I have posted about delays in getting the food out at the Beer Garden a few times now. It really has been our major problem since we started and we really hit a bit of a wall this past fortnight. In my previous posts about this problem I have outlined actions taken to improve the situation and yet it continues to be a problem.
You could be forgiven for thinking that previous solutions have failed. While that would appear to be the case the reality is that the restaurant side of the Beer Garden has grown phenomenally in the past few months and the solutions applied have all worked but been too little, too late.
The real problem has been a lack of management in the kitchen. Although I would consider myself an experienced manager, the kitchen side of the business scares me. I am the world’s worst cook and what I know about organizing a kitchen would take about two seconds to tell. Given my lack of expertise I made a point of hiring a very experienced Executive Chef and gave her full power to run things as she saw fit.
Well, Pin is a great Chef and generally the quality of the food we have been putting out has been excellent. Sadly though, it has dawned on me that she is a crap manager. In August we were doing about 100 meals a day. In September we hit 150 and things started to slow down again. In October, Mikey, an experienced western Chef spent a week with the staff working on their western food skills. At his suggestion we added a new super sized grill, extra burners and a salamander. In October we hit 200 meals a day.
On Loy Kratong night in November the kitchen did 450 meals. Not surprisingly the delays that night were looooong. It concerned me but it was a special night and a one off or so I thought. Last Monday we hit 400 meals again and once more delays in getting the food out at peak times hit one hour or more. This was exacerbated as one of our evening cooks had to attend to a dieing grandmother, so we were one cook down that night.
I’ve been keeping out of the kitchen as I felt I was just getting in the way. A visit to see the problem close up on Monday revealed utter chaos. Food orders were streaming off the printer and falling on the floor. One of the service staff had been seconded into preparing vegetables to free up the cooks time for cooking and the two cooks on duty were running around like blue arsed flies. Not a good look.
That night after the rush had died down I had a meeting with Pin to discuss what we were going to do about the problem. The discussion was somewhat fruitless. One of the things that bug me about Thai staff is that they generally don’t see the big problem as they concentrate on the small details. Pin’s suggestions were all detail issues which would help a little but would not solve the overall problem. I decided then and there that I would have to get involved more directly or things would only get worse.
Monday night I sat down and wrote out all possible solutions. These included increasing the price to dampen demand, building a second kitchen, hiring more staff, finding a good kitchen manager or reducing the number of items on the Menu.
It seemed to me that price rises or limiting the menu were counter-productive. Any business that tries to limit demand must be doing something wrong. That left management, staff and a second kitchen as possibilities. A second kitchen is do-able as we do have the space. However other restaurateurs around town have told me they envy our kitchen for its size and equipment. It seems unlikely that more equipment was going to fix things.
That left management and staff. On the evening shift when we have the longest delays we have three cooks and two kitchen hands working. Of course they have holidays and sick grandmothers and days off so more often than not one or more of them is away. I decided to add one more kitchen hand to work from midday to 8 pm with the sole purpose of doing prep work. Then two more cooks to cover 3 pm to 11 pm which are our busiest food times. This would increase the staff at busy times by almost double.
I had another meeting with Pin early Tuesday and pointed out that she is a great Chef and a nice lady but as a Manager she was doing poorly and so I’d decided to get more involved. Hopefully with my management experience and her cooking experience we could get it sorted. I was a bit worried about her reaction but I am pleased to say she agreed with me and was well aware of her own limitations. I think I took a big load off her shoulders and she has been really happy this week.
My first “management” decision was to set goals for the kitchen. I wanted an average order time of ten minutes and no more than twenty minutes when very busy. I nominated Pope, our trainee bar manager as special kitchen liaison and gave him the responsibility to prioritize and organize food orders coming off the printer and getting the service staff to inform customers if the delay was going to be more than 20 minutes. Pin was given the job of finding the new staff asap.
That was Tuesday and since then we have continued to do over 400 meals a day. We have one extra cook already at work and another starting on 1 December. Still looking for the prep person but finding him/her is a priority. Delays at the busiest times are down to 40 minutes. That is still unacceptable but getting better daily. The kitchen now seems to flow rather than lurch from crisis to crisis.
My apologies to any customers who have experienced unacceptable delays. We are now getting on top of the problem and I hope to meet our time goals by 1 December. For now things are definitely better than they were and set to improve further over the next ten days or so.
I think I know how to manage a bar and the bar at The Beer Garden runs very smoothly. We are seeing a similar growth in the bar business but that bar staff have coped admirably. The kitchen has been a huge learning curve for me but really it is just another management problem and I’m not so scared of it now. As I pointed out to the staff this week having problems dealing with quite meteoric growth is a lot more fun than dealing with the opposite problem.
I hope to see you soon at the PBG.