January 27, 2016

Optimizing Your Food Business Operations

food process operationsWe spend a lot of time on this site talking about marketing, finance, and sales & distribution, but it wasn’t until an engineer-turned-food business owner and I were recently talking that I realized how little time we’ve spent talking about the actual operations and processes inherent in food businesses.

In the business plan this entrepreneur shared with me to read, he had spent a tremendous amount of time outlining the processes through which he’d be cooking his food and had devoted energy to fine-tuning the process to make it as quick, seamless, and energy-efficient as possible.

To anyone with a culinary background and training, you know the saying well ‘if you’ve got time to lean then you’ve got time to clean’ – meaning, that you should always be in motion doing something  Ideally, everything is being done in the most efficient manner possible.  Whether you work out of your home or in a commercial kitchen (this doesn’t apply as much to those of you working with co-packers where the processes are not within your control), you can, for example, be prepping for the next thing you plan on cooking while your first is on the stove or you can be packaging finished product while something else is cooling.

Thinking through the processes is more than just looking at the recipe steps.  It’s mentally walking yourself through each step in the recipe and thinking about, for example, how to minimize how many times you need to cross the kitchen to get equipment.  Once you have outlined the processes for each recipe, you can then spend a little time each morning outlining what your overall daily process is going to look like before you start cooking for baking.  This helps you determine the most efficient order in which to prep, cook/bake, and package everything you have on your to-do list so as to give you a better chance of actually getting everything done in the time you have available.

Fine-tuning your processes and kitchen operations is critical to your business for several reasons.  First, if you are renting commercial kitchen space then any time when you are not making product is time you are literally paying for but not using.  The more efficient you can become in the kitchen the more bang you’ll be getting for your rental buck.  Equally as important though, understanding what your processes are also highlights where there are there are potential hazards within your process that could contaminate your food.  You can, for example, notice that while your food is cooling (from our earlier example), it may go through a temperature ‘danger zone’ and you would want to document how the product should be properly cooled.   Lastly, understanding your processes and documenting them makes it easier to train employees how to work safety and efficiently in the kitchen and ensure your products turn out as you envision.

No process is ever 100% perfect.  The more you work within a process the more you’ll find ways to streamline it so it is a bit of a continual learning curve.  But taking the time to think through and document your processes can be one of the biggest time and money savers for your business in the long run.

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