© Vernon Coelho, 2020

Making the Kitchen a Paper-free Environment

What would the future kitchens be like? A question that many of us still prefer to keep unanswered. Recent technological advances in the field of information technology and computerisation, have had an effect on each and every business, including food and beverage. The current trends and advances in these fields give us a brief insight on what is in store for future chefs.

Of course, nobody can replace the trusted old gas range, or the wok for the perfect chow, but what we are talking about here is not about kitchen equipment, but tools that will help the kitchen to integrate better with the rest of the hotel. These tools will make the kitchen a paper-free environment and will hold the ability of fully automating the kitchen (except for the cooking, of course). So, what does the future have in store for us? Here is a brief glimpse on how things will be done.

The computer in individual kitchens would contain a data warehouse of all recipes in the form of standard recipes. Thus, the kitchen computer would know about all the ingredients which are used in that specific kitchen. Let’s see how an order cycle could be processed using this system.

The waiter would go to the table with a hand-held wireless EPOS (Electronic Point of Sales system) and take the order from the guests. He would simply use the touch screen or a light pen along with handwriting recognition software to enter the order into his EPOS, which has been issued to him and can only be used by him (as it needs a password to input any order). Once the order is taken, the waiter would confirm the order on the EPOS. This order would now be sent via wireless communication to the kitchen computer, from where it will be routed to a large LCD screen/monitor located at a convenient overhead location, so that it is visible to every person working in the kitchen.

The kitchen display unit will be a large console, which would basically be used to display orders. The unit will display orders sequentially as they are entered, column-wise, and will display the orders of about 20 tables, which is more than what could ever be pending. It would also display the time elapsed since the pick-up of every previous course prepared and served, and also the total time elapsed since the order was sent. For example, if a guest has ordered for a soup, a main course and a dessert, the two clocks on the display would start synhronised till the soup has been picked up.

Once this is done, the first clock would keep on moving, but the second one will be reset. Thus, visual indicators can be set to indicate if an order has been pending for a long time. Once a course has been picked up, the display will change the colour of that particular item to show that it has been picked up.

The display unit will be accompanied by a smaller touchscreen unit, which will display exactly the same information that the main display unit does, only that this would be placed at an easily accessible place.

Let us now see how the order would be processed further. Once the order flashes on the display unit, kitchen staff would prepare it. Once prepared and ready for pick-up, the chef will press a button on the touchscreen to indicate that the order is ready. At this point, the “course clock” would be reset, and a signal would be sent to the waiter who had taken the order on his hand-held EPOS, indicating that the order is ready for pick-up. The waiter would then go to the kitchen and pick up the order and serve it.

The “back of the house” processing in the computer will have an automatically updated data warehouse of the stock available in the kitchen. Once the the waiter sends an E-KOT (Electronic Kitchen Order Ticket), the computer in the kitchen will look up the standard recipe from its recipe database.

The computer will then look up the ingredient required, after a certain error correction factor, from the database of the current stock. The error correction factor can be calculated by taking the average errors in terms of quantities over a period of time, and updated every single day automatically. Once any particular ingredient falls below a certain level, the computer would automatically include the particular item in the stock required database.

The computer could decide on the quantity required using a scale that has been already provided (that is the maximum indent), or in a more advanced system, it would take an average of the current daily requirements, along with the last few years requirements and come up with the probable required stock.

At the end of the shift, once the current chef-team logs out of the system, the computer would generate an Electronic Indent and send it to the stores computer system. After this, the store computer would collect the various indents for the different kitchens, and would deduct the requirements from the current stock at the stores. If the whole network is also connected to the Internet, it could make the purchase department “virtual”, that is, after the stores computer decides on what items are to be purchased, it would check up the best prices from the websites of suppliers (which have been already judged for the quality standards) and then purchase the required amount of the ingredients from the supplier which is giving the best price for those ingredients.

Once the whole system gets electronic, it would also result in a “virtual” controls departments. The computer systems will automatically analyse the E-KOT’s and the bills, along with the indents to provide accurate food cost reports, in real time, which could be accessed by the F&B manager at any time, showing them the position of stocks, stores, orders, etc. at that particular time. Such integration would result in a totally paper-free and automatic F&B/catering network system.

Such a system will also take care of recipe costs, calculate up-to-date prices of all recipes and provide accurate data. The cost of each ingredient will be automatically updated in the system as soon as it changes, and, thus, automatic and accurate calculations of the daily food cost is possible.

All these systems do exist, although in parts. What needs to be done is to completely integrate the food and beverage, food production, controls, stores and purchase departments. Yes, the cost for installing and maintaining such a system is high, but the long term benefits are many and if used efficiently, the cost could be recovered in no time at all, as such a system would result in reduced labour costs, accurate purchasing and, of course, a kitchen team totally dedicated to cooking and not wasting time in preparing indents and calculating costs.