The Speed of Time and the Time for Speed

Ever noticed how when you’re very busy, time just rushes by? A whole afternoon can slip away in what feels like an hour. In the middle of the rush, that’s what it’s like in the kitchen. Tending to the hundreds of details necessary to get the plates out can consume time at an alarming rate. This is a problem for obvious reasons – if 15 minutes of real time seems like 5 minutes in the kitchen, then cook times are running on two different clocks, one real and one mental, and conflicts are inevitable.

A similar thing happens on the floor toward the end of the rush (especially lunch), when the guest is ready to pay the check. The server has twenty things going on, so the customer’s interminable five minute wait for the check seems like 90 seconds to the server.

This subjective squishiness of time is why we invented clocks, of course. They’re all over the place in our lives, but hardly ever put to good use by restaurant operators.

Let’s take cook times. Ask any chef what the standard for entree cook times in his kitchen is, and he’ll give you an answer – let’s say 15 minutes. Ask him what percentage of the time he hits that target, and you’ll get another answer, but I’m willing to bet that the reality is the food is much slower than he thinks. That’s because usually, cook times aren’t measured. It’s easy to do, though: any operation using an order printer in the kitchen will have a time printed on each requisition slip. Buy a $4 digital clock and mount it in the pickup window. At the beginning of each shift, synchronize it with the printer’s clock, and as each order ticket comes up, compare the time on the ticket with the actual time, and voila! Now you are measuring cooktimes. You can jot the actual cooktime on each slip and review them at the end of the shift, but the simplest method is to buy two spindles: one is for long (over the goal) times, and one is for times within the goal. With this system, anyone – cook, manager, or server – can glance at the two spindles and see how the kitchen is doing. (You can use exactly the same system in your service bar, by the way.)

In practice, as soon as you start measuring cooktimes, the kitchen will speed up. The more emphasis you put on it, the faster they’ll get. And eventually, the chef or kitchen manager will start designing menu items that can be made within the cooktime goal – and re-engineering or rejecting ones that can’t.

On the floor, the solution to servers’ time conflicting with guests’ time is to create a rigorous Service Sequence, which makes certain that the servers all follow the same time pattern during each party’s visit. For example, many restaurants now teach the servers to end the lunch meal thus: clear the plates, ask if the table would like coffee or dessert, and if the answer is no, drop the check. Other time-critical events are greeting/seating times, checkback times, and money/card on the table to change/voucher returned.

Paying attention to timings in the kitchen will lead to faster turns and more volume; on the floor it will make for happier guests and more repeat visits. Time really is money!

Would you like to know more about synchronizing time in your restaurant? Contact us today for a free consultation.

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