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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Quantity Food Production Skills

Hi Mr Dunbar,
How are you. Sorry to barge in like this but as a new entrant I need your help. I was a kitchen manager in an a-la-carte restaurant with my staff cooking for small tables.

I recently got a new job as production manager for banquets at [a major sports venue]. The issue here is that there is a sudden transition from line cooking to volume/bulk cooking. My Director of Operations asked me today if I can to make a changeover from line cooking to volume cooking. I am supposed to instruct and lead the cooks in what they do.

No more a la carte but 4 buffets serving 125 to 150 people who come to see the [sports events]. What do you think the issue is? I suddenly can’t cook bulk as a demi-chef since I don't have the experience. Are there any books which cater to this situation? How do you transition from a la carte cooking to bulk cooking, when you have the theory but no knowledge of volume cooking? Any help will be really appreciated.


Buffet food production in a sports arena requires accurate forecasts. The teams may go on the road and leave you with a walk-in cooler loaded with leftovers. On the other hand, you don't want to stock out on game day.

Unlike an a la carte menu, a buffet deals with a set layout. You know what to produce but you don't know exactly what will be most popular. Once you get some data, the puzzle will be easier to solve.

I prefer a matrix for tracking buffet results. The rows are the buffet components and the columns track the activity. The first column is my forecast and I try to relate the PRODUCTION forecast to the service line. For example, if an item is served in a pan I would forecast the number of pans. The next column SERVED is the number of pans consumed by guests. I finish the simple table with a WASTE column.

You may be able to use some of the food in a future event but be careful. Recently, I was sickened by a meal I had at a football game. The service style was buffet and the food was not uniformly hot. Bringing the temperature of full pans down below the danger zone for bacteria, reheating days later and sending the pan back on a serving line is risky business.

Imagine you are serving 100 people. Take the buffet layout and take each menu item separately. Guess how many ounces each patron will consume. Don't use 12 ounces or 8 ounces as you would in an a la carte operation. Try 3 or 4 ounces for popular items. Use a lower figure for less popular items. This is your forecast base.

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