Restaurants that offer food made-to-order can choose between two main options: cooking from scratch or offering pre-made meals. A lot of restaurants, especially smaller establishments, will purchase pre-made food and pass it off as their own, unique recipe.
And there are a lot of consumers that will praise the dish and think that it’s a unique asset to their town.
The problem with pre-made menu items, in the sense that they were made by someone else or are frozen and need to be heated, is that you lose that unique flare for your food. If it tastes the same as the restaurant down the street, what will keep your customers coming back?
Consumers have high expectations. If you’re passing yourself off as an authentic Italian restaurant and offer sauce or gravy that is from a jar, your customers will not be happy.
Of course, you may be able to get away with pre-made pasta, depending on your price. High-end establishments that charge top-tier prices are expected to make their dishes from scratch.
A tell-tale sign of pre-cooked food is that your order is ready in minutes. Non-fast-food restaurants that make their dishes from scratch will require time to cook it and assemble. The signs that a restaurant is using pre-made food are:
- Extremely fast service and delivery
- Extensive menu options
- Meal texture is off
- You're at a popular chain restaurant
But as a restaurant owner, pre-made food can mean consistency, less preparation time, and more revenue.
If you want your meal to taste exactly the same every time, pre-made food is a good option. It’s made in large batches with the utmost precision, ingredient measuring and weighing. The same great taste can keep customers coming back, but it can also tarnish your reputation if you’re charging high-end prices for the same menu item that is being sold at lower-priced restaurants across your state.
You may even have just one or two items on the menu that are pre-made and the rest are cooked from scratch. The choice is a tough decision for restaurants to make, but this may make sense if customers are requesting items that you do not offer.
Where Do Restaurants Get Their Food?
Restaurants purchase their products in bulk from suppliers. You may contract with local farmers for fresh produce and meats, but there is often more than one supplier in the restaurant’s chain.
Massive suppliers with contracts across the country are how restaurants get their food.
Bulk warehouse stores also offer options for restaurant owners. These warehouses are a great source for some food items and supplies, but they have one drawback: inconsistency.
Suppliers have also started to offer pre-made food options:
- Desserts (cookies, cakes, muffins, etc.)
- Breakfast foods
- Deli foods
You can ask your supplier if they offer pre-made foods that can allow you to offer high-selling appetizers or soups if you don’t specialize in them. Onion rings or mozzarella sticks, two popular appetizers, are a good example because they allow for high sales and generally taste the same.
Cookies and muffins, or cakes, are also great pre-made goods unless you’re a baker and consumers expect you to make your own.
If you want to maximize your revenue per table, these extra items can add to bill totals and provide you with an easy way to make profits. You're also at a much lower risk of having your reputation tarnished if you opt to offer desserts, appetizers, certain sauces, and soups that are pre-cooked.
How Do Restaurants Prepare Food So Quickly?
Fresh, from a consumer standpoint, is almost always better. When you’re offering all fresh foods made from scratch, you can charge more and add your own unique flavor to the dish. The key to cook quickly is the food preparation methods your restaurant utilizes.
Pre-prepared food for restaurants is still made from scratch if it’s prepped in the morning or the night before.
Pizzerias will often start their restaurant food prep the night before by making dough balls and allowing them to sit overnight. The method allows the restaurant to have enough dough available to make pizzas quickly.
Pasta and similar foods are also made fresh hours or a day before being served to guests. The time-consuming nature of these foods requires food preparation techniques and dozens or hundreds of restaurant food prep containers.
The general rule of thumb at a food prep restaurant is that:
- Everything but protein is prepared ahead of time
- Sous vides may already prep meats and cook them so that they only need to be seared
- Veggies are prepped, cut, boiled in salted water and placed into ice water to shock them before fully cooked. The veggies can be warmed up and served rapidly
- Sauces are cooked in large batches and ready to serve
- Any of the starchy foods are par-cooked
Chefs can often finish the dish when warming up, allowing the vegetables or starch to finish cooking right before serving to the patron.
Ingredients are prepared ahead of time, and this is done in every restaurant. Chefs will take it seriously so that they can offer fast service while still allowing for the fresh taste that patrons expect from a restaurant.
Kitchen setups and stations are also larger than in a home kitchen.
Sections are created that allow for a variety of foods to be cooked quickly. Restaurants may have different sections, and these sections might include:
- Fry items
- Baking goods
Each section may have one or more cooks that specialize in these dishes and can rapidly put dishes together. The kitchen may also have areas for prep time, service time, and cleaning. The preparation will often occur the night before and will include all of the manual work for the next day. The goal of prep time is to ensure that when service is resumed the next day, the items that are needed are ready for cooking.
Roasted vegetables, for example, are pre-cooked and put in ice water so that they’re 90% ready the next day. Finishing the prep is easy and requires simple warming to finish roasting the vegetables. The technique of shocking the vegetables by cooling them rapidly keeps them fresh. The taste is almost no different and allows restaurants to offer a much faster service.
Food prep is often the longest, hardest time of the day for cooks. Service time is often easier because a lot of the food is ready to be cooked without the need for chopping, running back and forth for ingredients, and prepping.
Prep cooks are the heroes behind the scenes at restaurants, making it possible to maintain their quality and fast service time.
Ultimately, it’s up to the restaurant owner and the cooks to determine if they should incorporate a few pre-made foods into their menu or not. In many cases, an authentic restaurant will make all of their dishes by scratch using the prep techniques outlined above.
If you’re trying to pass off pre-made food as authentic, you risk losing the trust you’ve built up with customers over the years.