A Good Offense
Kitchen turnover can be devastating to your food quality, but in many cases it’s inevitable. People move on — and in this labor market, they are doing it in record numbers. But your prized, carefully crafted menu items do not have to suffer when you get an influx of new team members in the back of the house.
The best defense to combat food quality issues with new staffers is a good offense.
Spell It Out
I’ve been in a lot of pizzerias over the years, and I love when an operator hands me their recipe binder or recipe cards. They are meticulous. Everyone approaches them differently. Some use directions in pictures or graphics. Others write it out emphasizing the most important factors in making the dish.
I’ve also seen laminated chart posters above the various makeline stations with the most popular menu items outlined. Quick references like these can provide a visual reminder when that new staffer gets hit with a rush on their first few days on the line.
Recipe binders are still the tried-and-true, go-to tool keeping the food quality consistent. “Every single item has a detailed recipe,” says Mike Androw, owner of E&D Pizza Company in Avon, Connecticut. “It’s an ‘old school’ method. I know. I don’t use it because I’m stubborn. I use it because it works. Laminated pages in a reinforced binder are within reach at any time. Consistency is huge with me. This tool ensures that every item is prepared to the exact same recipe every time. Nobody ever has to guess as to what a recipe was. If you’ve forgotten, no problem, the binder is right there with the answer.”
Think through how the recipe binder is organized and updated. Pete Tolman, chef/owner at Iron Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania keeps a keen eye on his recipe binders. “We place our most used recipes at the front of our binders and our out of season recipes to the back,” he says. “We try to not let cooks remove the recipes from the binder and place them in the exact same place every day so the whole kitchen has access and knows where to find them. If you have cooks that aren’t organized or lose items often, buy the most neon-colored binders you can find and a different color for each station.”
When’s the last time you reviewed your recipe binder? Get it out now and take a hard look at it with objectivity. And answer this question: “If I have never made this menu item, could I successfully make it using this recipe and make consistently the same every time? You can even gain perspective from someone who doesn’t know your kitchen ops. See what questions they have if presented with the recipe as their only guide.
Set Them Up for Success
A new employee’s failures on the line are your failures. The sink or swim method does not work in a fast-paced pizzeria kitchen. Training is paramount. If you skimp on training because of time constraints or being short-staffed, your end-product will pay the price and you’ve placed retention at risk with that new cook. Set them up for success with proper training.
Androw takes a stern stance on training the back of the house. “Training is imperative when it comes to maintaining food quality,” he says. “We utilize a hierarchy system of training for new employees. Regardless of what station someone is training in, they will work for two weeks with only the senior most employee on said station. This ensures that the person who knows that station better than anyone is training the new employee to prepare those items to our exact specifications.”
Lean on Your Team
In addition to training, lean on your seasoned team to help guide the new staffer. Empower and encourage your crew to coach new teammates, taking the time to answer questions, provide demonstrations or shadow a preparation technique. Not everyone has a “team sports” mentality. Don’t expect that to be an automatic instinct. Incentivize your team to take on the role of team captain.
“I depend on management and senior cooks to help train and teach new team members on how to set up, execute and flow through the kitchen,” Tolman says. “We try to cross-train everyone that is able on all stations so that in a tight situation, anyone of us can swap or help the other through the weeds. If every cook knew every station and could hold their own each night, it makes you so much more flexible as a company.”
Make Their Job Easier
Look at your makeline stations from eyes of the new cook. Do you make the processes easier or do you stack the deck with constant hurdles that a new team member has to think through while performing their various tasks?
One of the biggest hurdles is not having enough product on the makeline or not having it accessible during the rush. This is added stress for a new cook that is avoidable with proper preparation. Having the right amount of prepped ingredients in the right place is key. “We have pull/set-up diagrams inside our coolers laminated so that they can be cleaned and don’t move,” Tolman says. “The line cook knows exactly how many of each item they need every night. Example: three quarts banana peppers, one quart marinated olives, three cases cheese, half case pepperoni. That gives us the ability to follow up on our cooks to ensure the kitchen is set for every shift.”
Make the time to re-evaluate your systems and processes to ensure that new kitchen crew members can make your products the same every time. It’s easy to get complacent with ops procedures until it bites you. Don’t let the labor crunch kill the quality of your end product.
DENISE GREER is Executive Editor at Pizza Today.