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Sunday, January 28, 2007

A Lost Opportunity

Peak meal periods are very demanding times for restaurant management and staff. These periods are responsible for the success or failure of a venture. When handled well, profits will soar. Those who treat peak periods as something to endure may be missing enormous profit potential.

During my college years, I worked one summer as a line cook at a fast paced breakfast concept. The job entailed cooking eggs to order on four burners with four egg pans. Each Sunday, the place was mobbed from 10 AM until noon. When the peak hit, orders would get delayed due to the policy of cooking bacon at the last minute. The two owners would fly into the kitchen and begin their version of grill gymnastics trying to speed the process of cooking the bacon.

At the time, I was treated as a know-it-all college kid with zero "real world" smarts. After three weeks, I asked permission to attend the management meeting after an incredibly bad shift. Politely, I suggested the chef should pre-cook several layers of bacon in the oven. This created a huge stir. However, after much discussion regarding why the idea would not work it passed. As a compromise, it was agreed the bacon would be allowed to cook until 3/4 done.

In the weeks to come, I noticed my case of eggs would be nearly wiped out instead of half full as it was before the change. Quick math put the added sales at 144 eggs or 72 orders. Back in the late 1970's, we charged $3 for the popular 2 egg special. The owners rang up $216 in extra revenue and the chef and I were left alone.

Since the staff remained the same, the gross profit of $144 (food cost was 33%) went to the net income line.

Early one Sunday, I asked the chef how long he had worked at the restaurant. He told me he had been there in various positions for over 10 years. I quickly figured the pre-cook approach (taught in my classes to all students) would have put an extra $75,000 into the operation. Looking around at the run down equipment and inadequate refrigerators, I thought this was a huge lost opportunity.

Every operation has some hidden idea which someone on the line can see clearly. Be sure to include the whole team after a particularly chaotic meal period. Great ideas can come from these discussions.


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