Q: Traditionally we’ve enjoyed a steady kitchen staff with limited turnover. Over the last few years that has changed dramatically. The kitchen has turned over, and newer staff members seem more entitled and less talented than in previous years. What should we be doing differently going forward?
A: Kitchen staff has traditionally been fairly autonomous with plenty of employees in the queue wanting jobs. This is no longer the case. Working in the kitchen of a restaurant is tough and having the right staff is critical. To improve the development process, create a better work experience and increase retention for kitchen staff, consider the following:

Actively manage performance in the kitchen.
Develop and use kitchen key performance indicators and most importantly, measure, post and review the KPIs with the team. Take the time also review KPIs with individuals. Plates per labor hour, food sales per labor hour, actual food cost vs. ideal cost and SOPs are some of the KPIs that will have a major impact on performance in the kitchen. Additionally, emphasize the importance of internal customer service. Providing great service to the serving staff is a requirement and encourages teamwork and higher sales when the serving staff enjoys selling without fear of backlash by the kitchen.

Pay the kitchen more.
The typical restaurant uses 8,000-12,000 of kitchen labor hours per year per million dollars in sales. If each person earns $3 more per hour, that’s approximately $30,000 per year per million in sales. Raise menu prices to cover the increase in the kitchen three to four percent percent and most guests won’t notice. Alternatively, insist servers sell just three more things per day each and increase their sales at least $30. Four servers selling an extra $30 per day will generate an additional $43,800 in annual sales to cover a $3 per hour raise in the kitchen and the server will make more money as well.

Have a smaller staff. Be the main job.
Many kitchen employees have more than one job and may be working 30 hours in one job and 20 in another. Be the company that offers the higher number of hours. Having fewer people on staff will also cost less, as there are additional expenses with each employee. The biggest reason for a smaller staff, however, is the amount of hours that can be provided.

Use overtime to give your best players the opportunity to earn extra pay. For example, a staff of six people per million in sales splits 10,000 hours or approximately 32 hours per week each. Having five employee work 39 hours or four working 48 hours will yield better results. Employees given the chance to work 48 hours will be more productive and build a deeper skill set. Since they are working eight hours of overtime, they will also make more money.

Building a talented and deep kitchen staff takes more effort than in years past. Restaurateurs need to use more tools to teach, train and develop kitchen staff. Measuring and coaching performance, paying more and allowing more hours per person will provide a team that excels and leads to higher profits.

For more information on improving profitability and driving performance, contact AMP Services at rbraa@ampservices.com. Rick Braa is the co-founder of AMP Services, an accounting and consulting firm specializing in helping companies grow profitability.