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What The Back-of-House Can Learn From Car Manufacturers

When most people talk about cars and food, they’re talking about drive-ins or deliveries.

But there’s a strong connection between car manufacturers and your back-of-house restaurant operations. So strong that you can learn a lot from how car companies work.

I’m referring to just-in-time manufacturing, which is a work process that gained popularity in Japanese Toyota manufacturing plants. Just-in-time manufacturing, or JIT for short, aims to reduce waste created by overproduction and excess inventory. It’s since been adopted widely by many companies across different industries and business types.

And yes, restaurants can take advantage of this as well.

Hard to believe? Here are a few JIT principles and how you can adapt them to your back of house operations.

Low stock inventory

The original JIT concept required factories to keep just enough parts on hand to satisfy current order demand. But maintaining a low stock inventory is even more critical for restaurants because food ingredients have a much more limited shelf life.

In a restaurant, overstock leads to spoilage and waste, so it’s in a restaurant’s best interest to stock just enough to stay operational. Keeping a low stock also helps a restaurant’s cash flow, since maintaining a large amount of slow-moving stock ties money down.

Make sure you’re intimately familiar with your restaurant’s peak and slow periods, as well as its top-selling items, so you can keep just enough inventory to make it to the next ordering cycle without running out.

Skill diversification

It’s useful to have employees with multiple skills in a factory, as they can fulfill numerous roles up and down the line when required. Versatile employees also help keep manpower costs lean.

Restaurant back of house operations could also benefit from this kind of skill diversification. While a line cook will rarely be asked to wait on tables, your kitchen will benefit from having staff that can work at multiple stations or cook different types of cuisine, or who can step up to fulfill another person’s role if needed.

Streamlining material movement

Restaurants and factories both require quantities of product to be moved from the beginning to the end of a process in a timely and efficient manner. Some restaurants try to do this in batches, preparing similar orders at the same time as others to save time.

But according to JIT manufacturing principles, this doesn’t save time at all. Take a look at this video:

As you can see, processing orders individually is much better than batch orders. The entire collection of orders is completed faster. But more importantly, each diner is more likely to get their order fresh and hot, instead of it cooling down waiting for the rest of the batch to arrive.

There are other lean manufacturing principles that I haven’t covered–pull systems, physical organization, and defect prevention among them–but the ones I’ve already mentioned are more than applicable to any restaurant, be it fine dining, fast food, or specialty foods.

Try it out for yourself and let us know how well it works for you!


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