Most restaurants spend plenty of time educating front-of-the-house staffers about daily specials, menu additions and service sequence expectations. That's why they have pre-shift meetings, often daily.
But training the kitchen crew? Forget it. They show up, punch in and start cooking. It's an okay solution if there's an executive chef to keep the crew in line, a recipe for disaster if there isn't. When you get complaints about your food, a lack of consistency in the back of your house is the likely culprit.
What to do? Let's check out how a couple of chains deal with this problem using low-cost methods smaller chains and independents could easily adopt.
Grilled chicken specialist El Pollo Loco relies on a competition format to get its cooks thinking about how they do their jobs. The 400-unit chain's Grill Master Challenge features a cook-off among six finalists chosen from a roster of 1,200 cooks. There's no “mystery basket” or “secret ingredient” involved. Instead, contestants are judged on how well they grill chicken using the company's preferred methods — exactly as they should be doing on the job every day.
This year's winner was three-year employee German Veletzuy, who won $2,500 and the title of El Pollo Loco's 2011 Grand Grill Master.
Fried chicken giant KFC is focusing on back of the house workers, too. But it's not deploying corporate-level chefs to visit units and lay down the law. Instead, the chain has appointed Aaron Person, who has cooked in a KFC store for the past 25 years, as its first-ever Chief Chicken Officer. Person, the only KFC employee to earn a perfect score in a previous company team challenge event, will help roll out the company's new Cook Certification Program.
The idea is produce consistency for KFC's “The Hard Way” method, which involves hand-breading and cooking chicken as performed by the company's 5,000 cooks.
Let's face it. Line cooks receive little training or recognition, earn modest wages and get few, if any, tips. No wonder turnover is brutally high. That's why we think it might be time you pay attention to your line cooks the way these bigger chains are doing.