If you’ve ever been in a restaurant kitchen, or just seen one on TV, you’ve probably admired how efficiently they work. Obviously, it’s not as easy as the pros make it look. That said, there’s still a lot of useful tips home cooks can learn from restaurants. Here are six of them.
Plan ahead but be flexible
You might think that restaurants plan out their menus weeks if not months in advance. This is often true. All top restauranteurs know, however, that sometimes life doesn’t go to plan. For example, food deliveries might not arrive, equipment might break down causing food to spoil or staff might call in sick. They have plans in place to deal with all of this.
As a home cook, it generally saves money, time, and hassle to plan your meals ahead as much as you can. At the same time, however, recognize that life happens and don’t beat yourself up about it. There are going to be times when your shopping doesn’t arrive or when you’re too tired or just don’t feel like it. Have a choice of plans in place for when this happens.
Be prepared to adapt recipes
Use recipes as guidelines rather than rulebooks. Feel free to change out ingredients to suit your budget, taste, and mood. In general, you want to change out like with like. For example, swap out starch for starch (e.g. pasta for rice) and so on. That said, there are no hard and fast rules about this. Just use your own judgment and see where it leads you.
Organize your kitchen for efficiency
Restaurant kitchens are designed to keep people in “stations” with everything they need close to hand. When it’s quiet, one person can move from station to station. When it’s busy, all of the stations can be used at the same time without anyone getting in the way of anyone else. Try to organize your home kitchen in the same way. It can make food preparation a lot less hassle.
Another way restaurants make their kitchens run efficiently is by being super-organized in their use of storage. You’ll never see a restaurant kitchen holding gadgets in case they need them “one day”. In fact, you’ll see very few single-purpose gadgets at all. Whisks and blenders are usually about it. You’ll also never see food being allowed to go out of date uneaten.
Purging your kitchen of items you don’t use (unless you really love them) can make cooking a whole lot easier. Making sure that you use up all the food you buy will help to save you money and will also help to save the planet.
Use checklists and work rotas
Even if you’re the only person in your kitchen, you’ll probably still find it helpful to use checklists and work rotas. They are a straightforward way to make sure that all tasks are done how they should be and when they should be. You don’t have to rely on your own memory let alone somebody else’s.
If you’re in a family kitchen then checklists and work rotas can help to keep everyone on track with what needs to be done by whom and (by) when. You can sweeten the deal for children by allocating points to each task. Then they can convert those points into rewards.
Focus on your basics
Some of the very top restaurants create massively complex dishes. Many restaurants, however, actually cook very simple food. They just do it extremely well. That starts with choosing the finest ingredients. You may not appreciate what a difference this makes unless you try it for yourself. For example, take an easy sausage gravy recipe and make it with premium sausages.
Likewise, a lot of the food preparation techniques used in restaurants are very simple. It just takes a lot of practice to perform them well at speed. An obvious example of this is the way chefs cut food. Even if you’re only cooking because you have to, it can be very worthwhile to work on learning at least a handful of basic cutting techniques.
Take presentation seriously
There’s a very good reason why photographs of restaurant meals are so popular on Instagram. Restaurants take presentation very seriously. As a home cook, you probably don’t have time, energy, or inclination to go to the same lengths. That said, a few simple touches can go a long way.
They don’t even need to be to do with the food itself. You could simply make sure that the table was set attractively. For example, you could use a tablecloth and cloth napkins and have some form of decoration. You could even write out menus, perhaps on a chalkboard.