Make Your Kitchen Prep System Work for You

We spoke to the people with the tactics you need to make kitchen prep a breeze.

When your workspace is clean and your inventory well-stocked, service can feel like a dream — customers leave happy, and staff go home satisfied with a job well done. This vision is made possible by kitchen prep, one of the most important tasks in your restaurant. Without it, a busy day can become a disaster — but unfortunately, these tasks are often neglected.

By implementing a strong kitchen prep system, you can reinforce structure, dictate equipment needs, and iron out wrinkles in the prep schedule — in other words, you can live the service dream. But a notepad crusted with Caesar dressing and splattered butter is not an effective blueprint for back-of-house operations. Read on to learn how you can develop the formal, foolproof prep system your kitchen deserves.

Create Checklists for Foolproof Kitchen Management

Opening Tasks Checklist

Make sure your restaurant starts on the right foot each day with a solid opening checklist. This checklist will get your opener ready to unlock the door, and even ensure that many daily obligations are completed before your “OPEN” sign lights up. Don’t forget to include little details on this list, even if they seem like no-brainers — things like turning on ovens, ice machines, and fryers. 

Your opening checklist should be straightforward enough for a brand-new employee to interpret the required tasks. Though you probably won’t have someone in the kitchen alone on their first day, you’re safer spelling out your processes ahead of time, in case questions arise at 5 a.m. 

Closing Station Checklist

Closing tasks should be done every night, after your restaurant has closed. This is where you list the proper procedures for breakdown, cleaning, and food storage. Create a checklist, similar to the opening duties, that highlights everything that needs to be done before your kitchen staff leaves for the evening.

Some closing checklist items might include sweeping and mopping kitchen floors, scrubbing all surfaces to prevent bacteria, turning off and cleaning all machinery, and/or properly storing all food. Your restaurant should be in tip-top shape upon closing each night so that your opening staff can come in and start their day without having to scrub leftover slop from the night before.

Periodic Tasks Checklist

Some kitchen prep tasks only need to be done a few times a week. For example, you can schedule prep of items made in larger batches or with longer shelf lives — like chicken stock or salad dressing — throughout the week. If cleaning the walk-in is too large of a job to be done daily, draft a rotating schedule of which shelves should be cleaned on which days.

Portioning and inventory management can also be done throughout the week. When implementing a system for portioning, consider using recipe cards. This will save your restaurant money in the long run, because inaccurate eyeball measuring can cost the business a lot over time.

Inventory management should also be meticulously tracked, and produce purchased only as needed — just because your supplier is offering a discount on bulk-ordered heads of Romaine does not mean you should fill your walk-in with lettuce. Excess perishable inventory takes up space, creates back-of-house disorganization, and often becomes wasted inventory (not to mention dollars). If you don’t have inventory management software included in your POS system, you can create a par sheet to compare actual inventory with required inventory to make sure you’re only getting what you’ll use. These types of inventory management tasks can be easily codified as daily or weekly duties as part of a robust prep system. 

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Implement an Inventory Purchasing Schedule

In a well-organized kitchen prep system, today’s delivery should not be used to feed this morning’s guests. If Thursday’s menu includes bananas Foster French toast, planning to use the bananas coming in Thursday’s produce delivery is playing prep roulette. While freshness is key, it’s important to give your team a safety net for prep time in order to keep your kitchen running smoothly. Give your staff enough of a grace period to make sure all the items they need are in stock, but aren’t nearing their expiration date. 

While perishables are a fine line to walk, dry goods are much easier to manage. Inventory should not be overflowing, but things like corn, rice, and brownie mix can sit comfortably in dry storage for a while.

When everyone in your restaurant is on the same page regarding an inventory costing method, it’s simple to keep your inventory in order. For the foodservice industry, FIFO — first in, first out — is the most common and cost-effective approach to inventory, as it uses up goods expiring sooner and reserves goods with a later expiration date. Codifying a regular process for things like inventory purchasing allows your staff to manage their expectations, and keeps last-minute emergencies to a minimum. 

Use Kitchen Tech to Your Advantage

Overproducing can be as perilous as under-producing. Luckily, there’s ample kitchen technology available to help you with everything from inventory ordering to automated ticket tracking.

How do you decide how many crab cakes to portion for any given Tuesday afternoon? Do you roll the dice and hope you prep the right amount, or do you use historical purchase data to create a more accurate estimation? Using restaurant technology tools tied to your point of sale system can give you the historical data to accurately project needs and schedule purchases and prep accordingly. 

Kitchen technology can also help with menu engineering, decreasing ticket times, and inventory management, taking some weight off your back-of-house staff’s shoulders and alleviating some of the weight of kitchen prep, too.

Kitchen Prep in Your Restaurant

Back-of-house preparedness affects every aspect of your customers’ dining experience — but there’s a fine line between scouring every walk-in shelf for a bottle of salad dressing and having so many dressing bottles that you have to throw one out. Finding that line is easier when you utilize kitchen technology, create daily and weekly production checklists and schedules, and align your staff on a set of established best practices for food preparation. With these systems in place, kitchen prep will be a breeze.

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