© Vernon Coelho, 2020

A Chef’s Approach to Time Management

One thing leads to another. As kitchen staff are in the kind of position where by nature you are asked or are expected to do more than most can fit into their normal routine. If you professionals manage your time well, then you can accomplish the important aspects of your job and look good, but if you are not wise in choosing priorities for your limited time, you may work very hard and still look very bad in the eyes of your superiors. This can be most frustrating and detrimental to you as frustration exerts pressure in one’s mind and eventually on one’s body.

It follows then that if you manage your time well, your work can be done more efficiently. It is not by “toughing it out”, but by sorting out one’s priorities so that one’s work load remains manageable.

Time categories

There are three time categories:

  1. Routine work time: This time is spent fulfilling all obligations to other people in your organisation. These “obligations” may include reports to higher management, meetings and discussions with associates and superiors, telephones calls and progress reports. For example, a morning’s meeting is usually held with the other chefs. The main purpose of this meeting is to chalk out the day’s plan and what menu to plan if there is any banquet booking. The meeting is also held so that the executive chef knows what is happening in the various sections of his kitchen.
  2. Investment time: This is the time spent daily on affairs that fall within the chef’s immediate responsibility, such as supervising subordinates, assigning work, training new recruits, checking performance and counseling peers. This part of the chef’s job is most important and should get the major part of his attention. If a chef thinks that his subordinate is not performing well and up to the organisation’s expectations, he should spend the time to analyse the weakness and train the subordinate to perform better.
  3. Immediate reward time: This is the time spent on activities that yield immediate results. Delegation of activities fits into this category. When work is assigned to a subordinate, one can expect an immediate reward: one less thing to do. This category also includes helping kitchen staff to solve their job problems. For a banquet function the chef prepares the food according to the function prospectus or the menu on which the hotel will earn its revenue. The entire process is usually delegated by the sous chef or the chef-in-charge of the kitchen.

Systems for organising time

A chef’s approach to time management can be guided by two general rules:

  1. Systemise and priortise the management of a controllable time.
  2. Minimise the amount of the controllable time.

Saving controllable time

A good chef should try to find out where his time goes by keeping a running record of what he does. This record should be maintained for a minimum of one week. Using a time record sheet for this purpose can be a helpful indicator. Analyse the activities and make a note of whether the specified activity is:

  1. A duty only you can do. The menu planning is usually done by the executive chef and he is also responsible for hiring the new recruits into the kitchen.
  2. A responsibility that you can delegate – at least in part. Briefing a subordinate as to how to prepare a dish for a VIP guest and then letting him prepare the dish.
  3. A responsibility that you can delegate – entirely. The daily receiving of goods that can be checked by a subordinate.
  4. An unnecessary activity – it can be eliminated. A chef can do away with preparing fresh pasta, instead of getting them from the market.
  5. An activity that might best be handled by another section of the kitchen. The various cuts of meat are usually handled by the butchery and not by the individual kitchen.

Assessing use of time

The following analysis and questions are helpful when one needs to assess how one’s time is being spent:

  1. Analyse everything you do in terms of objectives. What needs to be done? When should it be done? Why should it be done? How should it be done? What are the consequences of not doing it?
  2. Analyse objectives and goals. Are goals being clearly defined and measurable? Are goals realistic? Are goals essential for meeting objectives?
  3. Analyse activities in terms of productivity.

Planning time

Objectives and goals must be considered by a chef in planning the use of time.

  1. Plan objectives and goals, both personal and organisational. Be realistic in planning what can be accomplished in a given amount of time. Consider the relevance of your goals to the objectives.
  2. Plan ahead. Plan time on a daily basis to accomplish the most important tasks first. Plan for upcoming reservations, conferences and banquet parties.
  3. Plan to eliminate all non-essential, extraneous activities that are not supportive of your objectives and goals.

Managing time better

  1. Make up your mind fast. This is not to advocate snap judgements, but it is a fact that 85% of the problems that you face are not worth more than a few minutes of your time. The kitchen staff likes working with decisive people even when they are not right all the time. Few things save more time than a decisive answer – time saved for the people in the kitchen.
  2. Be specific about dates. The promise by a chef to complete a task by a given date or time should be kept. If a chef does not keep his promise by that specific date, there will be more and more tasks coming his way and he will not be able to cope up with the excess workload, resulting in working extra hours.
  3. Write down reminders. Never trust yourself to remember things to do. Use a sure fire reminder system, such as jotting down important jobs to be done in a desk calendar or a pocket notebook.

Evaluating effective use of time

The final step in organising time evaluation:

  1. Reflect on time usage. Use the last 15 minutes of the day to determine if the objectives and goals have being met.
  2. Continually update priority. Review at intervals, readjust and make changes as seen necessary.

ABC analysis to control time

The ABC analysis is a concept that predicts that some 80% of the chef’s time will be spent on 20% of his problems. Your problems should be rated as follows:

Class A: 20% of the problems

Class B: The vital tasks

Class C: The very small issues, even though there are a lot of them.

The ABC analysis shows that if the chef goes after problems in class A first and then class B, when he gets to class C, he is able to wipe out a lot of these so-called problems in one sweep. These are the tasks that can be disposed of quickly with a telephone call, a jotted note and a brief instruction to the employees as the chef walks through his department.