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The Power of Simple Math

So much of what we do as chefs and Managers can be simplified and determined with the use of a little simple math. I’m talking about adding, subtracting, multiplying, and even more importantly; counting. Whether we’re planning production, scheduling staff, or costing out a menu, simple math can answer a lot of our questions and solve a lot of problems. Yet, so often decisions are made by guessing or estimating our needs; leading to shortages or overproduction.

It still amazes me when a chef runs short on food for a catering event because they didn’t count their portions, or when a Chef over orders greatly because they didn’t take the time to multiply the needed number of portions by the portion size to calculate how much of a product to order.

No doubt that with experience you can estimate the amount of product needed, but even this can lead to shortages and unhappy guests. On the other hand, over-ordering can lead to increased usage and waste, but most importantly; money being tied up on the shelf.

One of the biggest mistakes I often see is people’s failure to quantify production time. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “I’ll take care of that tomorrow. All we have to do is this and this,” and then see them frantically running to get everything completed on time.

While the task may be simple and not require a high level of skill, it will still require a specific amount of time to complete. What they don’t take into consideration is that if it takes 1 minute from start to finish to make a single Hors d'Oeuvres and you have 250 pieces to make; this equates to 4 hours and 15 minutes or labor hours. Now multiply that by two to three more items. A little simple math can prevent you from being late or running at the last minute.

Having great experience is an important skill to have, but even the most experienced people require a little simple math at times to be successful. We can remove so much of the guesswork and alleviate so many problems if you just take the time to count, add or multiply to get a more accurate answer.

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