By Michelle Ponto
Combating labour shortages has become a common challenge many Canadian foodservice operators face. In fact, the problem of recruiting staff has grown to the point that the Federal Government announced improvements to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in November 2006 in order to streamline the process and make it easier to hire foreign workers during peak seasons.
But recruiting foreign staff isn’t an option for all food industry operators. If you are one of them, don’t despair. There are other solutions you can do to beat the odds against the labour shortage problem.
Focusing on Organization
According to Bob Villeneuve, Corporate Chef and Sysco Brand Specialist for Sysco Foodservices of Toronto, a well organized kitchen can drastically reduce the amount of labour required.
“The key to organization and saving time is having a clear picture of everything that needs to be done, when it can be done and who is going to do it,” says Villeneuve.
Villeneuve says the best way to make sure your kitchen is organized, is by properly documenting all components and tasks so that they can be tracked and monitored. While this may be tedious, it is essential if you want to maximize the labour you have within your organization. Without clear documentation, food service organizations often end up duplicating workflow processes. They either have multiple staff members completing the same job or have one staff member doing the same task a number of times during the day.
“One simple example of effective organization is dicing onions. It’s much more efficient to have one person dice them all,” says Villeneuve. “Likewise, if diced onions are needed in three different recipes, dice all of the onions at once instead of sporadically throughout the day.”
Incorporating Labour-Saving Equipment
If your kitchen is already organized, a second way to maximize your labour and reduce the time it takes to get things done is to invest in time-saving equipment. The type of equipment needed varies by establishment, but sometimes something as simple as a food processor can save hours in a day. There are also a number of high tech items and appliances in the marketplace made specifically to help reduce the amount of labour needed to run a kitchen effectively.
“High tech combi-ovens that can cook and hold meat for prolonged periods of time can dramatically increase labour efficiencies,” says Villeneuve.
Other examples are ovens that allow you to bake and proof at the same time and refrigerators with doors on both the front and back to allow for easy access. The list of cost and labour saving equipment is extensive and ranges from counter top items such as tortilla makers to large multi-temperature grills. Keep in mind that while these items can help increase labour efficiencies, they do cost money and that too must be taken into account as it affects your bottom line.
Getting Smart with Prep Work
The food service industry has come a long way in the last 30 years. In addition to having improved quality control and more selection, Sysco provide value-added items for their customers. Value-added foods are any items that have been further processed to speed up preparation time and cooking.
“The list of value-added foods is constantly growing and the possibilities are endless,” says Villeneuve.
There are value-added items for every type of food organization and venue. Some examples include pre-cut steaks, pre-cooked chicken breast, prepared soups and sauces, and high quality soup bases, but the fastest growing category is prepared produce.
“Prepared produce is popular because it’s an opportunity for an operator to use value-added, labour savings items while never impacting the quality, variety
or perception of the guest’s final plate,” says Villeneuve.
According to Villeneuve, one of the keys to managing labour shortages is in the use of value added items. By eliminating the need for completing large amounts of prep, you can use the staff you have for production.
One last bonus to purchasing value-added items is that operators not only reduce the amount of training needed, but because all items are already pre-measured and cut to specific standards and grades, they can help increase the level of consistency of the end product going out.
Before selecting time and labour saving equipment, ask yourself these questions to help target possible labour-saving areas:
1) How much time is spent chopping, dicing, cutting and grinding?
2) How much time is wasted waiting for items to bake or cook?
3) Do I find myself waiting for one item to finish cooking before putting the
next one in?
4) How many times a day do I walk to the freezer section?
5) During peak periods, what takes the most time?