View from the Kitchen
stacks of coins

Do sweat the small stuff

There are a few events in our lives that we remember well over the years even though they seemed insignificant at the time. One of these happened to me in 2000. My family and I were touring New Zealand. We went to a fish and chips stand. I asked for a few extra packets of ketchup and was told that it would be 25 cents. (This was long before fast food chains in this country were charging for extra packets of condiments.) No big deal, considering how much the trip was costing. No big deal, considering the number of quarters I have literally and figuratively spent since. But the moment was imprinted in my mind.  If you put me in Rotorua on the North Island tomorrow I could walk you right to that fish and chips stand even though it was 16 years ago. It left that much of an impression: The owner was closely watching all of his costs.

The point of all of this is that we need to remember, and to teach our staff on all levels, that they need to sweat the small stuff. No one would think of throwing out an extra lobster tail or sending out a plate of prime rib that is over by eight ounces. Yet most managers, chefs and owners don’t think about the small things that cost little. The staff is even worse on this issue. These small items quickly add up to a large amount that can shoot the black in the bottom line into the red.

Last week I was in Hawaii with my wife. We went to a very busy, one-off quick-service establishment. I had to fight NOT to get a straw for my cup of tap water. No big deal in itself, but if they serve an extra 200 straws a day that adds up to more than 6,000 straws a month, or 75,000 straws a year! I doubt the person serving me had ever been trained in how much that cost, and how much in sales had to be made just to pay for those unnecessary straws.

Paper towels, napkins, condiment packets, takeout containers: All of these things add up.

Okay, enough picking on the front of the house. The problem occurs in the kitchen as well: Dishwashers being run less than one-half full. Burners left running even though the last customer left 20 minutes earlier. I’ve repeatedly seen 25 cents of plastic wrap and a HACCP “Use By” label slapped on a quarter of an onion or carrot.

The trick with all of this is of course not to be seen by your customers as being cheap. I hate going out for ribs or fried chicken and being given one small thin napkin. Ordering a large fries and being given one small packet of ketchup can tick off a customer.

What does all of this mean to you as an owner, chef or manager? It means that you have to look at the food you are serving. Your procedures for preparing it, storing it, etc. need to be examined for small stuff waste. You need to look at your front of the house items that are given to customers without charge. You then need to set procedures for how much is given away in the front of the house. You need to set procedures for the small stuff currently being used without thinking in the kitchen.

And, as always, you need to train your staff. You need to review these policies periodically and retrain your staff frequently.

The bottom line, as my late father always said, is the bottom line. Not sweating the small stuff definitely affects your bottom line.

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