Dear Food Fanatic: Consistency and Speed on the Line

Seasoned restaurant advice you can use from our Food Fanatics expert.

Q. No matter how hard I try, I can’t get the line cooking consistently. I’m ready to throw in the towel.

A. Cross-training the cooks can help you overcome this problem and turn the line into a self-policing unit. The more cooks who know how dishes are supposed to look and taste, the better. For extra quality assurance, have the chef or owner order dishes randomly to spot-check the crew.

Q. I love running fall specials but don’t want to stumble into the pumpkin spice trap. Got any ideas?

A. Branch out a little. Try combinations of root vegetables with unexpected spices, such as mint, turmeric, sumac or togarashi. Think apples, pears or pumpkins in savory combinations with cinnamon. In addition, remember pomegranate, Concord grapes, Brussels sprouts and figs are in season too, and they can keep your pairings from becoming cliche.

Q. Every time I turn around, there seems to be another delivery service. How do I choose one?

A. Not all delivery services are created equal, so learn as much as you can about each one. For instance, do any of them offer financial incentives? What are the fees, caveats? Which one will go the extra mile for you? Create a spreadsheet to compare services, and choose the one that best suits your needs.

Q. How do I prevent vegetarian and vegan dishes from being overlooked?

A. Take advantage of the changing seasons. Use ancient grains like faro and amaranth to make hearty dishes stand out. Legumes are good, too. Complement them with earthy roots and fall herbs like sage, or spice them up with chilies and bitter chocolate. 

Q. We’re having a tough time getting food out fast enough, especially on weekends. Front of the house says guests have to wait up to 45 minutes. My cooks are well trained, so what's up? 

A. You can’t be everything to everybody, so pare down your menu. Use it as a foundation for the different dining areas of your restaurant. Offer a separate, smaller menu for the bar and outdoor space. For the large, private dining area, create a family-style menu.

Q. What can I do to keep my cooks around for the long haul?

A. There’s no way to keep talented cooks around forever. You can, however, find ways to build and use their skills while they’re working for you. Feed their passion and encourage a sense of community at the same time. Ask each person on the line to create a dish and present it to the staff. Once the staff gives some feedback, have the cook tweak it and cost it out. Feature the dish as a special on the menu.

Q. My Sunday sales are down. I’m considering not being open this day. Any thoughts?

A. Brunch service is the best way to boost sales on Sundays. People in general would rather eat brunch throughout the day instead of lunch or breakfast. Include brunch favorites like build-your-own omelets but also don’t reinvent the wheel. Feature some of your regular best-sellers and easier-to-execute dishes since this daypart is not a favorite among staff. Lastly, remember drinks. Add fun flavors to mimosas and top your bloody marys with the works. 

Food Fanatic

Jennifer Steakley is a Food Fanatics chef for US Foods from Memphis whose 22 years in the business help fellow chefs and restaurateurs “make it.”

@ChefJennS

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