How to improve speed of service: Part 1

busy restaurant kitchen large


What training can I give my team to improve their speed of service? I am new to the position and need help to improve them, as we have twenty minutes to deliver the food, and time and time again it’s over that.

– Michael Edgar, Kitchen Team Leader, Greene King, Worcestershire, England


This question comes at a great time, because I just consulted with a friend who was having this problem in a takeout-oriented casual-dining restaurant, who was working desperately to improve the timing in his kitchen. I was reminded of mornings getting my kids out of the house to go to school. He kept emphasizing the need to go faster and keep moving, which just frustrated his cooks, as it frustrates my kids. What he needed was the culinary equivalent of laying out his clothes the night before, setting the alarm fifteen minutes earlier, and getting a lower-maintenance haircut—all techniques I’m trying in my parenting.

I am going to answer this question in two parts. This week, Part I, will be focused on ensuring you have identified the core problem before Part II, which will discuss getting employees to move with urgency.

Many times, what seems to be a speed-of-service problem is a systems problem. In the case of the friend I mentioned, the breakdown was a menu that was much too large for a tiny kitchen, resulting in a lot of inventory that was not readily accessible to cooks. Cooks searching for the candied jalapenos that are served on one sandwich had to go into a reach-in separate from the sandwich prep station, fish out the quart container, remove a spoonful and return it, doubling the pickup time on what should be a one-minute item. Repeat that multiple times per service over multiple items, and we’ve found our problem.

Similarly, in your case, be sure you are addressing the problem and not the symptom. If your speed of service is slow, the problem may indeed be that employees need more training and support. It may be, however, that they are starting from a disadvantage due to a systems problem. Start there. For example:

  • Is the menu balanced to put relatively equal pressure on each station, or are some stations frequently in the weeds?
  • Similarly, is the menu balanced to put relatively equal pressure on each piece of kitchen equipment, or is some equipment pushed beyond its limits?
  • Is the equipment adequate for your volume and working properly?
  • Are menu items and preps streamlined so that ingredients appear in different ways across multiple menu items, or is each item its own entity?
  • Are stations set up for convenient flow, or are cooks crossing over each other or taking steps for certain items?
  • Are orders coming in as quickly as possible, or are they being caught up somewhere, such as between the server’s check pad and the POS system?

My initial advice is to be sure the system is working properly before you focus too much on employee speed. We’ll talk about employee speed in Part II.

More on speed of service here.