How to enhance speed of service

How to enhance speed of service

Avoiding long waiting times for food can often be achieved through a set of routines and disciplines and a well lead, well-trained team.

It is very easy to throw money at it to improve this area of your business (which is sometimes the right thing to do) – but make sure you’ve checked through the list below. If you can honestly tick all the boxes here, then start to think about kitchen extensions, combi ovens or the latest griddle innovation.


  1. Journey times, steps & stations
  2. Menu design – size and structure
  3. Menu design – cook methods, pre staging and product selection
  4. Grab fridges and freezers – pre-portioning, poly pots, freezer bags
  5. Cross training – cook line team, KPs, management and front of house team
  6. Standards and morale – uniforms, timekeeping and service discipline
  7. Care of kit and equipment and preventative maintenance
  8. Rotas, work/life balance and the night before 

Nailing speed of service in a kitchen at peak times is about lots and lots and lots of small ideas and disciplines coming together, to save 10 seconds here, 20 seconds there… it all adds up. 

1. Journey times, steps & stations

During a busy service ‘perfection’ is that each line chef never walks outside of a small triangle of space close to the kit and equipment they need to operate their station.

It is often not until someone stands and actually counts the number of times a chef needs to leave their station during service that it becomes obvious how common this issue is.

If you have a walk in fridge or chest freezer away from the main cook line, count how many times this is opened during service on unscheduled top ups for the grab fridges. How many times do they wander off to get a utensil or printer paper or a pen or a spoon…

We will look at methods and tools for organising grab fridges and freezers in point 4. 

2. Menu Design – size and structure

You need to be true to the style of food and food offer you should be operating. Running a value managed pub style menu with low GPs and over 20 main courses probably isn’t the best model for a leased business. And unless you can afford the highest wages, neither is Michelin style gastronomy. Great quality, simple to deliver food with high quality locally sourced ingredients is more than likely the way the way to go.

In terms of menu structure a good rule of thumb is reduce complexity and increase quality. A good menu might follow the “4,8,4” or “5,10,5” format (4 starters, 8 mains, 4 desserts) – each dish carefully researched and considered operationally (where will it go in the fridge, what kit is needed, length of time prep vs service etc)

3. Menu Design – Cook methods, pre staging and product selection

Cook methods – Forget what you see on the TV - loads of banging and flames everywhere in service and ‘F’ in this and that all the time. This is very theatrical but if it’s reality in your kitchen, it’s unnecessary. The best dishes consist of great quality ingredients that are a mix of being cooked to order, hot held, pre-staged and re generated. Really great menu design will not affect quality by blending cook methods.

Cook to order – The most time consuming and highly skilled. Use for products like meat and fish that would suffer from being cooked in advance or hot held.

Regenerating – This could be regenerating a supplier bought product e.g. a curry in a pouch or re generating products that you have cooked and cooled (stews, vegetables, jacket potatoes) Regen can be done through a variety of methods, hot water, microwave, convection oven, combi oven, steamer etc… The point is the ‘cooking’ -the skilled, time consuming bit- has already been done.

Hot Holding – Use a water bath, convection oven, hot lights or bain-marie to hold products above 63 degrees. Hot hold items that have not been ordered yet. Yes this is a risk of stock loss, and no it don’t work for everything. As a rule of thumb if it doesn’t affect the quality and you can increase speed of service and control wastage; hot holding will help speed up service. 

Pre-staging – Include dishes on your menu you are able to pre-cook, cool and construct during prep instead of service, pre portion ready for re-gen.

Product selection – Don’t be a food snob for the sake of being a snob. I love ‘home cooked’ food but consider - is it viable to employ a chef who’s full time job is to wash potatoes by hand, peel and cook to make home made chips, when customers preferred the triple fried skin on cook from frozen chips.

I’m not saying buy everything in. Be selective and clever about what you buy as a premade product. Save time and enhance quality.

Take this dish:

Pan-fried sea bass fillets with roasted Mediterranean vegetables in a sweet cherry tomato and black olive bind and rosemary infused sautéed potatoes with a balsamic glaze…

There could be up to 20-25 ingredients in this recipe and it would take ages to make from raw ingredients.

But break it down to what happens during service and its only 4 stages:

  1. Batch cook and hot hold potatoes (so literately plate up – no "to order" cooking)
  2. Pre-stage sauce or bind, pre-stage roasted veg, pre portion (simply re gen to order in poly pot)
  3. Season and cook fillet to order (get the fish monger to fillet it)
  4. Construct and garnish

In the above there are only 3 things to ‘cook’ and only 1 from raw so this equates to maybe 5 minutes to make this dish during service. Dishes like this are so much more operationally friendly than cook to order risotto.

4. Grab fridges and freezers – pre-portioning, poly pots, freezer bags

The chilled and freezer space on your cook line should be really planned and organised. Use planograms to make sure they’re accurately filled. The better planned they are, the less time wondering off to storage space and the faster service will be.

Poly pots or deli pots are great for proportioning veg, salad, mash, beans, mushrooms, sauces, also use the larger ones for portions of soup, stews, curries

Freezer bags are a great way of organising grab fridge space and saves precious seconds not having to count during service – use for combos, nuggets, scampi, onion rings, wings, wedges etc.

Polycarbonate Gastronorms are ideal for organisation and storage. Investing in a good multi size set will transform your approach to fridge layouts and general preparation.

5. Cross training – cook line team, KPs, management and front of house team

When orders pile in it’s great to know that help is on hand if needed. Make sure you invest time in multi skilling the whole management team, the KPs, make sure all the chefs can perform on all the stations not just their preferred station. This will help you when you need it most.

6. Standards and morale – Uniforms, timekeeping and service discipline

Bringing pride and standards to the way your kitchen team present themselves is the best money and time you can spend. Invest in uniforms; agree a set of rules or behaviours to include timekeeping, phones, music, proper breaks. You don’t have to have a cookery qualification to wear a set of whites.

7. Care of kit and equipment and preventative maintenance

A broken piece of kit or equipment can cause serious damage to speed of service. This happens to everyone, but happens to some more than others. A sensible approach, care and regular deep cleaning are crucial. Pay for a preventative maintenance on key kit and equipment and replace parts close to their end before they go.

8. Rotas, work/life balance and the night before 

Forward planning for rotas is so important for kitchen teams. A few sensible ideas for effective rotaing to make sure your kitchen team have the energy and strength to deliver great speed:

  • 48 hours of quality work is much better than 78 hours from a zombie.
  • Split shifts for those that don’t live on site are an employer, not employee focused rotaing technique; don’t use them.
  • Scheduled breaks to eat are important  – make sure they’re included – do not exchange them for ‘lots a ciggie breaks instead of a long food break’
  • Give two days off per person. Give them together.
  • Write rotas a month in advance. This helps employees to have and plan lives outside of hospitality.
  • If you as employer follow the above bullet points you should expect a kitchen team member to be on time, have fresh cleaned uniform, absolutely no hangover and plenty of energy - if not… you’ve got an issue to address!