There is a reason people flock to familiar chain restaurants while traveling: consistency. Even when surrounded by a thriving restaurant mecca boasting award-winning cuisine in cities like New York and Paris, many travelers look for a taste of the familiar at well-known fast food and fast casual chains. Why? Because they know they can expect the same great food and service every single time they walk through the door – wherever that door may be.
Though it may seem counterintuitive, consistency is actually easier to achieve on a larger scale. Both practically and financially, this is true because successful large chains follow these basic rules:
1. Perfect (and stick to) the formula
The recipes customers come back for again and again are the result of years of perfecting. Each ingredient is prepped and measured to exacting standards. The utensils, equipment, temperatures and more are all pre-determined and never deviated from. Adhering to strict formulae for your menu items also simplifies food orders and inventory, and helps control costs as well.
2. When possible, centralize
The benefits of centralizing can help restaurants in multiple ways. Vendors are a good example. By consolidating your purchases to a handful of select vendors, you can ensure consistent availability of the products you use, in the quantities you need – working with those that offer the size and distribution network that works with your operation. Many large chains also utilize centralized kitchens – pre-cooking and blast-chilling most menu items to be reheated when ordered, and requiring that only a handful of menu items be prepared from start to finish in the restaurant kitchen.
3. Eliminate human error
As tasty as they may be, the idea of having hand-cut fries on the menu doesn’t go over well with chefs; do you know why? Chefs know that hand cutting can lead to inconsistencies in the product. Reducing the potential for human error is key to menu perfection. That means pre-assembling and packaging ingredients; purchasing programmable heating equipment; designing stations with image-rich, step-by-step instructions for every menu item; and building out identical (or as close as you can get) kitchen set-ups in every unit. Using GUI (graphic user interface) wherever possible is another smart way to reduce errors. By replacing written instructions with easy-to-understand graphic steps, you can save time and work around potential literacy and language barriers.
For restaurants looking to expand from one to two or a few to many, some of these same principles apply. But in a smaller operation, maintaining consistency and quality from unit to unit requires careful planning and more hands-on attention.
Time to pass the torch.
As a small operation, chances are your menu is 100% chef prepared on site – every entrée, start to finish, every time. Expanding your concept to include additional locations (i.e., kitchens) means training new chefs to recreate the menu and ensure a consistent experience from unit to unit. In addition to precisely documenting each recipe for training, you can help create a mistake-proof menu methodology by equipping your kitchens with high-tech combi-ovens – not only can they be programmed for hundreds of menu items, they automatically switch off when food is cooked, reducing guesswork and preserving quality.
Invest in, and maintain, quality
Remember this: you get what you pay for. This is especially true for restaurant equipment, and especially important for a growing business. Without the additional financial safety net of a large corporation to cover the cost of unexpected repairs, it’s crucial that you invest in high-quality, reliable equipment – and train your staff on the proper usage, cleaning and maintenance of each piece. It’s also smart to have your equipment serviced by a trained technician annually to troubleshoot any potential issues.
Still, breakdowns can happen
To help roll with the punches, without too much downtime, consider multi-functional equipment that can shift gears in a pinch. Two good examples: multi-cook ovens that let you simultaneously cook four different foods at four different temperatures in separate compartments, and conveyor ovens that can grill meat as easily as they bake pizzas.
Revisit ingredient sourcing
Another part of maintaining multi-unit consistency is ensuring that every kitchen receives not just the same ingredients, but the same quality of ingredients. Depending on how far your expansion takes you from your original location, that may mean looking for a new supplier with a larger supply and distribution network. And to make storage of your carefully sourced ingredients as efficient as possible, organize your walk-in coolers and dry-storage systems the same way in every unit. Consistent organization will not only streamline your training processes, it will ensure that any staff members helping out from other locations can step in without any extra hand-holding.
Clone your equipment
Finally, consistent food quality depends on uniformity of equipment from unit to unit – from large cook equipment to skillets and sauce pans, even something as simple as a ladle. Identifying and consistently using the exact same equipment for each menu item helps guarantee that your chefs are equipped to cook with the same heat distribution, same volume of sauces, same everything that goes into making a menu item unique and worth asking for at any of your restaurant locations.