The increased use of central production kitchens – also known as central production units (CPUs) has become increasingly evident to the Caternet Operations team, as we make our visits to all kinds of food businesses. When used appropriately and executed well, even small restaurant groups are proving they can be a key ingredient in surviving the difficult economic climate.
To be clear, these aren’t ‘ghost kitchens’ (those that exist only to create entire meals for the delivery market). They’re not wholesalers either. These are company-owned and produce items such as gravies, sauces and vegetables; sometimes shellfish
Centralised production is nothing new in catering. For example, Gordon Ramsay incorporated his well-publicised ‘GR Logistics’ in 1993, which supplied many of Ramsay’s London restaurants until 2010. Its long history still surprises many outside of the hospitality industry, as highlighted by the viral reaction to that behind-the-scenes video of the macaroni cheese at Panera Bread.
How do Central Production Kitchens work?
In a sentence; menu elements are made centrally and distributed to restaurant locations, ensuring every customer will experience the same quality. Fast-casual restaurants have often tasked aspects of their menu to central production and the trend is growing at the ‘top-end’. The arguments for management and increased control are undeniable.
- Brand consistency. When clients tell us their reasons for a change over to central production, consistency of the
productis always in the top three. Although centralised recipe systems (those that include instruction steps and photos) can help, if your supply chain has inconsistencies and differences then the end product will too. Hygiene and allergen compliance can improve when risks are contained toa smaller kitchen estate.
- Fighting skill shortages. Rotating chefs through the stations of a busy production kitchen can mitigate the continued impact of locating skilled chefs. Arguably there are more opportunities for staff retention, including a chance to share in recipe development; moving between menus when a group has a number of sites; an opportunity to change working patterns, become upskilled from a hub of shared knowledge.
- Reduced wage and waste pressures. Removing some technical components of the mise en place will reduce the pressure on your site chefs. It gives
stocka chance to be moved between locations and for use-by dates to take centre stage. Wage pressures are cut through employing fewer chefs and more line cooks to build the components closer to plating.
- Reduced ingredient costs. Previously separate orders are combined through the relevant suppliers into one drop-off location. The result is fewer overall orders to drive down the commodity costs.
- Reduced risk with product and concepts trials. Again, it is simply less challenging dealing with one delivery point and to train one group of employees in storage and handling. This includes changing suppliers.
- On-site teams focus on the core offer. My experience when working in restaurants meant on average, a half-day prepping your mise en place, with little time left for the thrill of the service. Pushing elements off-site gives time back to the restaurant.
What are the risks?
On paper, central production kitchens make a lot of sense but can show as a heavy cost to your balance sheet. Most generate no revenue, and as such must be continually reviewed for cost-benefit analysis. Integrated purchasing, recipe and stock management systems can and do help! Shared costs are then easily reallocated to your sites.
Software to manage your kitchen
Caternet has over a decade of helping multi-site operators manage their food business with time and
Neil Shayle is Head of Operations