Catering and food service operations can improve compliance and accountability, increase efficiency and improve morale through the correct application of division-of-labour.
History of Division-of-Labour in Catering
The concept of division-of-labour is certainly not new.
One of the earliest examples of division-of-labour was the domestication and farming of crops in the Neolithic (or Agricultural) Revolution about 12,000 years ago.
Xenophon, the 4th Century BC soldier, historian and philosopher ascertained that, ‘He who pursues a very specialized task will do it best.’
Immanuel Kant, in 1785, wrote ‘...when each worker sticks to one particular kind of work that needs to be handled differently from all the others, he can do it better and more easily than when one person does everything.’
Then, from 1760 to 1830, the Industrial Revolution defined itself by the specialisation of industrial processes and siloing of manpower in factories.
But division-of-labour in the catering and food service industries would have to wait until later, until the culinary world was influenced by one the greatest chefs to have ever lived, a man called Georges Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935).
Prior to Escoffier, hotel kitchens employed chefs who would be independently responsible for the preparation and execution of individual dishes. Escoffier observed that this led to an inevitable duplication of prep, eg. multiple sections preparing the same herb garnish for their respective dishes, which was inefficient and slow, produced food of inconsistent quality, and led to a lack of executive oversight.
In what seems quite normal now in restaurants and catering operations around the world, but was a staggering departure from the status quo back in the mid-1880s, Escoffier grouped together similar types of preparation and techniques from the constituent parts of all the dishes on the menu and assigned specialist chefs de partie to these ‘stations’. These stations would work in parallel with the other sections to produce whole dishes from their respective components.
Reporting to each chef de partie could be cuisiniers, with demi chefs, commis and apprentices below them.
Each chef de partie would then report to the Sous Chef (‘under Chef’), who would report to the Chef de Cuisine (Head Chef).
What this Brigade de Cuisine system resembled was as much kitchen as military hierarchy, and it was far more powerful than the old way of running a kitchen. To be effective, it relied on collaboration between the stations, collaboration that was best enforced by a clear chain of command.
Escoffier, as Chef de Cuisine at the Grand Hotel in Monte Carlo and then in the Grand National Hotel in Lucerne, implemented and fine tuned Brigade de Cuisine, perhaps little knowing that his new system of kitchen operations would become the modus operandi for all future catering, restaurant and food service establishments.
Division-of-Labour in the Context of (HACCP) Food Safety Plans
Since Escoffier, division-of-labour has become an essential best practice for optimising efficiency and consistency in the preparation and cooking of food in kitchens. However, at QA Chef we have observed in the operations of most of our catering and food service clients that HACCP and general food safety processes seem not to have missed out on this methodology.
Now I’m going to show you a few different scenarios of division of labour in catering HACCP.
Scenario 1 - Ineffective Division-of-Labour Applied to Hot Kitchen HACCP Process
In most of the catering hot kitchens we have visited, the chefs prepare and cook food but they are also responsible for monitoring and recording the food’s cook/chill HACCP temperatures and times.
As you can see in diagram 1, there are many chefs preparing and cooking food at their sections, but also doing their own HACCP recording, often sharing the same paperwork and same temperature sensing devices with their colleagues.
Division of labour, as described by Justin Roff-Marsh in his 2015 book The Machine, can only be effective if the following criteria are satisfied:
- Scheduling should be centralized
- Workflows should be standardized
- Resources should be specialized
- Management should be formalized
In the diagram above, rules 3 and 4 are not satisfied:
- The food safety compliance resource is not specialised - chefs are handling the food safety compliance process instead of using trained Quality Assurance staff.
- The management of the process is not formalized - there are no key managerial staff overseeing the compliance process.
When asked why this is the case, most caterers say:
- “The best person to fill out the foods’ records is the chef who prepared the food.”
- “We’ve always done it that way.”
- “Who else would do it?”
In our experience managing kitchens and working with caterers around the world, we believe that a chef is the worst choice of staff member to record temperatures and times of the food they are preparing and cooking, for the following reasons:
Having each chef spending a portion of every shift on this duty is a huge waste of money.
As the chef is constantly juggling cooking and compliance, compliance often does not get the attention it deserves, leading to the records being missing, incorrectly filled out or fabricated.
As the main role of the chefs is to cook food, QA will find it hard to hold the chefs accountable for the compliance process, which is often seen by the Head Chef to be secondary to the food.
Chefs who stop cooking and preparing food to record its temperatures, especially if they have to also have to track its chilling process, are constantly interrupting their workflow and not operating efficiently.
Risk to food safety
As the rules might not be followed correctly, the chef might resort to falsifying records, meaning that the caterer cannot stand by the integrity of their food safety records. So is the food really safe?
Scenario 2 - Effective Division-of-Labour Applied to Hot Kitchen HACCP Process
As you can see in Diagram 2, the chefs are mainly focussed on preparing and cooking the food. They are held accountable to maintain communication with the QA Assistant, alerting the Assistant when the food they are preparing requires a time/temperature to be recorded, according to the caterer’s food safety manual.
The QA Assistant handles all recordkeeping and manages the loading of food in and out of blast chillers. The chefs may help the assistant by writing labels for their Work-in-Progress components.
The QA Assistant is someone who is hired and trained by QA which means that they are far less likely to make compromises than a chef. He or she will not have grievances because they would rather be cooking, so they can be expected to have pride in their work.
If QA or the Head Chef needs to know anything about the record-keeping they know precisely who to talk to, meaning greater accountability.
Often people think that this division of labour will cost more money as it requires another FTE. In most facilities we are familiar with, each chef spends a total of around 1 hour in each shift doing their HACCP paperwork and labelling etc.
Imagine if this is extrapolated over 40 chefs. 40 chefs x 1 hour x $25 per hour = $1,000 per shift.
Even two FTEs for this job would be 2 compliance Assistants x 8 hours x $25 per hour = $400 per shift.
As the QA Assistant is focussed purely on the compliance process, the resulting records are more complete, accurate and true than if the chefs were doing this job.
Chefs are happier as they can focus on what they are really employed to do and their Head Chef is happier as she can hold them accountable for focussing fully on cooking.
QA is happier as they can effectively uphold the food safety compliance processes in the kitchen and also hold a few highly trained staff accountable for doing the recordkeeping effectively.
Remaining Challenges with this Scenario
Scenario 2 is clearly far superior to Scenario 1 but the following problems still exist:
- The compliance Assistant is still trying and failing to remember to check chilling items at the 2 hour or 4 hour mark.
- They are able to alter or falsify written records very easily.
- They struggle to get around the kitchen effectively to record all required records as they are carrying around multiple devices (probe, IR, paper, pen).
- Their handwriting might not be legible.
- They need to remember different food safety guidelines and shelf lives for different types of food.
- WIP labels are still handwritten, which means interruption to process and quality of information on the labels is poor.
Scenario 3 - QA Chef Applied to Hot Kitchen HACCP Process
In this scenario, the QA Chef system enables a single QA Assistant to use a ‘Q-Pack’ to manage the entire HACCP record keeping process, including automated labelling.
This scenario enables complete division of labour for maximum efficiency, accountability, compliance and morale.
It also digitises all food safety data, meaning these benefits are shared with the QA Department itself.
There is a storied history of the practice of division of labour in catering industries. However despite this we still see it applied ineffectively, especially in the case of HACCP in kitchens.
Whether through better manual processes or the QA Chef system, revamping established practices of chefs doubling up cooking and HACCP recording means finding efficiencies, increasing morale and, most importantly, yielding far higher levels of compliance and better protecting consumers’ health.