Over the past few years the New Zealand hospitality industry has taken hits from many directions and the impact will be felt for years to come. From a global health pandemic and border closures, the industry has had to learn how to adjust and adapt quickly. One way business owners across the hospitality industry have learned to adapt is through the use of centralised kitchens (also known as production facilities) to help reduce the need for skilled staff, cut food costs and decrease food waste.
For years the hospitality industry in New Zealand and abroad, has been fighting the battle of chef and skill shortages. For an industry that relies on overseas workers the last two years have seen the shortages get worse due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a recent interview, CEO of the Restaurant Association, Marisa Bidois told The Register: “With borders closed, we lost access to our temporary migrant workforce. Under normal circumstances, approximately 30% of our industry is made up of those on temporary work visas and in some cases, that figure is closer to 60%.”
According to the report in July the industry had around 15% of the workforce with temporary visas, meaning existing staff were working long hours and businesses were being forced to close earlier to cover the shortages. Last year, the Restaurant Association ran a campaign calling on the government to provide urgent additional visa extensions for work visa holders currently in New Zealand to cover vacant positions.
A centralised kitchen (or production facility) is a location where food is prepped and produced in bulk before being sent to restaurants or dining facilities for completion and serving. The current trend it that centralised kitchens are typically utilised for businesses with more than one location, like chain restaurants.
According to Apicbase, “the thinking used to be 70% front of house and 30% back of house. But now operators suggest it should be 30% max front of house and 70% back of house, hence the rise in centralised kitchens.”
The use of centralised kitchens can be more economical than having multiple kitchens at multiple locations and can increase profitability as well as provide a solution to the current chef and skills shortage. This is because they allow businesses to use skilled staff to prepare in bulk and then distribute to finishing kitchens, allowing them to employ semi-skilled or unskilled labour to finish off the dish during service.
If you have more than two venues, the benefits of operating a centralised kitchen are endless. A centralised kitchen allows you to cut overheads, like salaries, commercial rent, and operating costs, while also allowing you to increase profits due to cost savings and labor costs.
It allows provides the ability to grow faster, meet customer demand and develop additional revenue streams, like renting additional space out to fellow hospitality operators. Removing the need to have a fully operational kitchen in each venue, also provides the opportunity to open the floor plan of the venue to allow more people to be seated during service times.
Some other benefits of centralised kitchens include:
Menu planning is one of the most important tasks when it comes to running a successful hospitality venue. A menu showcases the overall theme of a venue, the type of food available and how much customers are expected to pay for items.
But when you’re operating a business that spans more than two locations, designing a menu that is unique to each venue and can be adapted to the skills of the chefs you have working in the kitchen, can be time-consuming. By operating a centralised kitchen, you can use the same menu across multiple venues, allowing you to keep operational and produce costs down.
By utilising the same menu across venues, you can keep menu prices down due to the decreased need for specialised chefs at every location. And that is exactly what Australian franchise Rashays, does.
Across their 40-odd restaurants, their menus are the same because “it helps us control products, as well as what comes in and what goes out in our restaurants,” Sam Krayem, Rashays’ General Manager told Kraft Heinz. “That’s what helps us achieve the food costs that we want, and we’re able to put in contracts with suppliers to be able to get the quality product that we require for the brand.”
The goal of every kitchen is to keep the costs of food down, but in many scenarios this is near impossible. Though one of the most obvious benefits of a centralised kitchen is saving on food costs due to the need to buy in bulk.
When bulk buying, you can lower your costs of production as well as delivery costs therefore putting more money back into your bottom line. Sam explained: “By having one distribution point for suppliers, it helps [Rashays] when we negotiate on produce.” He also added that the facility allows them to cut the “middleman, so we can buy by the container, by pallet.”
Inventory is also another important step when running a kitchen as it helps reduce costs and wastage. But having all your products in one location eases the pain of tracking purchases and inventory and reduces over wastage as only one location would be involved in the food preparation.
“We portion control [everything] for [the restaurants] to minimise wastage at their level,” Sam explained. “So, there shouldn’t be any wastage in theory, expect for human error, and one of the biggest things in restaurants is wastage, and that is a big expense for them, so we eliminate that for them. We control that here [in the production facility].”
Consistency is seen as a successful brand pillar and an important element to achieve when running a kitchen. And food quality consistency is one of the many benefits that is associated with operating a centralised kitchen.
A centralised kitchen allows you to have more control over the taste and quality of the food that is produced by your chefs. This is because it provides a stable environment where recipes can be replicated with the same equipment and same staff.
“Our main goal, and the way we do things is, whenever we come up with a recipe for our Rashays chefs, we look at the number of steps it takes them to put a meal on a plate, and we try to minimise those steps because every step is room for error,” Sam explained. “So, wherever we can eliminate something for them to do, we try and do it for them here.”
Going into more detail about their production facility, Sam explained that they have their own butcher, bakery, and fresh food section to help maintain the quality standard. “For example, we have our own butcher team who portion control [the produce] and cut it to a spec that we want for our staff to be able to follow [in the venue] so they can produce the plate in the same way in every single restaurant.
“We need to be able to have that QA at our level rather than at their levels so we ensure that every product that goes to them is of the same quality, of the highest quality we can supply them, and they don’t need to worry about that,” he said. “All they need to worry about is cooking the dish, cooking the protein, putting the plate together and sending it out to the customer.”
Most importantly, centralised kitchens create efficiency Having all ingredients in one place increases efficiency. This is because it provides staff with an opportunity to better focus on optimising their production, presentation or customer skills while allowing you to automate processes, streamline procedures and batch together tasks that suit the right skill sets.
Another way centralised kitchens create efficiencies for your venue operations is inventory management. Centralised kitchens make it easier to track inventory correctly and estimate ingredient needs. This then has a flow-on effect to cutting down costs due to wholesaler purchases, fewer deliveries, and better control wastage.
Along with all the benefits mentioned above, one key area where centralised kitchens are helping hospitality business owners is chef and skills shortages. This is because centralised kitchens create a more automated system when it comes to food preparation and provides an opportunity for one employee to be trained in multiple roles in the kitchen to help fill the gaps.
Having a centralised kitchen, also means fewer skilled kitchen staff are needed at each location, as most of the preparation is done offsite and their main tasks consist of finishing, plating, and serving customers.
When reflecting on the start of the production facility at Rashays, Sam said it all began because of the lack of skilled workers available during the busy periods. “One of the main reasons is skilled labour… In Rami’s mind [founder of Rashays] he wanted to systemise the business, so he didn’t have to rely on skilled labour to run his day-to-day business because come Christmas, Valentine’s Day, when it was really busy, he struggled with staff.”
“We don’t need skilled chefs as such in our stores, we just need people who are willing to follow our systems and our procedures. We train them and they become Rashays chefs as such,” he concluded.
Centralised kitchens are growing in popularity across the global hospitality industry, thanks to their ability to help business owners reduce overall operational costs, increase efficiencies, and overcome skills shortages. While the need to find solutions to approach the current chef shortage across New Zealand (and the world), central kitchens are providing business owners with a quick, but effective, operating solution.
Looking back 20 years, Sam believes the centralised kitchen has allowed them to “grow faster especially now with the skills labour shortage”. He said, “Having the production facility and having the systems we have in our restaurants is how we’ve been able to expand so rapidly.”
However, if you’re thinking of investing in a centralised kitchen, it’s important to think of its location. Your kitchen should be within a one-hour drive from your venues so that you can deliver supplies and dishes whenever needed.