How to Work Faster and Smarter at Your Bakery

How to Work Faster and Smarter at Your Bakery

bakery employee photo and the text "how fast can you move?"How fast can you move when you are working in a bakery?

I get this question all the time; either from my co-workers or new franchisees and their employees. The simple answer is: as fast as you need to. I have worked with chefs and over the years that principle has constantly motivated me to think faster, move faster, and work smarter. A perpetual mantra in professional kitchens is: work smarter not harder. The mantra pairs perfectly with the all-important concept of mise en place. It is truly amazing what you can accomplish in a day with the right moves, forethought, preparation, and mindset.

At Great Harvest we are always talking about increasing efficiency on the back end. The best bakeries in our system exist within a religion of “get it done.” But what does that really mean?

This week I went into our test bakery in Dillon and baked as if it was a typical day in a busy bakery ─ with the mindset of a chef. In a situation like that, every movement counts. Having your tools and ingredients in the right places before you begin is imperative. Multitasking and having many things happening at the same time is key.

The lessons from professional kitchens are always in my head. I had a chef once who said to me that if there isn’t something on every burner or in every oven then you are behind. In the Great Harvest world, that means something is in the mixer, something is on the table ready to be placed in pans, things are in the oven, butter is melting in the microwave and the next thing to go in the mixer is already in a bowl ready to go.

Photo of a sandwich cooler with fresh ingredients and the text "getting it done"We were having a discussion recently about this topic and someone asked me, “What did your chefs in culinary school do to motivate people to move faster?” My quick joking (kind of) answer was, “they screamed at us.” Which is not effective ─ or really true ─ but it did get me thinking about what the great chefs I have worked for DID do to make their employees work faster.

One of the best tricks is to make it a game or race. In the late ‘90’s I did an internship at a restaurant in California where the chef was always coming up to us cooks, grabbing part of whatever we were working on and wanting to race. Whether it was cleaning a case of spinach or butchering whole salmon, he would take half of the task, roll up his sleeves and see who could go faster. At first, of course, he always won ─ but by the end of that summer I started to hold my own. It turns out it was a far better motivating tool than having a block of Parmesan cheese thrown at your head . . . which also happened to me once.

As any restaurant chef will tell you, there is a minimum amount of people needed to run a kitchen effectively so that each station is covered. But once those stations are covered, the same three or four people can either do 100 covers on a Wednesday night or 225 on a Saturday. You might add a second person to wash dishes, or add a food runner ─ but essentially the difference is covered because the team figures out a way to get it done.

Essential ingredients to work faster and smarter at your bakery:

• Gathering all of the tools you will need once at the beginning of a shift

• Having all of the necessary ingredients within reach

• Making things in the proper order so that multiple items can be worked on at the same time

Our best stores set a pace that is dizzying. I have had the opportunity to visit several very high-volume Great Harvests in the last year and they give new meaning to the “Run Fast” aspect of our Mission Statement. We are constantly learning from those in the trenches about how to do things better, faster, smarter and with less people so that we can share it with new franchisees. An ever-increasing product line makes it even more important to work smarter AND harder.

How much can you fit into a workday? I think in many respects it is as much as you need to. Make it a goal tomorrow to see how much more you can squeeze out of whatever you are tackling - and try to motivate others around you to do the same thing. 

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