Prepping ingredients can be one of the most time-consuming kinds of side work in a quick-service kitchen. Chefs and operators are continually looking to improve efficiency and speed up prep work without sacrificing the quality of the ingredients.
“Maintaining a standard of excellence is difficult,” says Stephen Hosey, blending application manager for Vitamix. “With high employee turnover, variable skill sets, and lack of time to properly train—there’s always a lot to do. Finding ways to put out quality products that will keep customers coming back is the biggest, and the most critical, challenge operators face.”
Creating a consistent product using traditional culinary methods requires the involvement of skilled workers. For example, a few degrees difference from the heat component, Hosey says, can turn a hollandaise sauce into scrambled eggs. Ruined food means starting over, and starting over means wasted time as well as wasted product, not to mention the risk of ruining a brand’s reputation if low-quality food makes its way to guests.
To combat production and consistency problems, operators must invest a lot of time into recruiting, training, and retaining talent. However, select brands have found that embracing certain equipment advancements can drastically minimize prep time—and better focus employee food prep training.
“The more advancements there are in the equipment,” Hosey says, “the better operators will be able to mitigate training time invested in employees who may not be there after the next pay day. Not everything can—or should—be automated, but having tools in place to make high level and consistent products will help employees succeed, as well as ensure customer satisfaction.”
Programmable equipment, such as sous vides and blenders, can help address the time-cost problems associated with preparing ingredients for a quick-service kitchen. The settings on these machines can be customized so that employees can simply press a button, and the machine will create whatever they need with greater consistency and in significantly less time than if it was prepped by hand. In addition, the high-performance nature of these kinds of equipment means they can be programmed to produce several different types of prepared food items.
“People often think blenders are limited to beverage service, but they’re really quite versatile,” Hosey says. “One brand recently developed several house-made salad dressings, and the operators were able to emulsify the oil and vinegar using a preset, rather than whisking those ingredients by hand, which takes a lot of time and forearm strength. Other chains have used programmable blenders to create signature sauces, beer batter for fish, and even gelato base.”
By implementing programmable equipment, operators can improve prep times, employee confidence, and customer satisfaction. Being able to produce high level menu items in less time is an excellent way to differentiate a brand’s menu offerings. Reducing prep times and improving efficiency not only allows for the allocation of time to other areas of need, but also ensures a more reliable and consistent product makes it onto the customer’s plate.