How to Stay Focused in a Catering Operation

Jun 25, 2020 3:01:22 AM / by David Cox


Catering operations have a lot of moving parts, which means that at any point in any day there is a good chance that something will go wrong.


When something does go wrong, as the Executive Chef in charge of the facility, you would ideally be able to draw upon high quality, experienced chefs in your brigade to solve most problems as they arise, leaving you to focus on strategic decisions, staff training, special projects, stakeholder management etc.


Let’s read the story of Jack, below, to see an example of how this often doesn’t work. Then we’ll unpack some of the issues he faces, some practical solutions that would help Jack, and then examine how the QA Chef system could help solve his time challenges.

Jack’s Story


Jack is Executive Chef at Best Airline Catering Company (BACC).

BACC has received a complaint regarding the quality of one of their client’s 1st Class meals. To make matters worse, the complaints have reached BACC upper management, who now expect Jack to personally deal with the problem.


He has questioned some of his chefs and they told him the recipes they were following were poor quality so they had used their own judgement in executing them.

Jack took a look at the recipes and immediately found that they had some serious issues: unrealistic proportions of ingredients, often no mention of salt, inconsistent yields and methods that were far too brief.


Jack had been suspicious that the menu development chefs had been cutting corners, but he had not had the time to deal with it. As there was pressure on him to rectify the issue, he decided to fix the 1st Class recipes himself and then deal with the bigger issue of the NPD chefs later. what are not chefs?


As soon as he stepped into the facility at 5:30am and sat down at his desk to start working on the recipes, he was told that the Senior Sous Chef in charge of the Hot Kitchen was sick but even though his Sous Chef had the day off, the kitchen should be able to handle the load.


As Jack sat down at his desk to make a start on the recipe task he received a call from QA saying that there had been a food poisoning complaint from a client about a dish they had produced. They had located most of the CCP records related to the dish in question, but they still couldn’t locate two records from the Hot Kitchen. When she had asked the Junior Sous Chef in the Hot Kitchen he said that sometimes when they were under pressure or understaffed they forgot to complete all the cook/chill food safety records but that they tried to remember to fill them out after the shift, but perhaps they had forgotten.


Jack suggested that this matter could be solved without involving him but she replied that chefs failing to fill out records was a serious issue and that she still didn’t know what to do about the missing records.


Jack then spent two hours trying to trace all the food safety data of the suspect dish, including calling the sick Senior Sous Chef and the Sous Chef on the RDO. They couldn’t locate the records so QA said they had no choice but to report it and hope that the issue was not taken any further.


When he then sat down to resume the task of fixing the recipes, he got a call from Production saying that the Hot Kitchen was seriously behind schedule and at risk of missing their delivery deadline because they were under-resourced. He had his Head Chef transfer chefs into the Hot Kitchen but ended up taking charge of the kitchen to ensure the deadlines were met. Only in the afternoon once he had ensured the deadline was met did he get a call from his Operations Manager asking whether he had closed off the matter of the 1st Class complaint and fixed the recipes. At that point all he could do was promise to work on the recipes at night after the shift had ended instead of going home to his family.

The impact this has on Jack


The Executive Chef starts every day with a long to-do list and noble aspirations but he ends each day with not one item crossed off the list, feeling fatigued, frustrated and demoralised. His growth as a professional is hindered, he is more likely to burn out and he is more likely to resign.


The impact this has on the Business


With resources improperly deployed, the business as a whole is reactive, not proactive.

Money is wasted on high-level employees focussing on low-level tasks.

Retention rates are poor and morale is low.


How could this situation be dealt with?


QA Problems


QA Managers often struggle to maintain control over the compliance process. This is often due to the fact that the pen-and-paper process is unreliable, with records being incomplete, inaccurate, falsified or missing.


Potential solutions: simplify your food safety processes as much as possible in order to make them able to be followed


QA should share their decisions regarding how compliance will be measured or recorded so that they can expect support from the Executive Chef when upholding the rules.


Complex Processes


As modern large-volume catering facilities are so complex, one relatively minor problem can snowball rapidly into a problem serious enough to require executive involvement.


Hierarchy - look at every link in the chain of your hierarchy. Be honest about the strengths and weaknesses of each chef. Do they need training in management, processes, are they too tired etc? Be honest with yourself regarding weak links. If they can’t be strengthened then they will continue to compromise the operation. Speak to HR about moving or removing them.


Process - instead of blaming individual people for what went wrong, take a higher level of responsibility and find the real problems that usually exist at the process level. Study each part of the process that led to the problems; are there issues with the processes that need to be addressed?


Culture - is there a cultural, morale problem that needs to be dealt with? This kind of issue normally starts at the top. How are you implementing culture? Do you need help? Don’t feel afraid to reach out to HR if you think you need support or even training in management etc.


Fear - often chefs don’t own a problem because they are afraid that they will be punished. If this is the case, think about why they may feel that way and then think of how you can reassure them that if they come to you with a problem you will thank them for it rather than get angry.


Ultimate Responsibility - when something bad happens, as the Executive Chef, you must take ultimate responsibility for it yourself. When you demonstrate that you are willing to do this then your subordinates will feel comfortable to stand up and take responsibility when things get tough.


How does QA Chef Solves This Problem and Help Jack in His Mission?


  1. The Q-Pack devices for each section have their relevant data downloaded from your ERP system. This means that workers have access to realtime information of prep deadlines and can be relied on to meet deadlines.
  2. QA Chef provides complete, seamless digital food safety data records for every CCP of every dish, which means that QA are able to locate the precise information they need for every dish at the press of a button without involving the culinary team or Executive Chef whatsoever.
  3. QA Chef enables the accurate generation and recording of food safety data at every CCP. This minimises issues arising at the CCP’s which, in turn, minimises the risk that Jack will become involved with compliance matters
  4. When it comes to audit time, Jack already knows what the outcome of the auditor’s scrutiny of their food safety records will be as he has viewed guideline violations and temperature breach reports on a daily basis automatically generated by QA Chef. So he can focus on his job rather than on problematic paper records.
  5. In Executive meetings QA and Culinary do not need to discuss compliance ratings or what kind of improvements need to be made to their processes as any issues have already been dealt with at the point that they arose from QA Chef’s reporting feature.


How Else Can We Help?

To help ensure your upscaled recipes are accurate, check out the Recipe Standardisation article on our blog, where we break down the techniques of recipe writing and upscaling.

Tags: chef, haccp, food safety, food preparation, catering, leadership

David Cox

Written by David Cox

CEO & Co-founder of QA Chef