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Food for thought

Choosing the right ingredients for your food & beverage operation
Published: 
23 October, 2007

When planning a food and beverage outlet, most park managers leave it until the eleventh hour. Park World’s resident ‘food guy’ Mike Holtzman explains why you should give the operation the attention it deserves.

Everything starts with the menu. The operation’s menu determines what production, service and managerial responsibilities must be met. The menu itself is a result of marketing efforts designed to identify the wants and needs of the guest. “You can't be everything to everyone,” is a cliché, but it fits the situation. For example, if adult attendance is but a fraction of total attendence at a park, designing a menu with fare perceived as healthy (like salads) is likely to be an exercise in throwing out a ton of food before it ever gets to a guest.

When it comes to kitchens, size is overrated. There are beautiful designs for spaces as small as 500 square feet; then there are 1,500 sq ft kitchens that can best be called turkeys. A detail as minute as which way a refrigerator door opens can influence an employee's performance and speed of service. In a day and age of multiple deliveries per week, storage capacity is often overrated in the planning phase. And be advised that cubic footage is as important an issue as square footage. Often times excess storage translates to a dumping ground for junk and overstocking of food and drink product.

Everyone agrees that a small space like that of a snack bar or concession stand has an unusually big “demand” for utilities, including gas, electricity and water. Changing the plumbing or electric supply after the facility is built can be a deal-killer or delay to remodelling years later. To avoid this future obstacle, even the most basic of new snack bars can be “overbuilt” from the standpoint of utility and demand, perhaps by as much as one-third. The cost of bigger pipes (water and gas), a bigger electrical box (more amps available), and extra outlets to service any future equipment needs or additions are a smart

investment.

Grilling indoors means the installation of a hood. For a facility with low attendance, the expense may be prohibitive. The alternative is to grill outdoors. Nothing says summer like a barbecue. Health departments take a special interest (and rightly so) in this process; refrigeration and food-handling procedures are valid concerns. But a smaller facility can still elevate the food experience by planning a smart grill set-up outside the main food and beverage building.

More amusement facilities are getting hip to the concept of group sales. Not unlike the hotel industry, catered events signify food and labour cost margins that are much more profit-friendly than the typical transaction(s) at the snack bar. When catering starts to become a major force, this is the time to explore investing in a separate kitchen line to service the needs of large groups. It should pay for itself within a season.

Perhaps the biggest downfall of a park's food and beverage operation is the inability to move the line of customers at a decent pace. Long lines can translate to missed sales and/or angry guests, but there are many things that can be done to delay or minimise the crunch.

Treat the initial lunch-eaters (that early trickle that may start at 11.00 am) as a rush in itself. Sweeping aside this first group of people with a sense of urgency can keep the lines from forming for several minutes. (There is truth in the saying, “Everyone hustles when it's busy.” The difference between an average food and beverage staff and a great staff is what they do when it's not busy.”)

Nothing moves a line like having a food and beverage person taking orders before a guest reaches the window. This is a job for only the best of employees, someone who is supercharged with menu knowledge and can answer any question about portion sizes, item specifications, prices, etc. The order is taken by the staff member on a pre-printed ticket and handed by the guest to the person at the window, thus dispensing with all the hemming and hawing normally associated with people trying to make up their minds while the cashier stares into oblivion. This process could be taken to the next level by equipping the person taking orders in line with a wireless headset to communicate with the kitchen when needed.

For smaller operations that rely on the two-window set-up of “order here” and “pick up here,” it is time to rethink the system. Drinks towers need to be relocated between the windows, each having its own register and responsible for taking and filling orders. Line speed just doubled, if not more.

Menu placement is critical. If it can't be read until one reaches the ordering window, there is no hope. It preferably should hang outside, elevated and easy to read from several feet back, meaning the lettering and prices are formatted for a quick decision. Preview menu boards should also be strategically placed in line to help the guest.

Even in the US, menu engineering should be calculated so that price includes tax, eg. all prices are in increments of a quarter, ending in .25, .50, .75, or .00. Transactions are quicker, as the change-making process is simplified and the customer isn't surprised and short on funds, another anchor slowing line speed.

Whatever the amount of time spent in planning a successful kitchen layout or better way to move a line, it will all be for nothing unless at least equal effort is put into best managing the food and beverage numbers on a daily and weekly basis. Waiting for Accounting to produce a monthly profit and loss statement is hardly the way to go. If the numbers are less than satisfactory it is impossible to investigate or research.

There are more scientific ways than holding one's breath or crossing the fingers in hopes that the numbers will turn out OK. Among other tasks, this means doing weekly inventories, then creating a weekly cost of goods that should be compared to a theoretical or ideal cost of goods based on sales mix and prices paid for goods coming in the back door. The season is short. Wouldn't it be nice to know after the first week or two whether there are any “leaks” or problems rather than waiting until July 15 for the first meaningful set of financials? Planning how the numbers will be tracked makes as much sense as spending thousands oon a new kitchen design or equipment. For that reason alone, it would pay not to bury this article away until the start of the season.

For the last 15 years, Mike Holtzman has been president of Profitable Food Facilities, a hospitality design and consulting firm for recreational family entertainment facilities. mike@profitablefood.com









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