick Winslow Taylor. It is not about the person who is doing the job.
The process is to understand how any job can be done most efficiently.
This is Taylor, (beginning of past century)
What about Lean ? Engaging co-workers, improving quality, ...
An easy way to understand with this inspiring guy:
 
2,497
775
Joined Feb 8, 2009
It's at SGD$65 which is USD$48.

I'm not sure how we are going to calculate here since we are from different parts of the world. We don't have minimum wage here and our products since it's flown from different parts of the world, it cost more than what it should be. For example, I am driving a toyota camry and it's SGD$160k, and I can only have it for 10 years.

After all that's been discussed here, I fear things are going for the worst here, We are about to face another partial lockdown with no dining in. I haven't got word from my future employers, but things are not looking too good.

Stay safe, guys.
Thanks for the info. I had a feeling this was a higher end buffet. That being said it could be a matter of Logistics in getting the product to you cheaper. Check on different methods of shipping or even buying in larger quantities. Talk with your purveyors and explain that you may need help in pricing of product and maybe even shipping cost help. You never know until you ask. When I have a problem I have gotten my purveyors involved to help solve the problem........Good luck! I hope for your sake the Covid Virus slows down and doesn't affect your job opportunity....ChefBillyB
 

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