I manage the bulk of the evenings at our casual-dining Irish pub. Our rushes seem to be overwhelming for the kitchen. We have a capacity of around 200, and sometimes we fill up fast. The back of house gets hit with about ten or more tickets at once and almost immediately face the decision of either looking inept to customers and say we are on a wait (even though there are several open tables), or continue to sit, sink the kitchen and inevitably deal with several complaints over food wait times. If we can somehow find a way to control the flow from the door to the kitchen, we would be swimming in money. I believe that is the only thing holding us back. Help please!
– Jerry Anderson, General Manager, Fionn MacCools, Jacksonville, FL
Like many dilemmas, where your only choice seems to be between providing slow food service to unhappy guests or leaving money on the table, the solution lies outside the dilemma in a third strategy. Obviously there are some investments you can make to make service go faster: a trained expeditor experienced in high volume dining, more efficient or additional kitchen equipment and sufficient staff would all help. That said, looking at your menu, I think a simpler and more cost-effective solution lies in rethinking your menu mix. Much of your food like boxty, fish sandwich, pizza, steaks and seafood requires a la minute cooking—it is ordered, fired and picked up minutes later. Since you’re an Irish pub, think about some traditional batch cooked Irish cuisine and other fare that could have appeal on your menu. The advantage of batch cooking (an Irish stew would be a typical example) is that it can be prepared in advance and either held hot for service or quickly rethermed (reheated) and picked up immediately upon ordering. Think also about cold or room temperature food that can be quickly plated (or even pre-plated) and picked up.
Ideas consistent with your concept that immediately come to mind that can be either hot-held and served or quickly plated include: Dublin coddle (a sausage and potato stew) and other stews, braised items, any soup, cheese, charcuterie and/or smoked fish boards, salads, nachos, sandwiches, stuffed baked potatoes, large roasts and dips. These items needn’t be dull. For example, for a different setting, a barbecued brisket sandwich with grilled long hots and potato salad can be batch cooked and plated in under one minute with minimal training and may divert some demand from an a la minute cooked burger and fries. These items can add variety and interest to your menu and may also pull some demand from longer cooking, more challenging items to churn out like sautéed or grilled items. Along the same lines, try to identify bottleneck items and see if they can be reconfigured or taken off the menu. Most cooks can quickly point to a couple of items that, when ordered, grind the kitchen gears in the middle of service.
If that doesn’t work, look at some of those more investment-oriented suggestions. Your staff may need some training, you may need to bring in the right people, your equipment may need to be scaled up to match demand, or you may be understaffed for peak times. Alternately, run some promotions during non-peak times to attract guests—you write from the land of the early bird.