Overwhelmed With Your BOH

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QUESTION From: Rachel in OR

“Weird thing to complain about! But I welcome advice.
Any other restaurants out there barely keeping up?
We live in a small town, very few full service, family restaurants. Our business operates out of a 100 year old bank building. Very cool space, but not really made for a restaurant. We’ve converted it as best we can, and for the most part it works, tho definitely lacking in storage and prep space. We seat about 80. Have a busy catering schedule too that operates out of our same kitchen. Over the last 15 years our business has boomed. Still fighting the never ending labor cost battles as business grows of course, but we’re doing okay. Pays the bills and provides 30 employees with a good living wage. Our problem is that as we move into summer, we get so busy we can barely keep food prepped. We’re open 5 days a week, mostly all full time employees in the kitchen. I really try to keep two days off for everyone, because man do we need the rest, and adding more hours hurts us financially. So I’d really like to avoid adding a “prep day” tho sometimes it’s necessary. We have an am crew arriving at 9am for 11:30am open, and shift change at 3pm until close around 8 or 9pm. But it still seems to be barely enough time to keep stations stocked. There’s barely any break between lunch and dinner some days.

We’ve spent a lot of time reviewing our menu. Yes, we serve almost all scratch made items, which certainly does add prep time. But frozen foods aren’t an option. We’ve been in business for a decade and a half. People come from long distances for our food. I’d hate to sacrifice quality. I think we’ve cut the menu down as much as we can without losing customers.

Add to all this just basic facility maintenance, some nights my poor cooks have to stay until 11pm or later to get their daily cleaning and side work done. I monitor them, if I’m not in there helping (I’m coming off 2 back to back 12 hr shifts.) My crew is definitely not slacking. They really are giving 100%. But it still always feels like we can’t catch up. I hate knowing they are having to work so hard. I fear not being able to keep my good guys for these reasons. Thankfully we’ve been able to keep them motivated and feeling appreciated. Lots of food rewards, laser tag and camping trips, etc! I’m constantly trying to think of ways to show them my gratitude. But it’s hard.

What else can we do? How can we make this job easier for them without hurting the business financially? How can we keep enough food on hand for our guests without breaking the bank on labor costs. 

Sometimes it feels like trying to run up an avalanche!!”


Short Answer:
Not weird at all. In fact, sounds a lot like you are describing the day in - day out operations of the restaurant industry and the challenges most of us face (or have faced) every day.

Providing reliable actionable advice re: what you could do specifically, in order to improve / streamline, would require a firsthand look at your operation but I’d start by reminding you that you can’t do it all by yourself...and it sounds like you are (at least from a management standpoint).

Additionally, tweaking your schedule or hiring additional staff to keep up doesn’t have to mean “hurting the business financially” especially if you need a few strategically-placed additional hours.

Sounds like you are a prime candidate for bringing in either a new mgr or a new consultant with corporate experience.

Long Answer:
Whenever I dig into a client’s business, the first stop is the books since, in my experience, most solutions present themselves in the financials.

As far as what you’ve told us, it sounds like you’re having some Catch22 difficulty taking a step back and looking at your restaurant objectively...and will until you bring in someone to help YOU first.

Do you have partners?

Remember....YOU decide / create the break between lunch and dinner both with service times and/or with a limited menu (or no menu) during changeovers. The line should be treated like the floor and the flow should be dictated by management - not the guests.

If I was having problems like: “barely keep food prepped”...the first thing I’d explore is hiring an additional prep, a floater and/or create more storage. Is neither one an option for you? And if not, why?

Have you tried moving your 9-3 crew to 8-3... and dedicate those extra hours to Prep? The costs wouldn't be so bad and it might provide some much needed relief for everyone (on every shift). 

If more labor is killing profitability, you might want to re-examine your costs, re-examine menu pricing and explore possible avenues of loss / theft...especially if this is a partnership with one (or more) partner(s) not as guest/staff facing as you.

Curious to know the diversity / efficiency and PMIX of your menu...or at least know if an outside independent third party would agree with you that you’ve cut the menu down as much as you can without losing guests.

It really does sound like you’d benefit, a great deal, from bringing in some outside help and/or hiring additional management to help carry the load AND lighten it - not because they know something you don’t or can do things you can’t...but because they know what you know & can do what you can do without the emotions that accompany having a 15yr attachment to your baby.

If you’re not open to the idea of bringing in a new manager or outside consultant, I would look internally, at your star players, and see who might be willing to step up to the next level. That’s something I or any other experienced operator/consultant would probably recommend for you anyway, regardless of what was discovered during an initial assessment.

Good Luck Rachel! And don’t hesitate to let me know if I can help personally.


Josh Sapienza