As recently as 2014, World of Beer’s kitchen compass was found on paper—specifically, an 8.5-inch by 11-inch color-printed, laminated recipe book that provided cooks direction on each and every menu item.
Like in many kitchens, the recipe books served as step-by-step guideposts. The books were where new menu items made their debut and where alterations to existing items were officially documented. World of Beer kitchens have now ditched the paper in favor of a digital solution, FusionPrep, a kitchen management tool for multi-unit restaurants that operates on a standard iPad.
“In this day and age, when everyone is so tech savvy, [paper] didn’t seem to make much sense,” says David Belliveau, culinary director for World of Beer. “This helps pull everything together and keep everyone on the same page. That alone is huge.”
The digital system enables restaurant companies to instantly update recipes and add new menu items from a central location. It keeps on-hand counts updated and automatically generates prep lists. The technology also includes an option for label printing, with a requirement that kitchen staff view a recipe before printing food safety labels.
“It’s just really nice to have everything all in one place,” Belliveau says. “What you used to do on six to seven clipboards, you can have all in one location.”
At World of Beer, Belliveau uses the program to update recipes or to clarify what he’s looking for in a given dish. If he realizes a dish is too salty, he can make an instantaneous tweak and the change is visible system-wide. “I don’t think I go a week without making a minor tweak. Or someone says, ‘Hey, this recipe doesn’t read as clear as it could.’ I use it literally once a week if not more,” he says.
The system provides a uniform standard for each dish, safeguarding the menu from experimentation or interpretation. “If someone thinks it should be done one way and someone else thinks it should be done another way, [our digital record] is the final answer,” Belliveau says. “They love it. The confidence of always knowing everything you have is 100 percent up to date. You could never do that in the past.”
And so far, there have not been any issues with safeguarding a tablet in the kitchen environment. The system’s iPads come with hard cases and can easily be mounted in a stationary position. “I’ve dropped mine in water. I’ve spilled stuff on it. People have had their hands all over it,” Belliveau says. “The [case] protects it really well.”
The software-as-a-service product is priced $35 per iPad per month and was created by tech entrepreneurs Chon Nguyen and Shawn Berg. Paper tracking is a risky proposition when it comes to creating food safety labels. However, labels created from the automated system include information on shelf life, portions, prep date, and the team member who prepared the item.
The new label-making process forces staff to view recipes continually—a process most restaurant teams generally appreciate as the tablets include photos and videos of how to make a given dish. This has been true at The Old Spaghetti Factory in Canada. In 2014, when the 14-unit concept (which operates separately from the American company of the same name) made changes to 18 of its core menu items, Michael Thompson, the restaurant’s corporate executive chef, says the prep team’s role grew more complicated and he noticed a lack of consistency in the end products.
“Once that started happening, I found that there was a little disconnect between the written recipe and execution,” he says. “Lots of people can read the same recipe and get different results.”
Using the FusionPrep system has helped him keep team members on the same page by sending video demonstrations of how to prepare dishes. He had previously tried posting cooking demos on a YouTube private channel, but the restaurants had trouble keeping track of the individual links. Now, videos are delivered directly to the kitchens. “When you’re trying to describe how to cook something in a sauté pan on a piece of paper, it’s very dry and clinical. Each person is forming [his] own visualization of how that goes down,” Thompson says. “Now, I can have that person [watch] exactly how I want that dish done—right down to the plating and garnishing—in a matter of three minutes.”
Thompson also likes the flexibility he has to alter recipes and the assurance that the prescribed changes will be executed because all of the kitchens are automatically notified. “Previously I would mail out a new recipe card and ask [our locations] to destroy the old card. And it’s really kind of up in the air,” he says. “I didn’t know whether it had been updated or not, but in this fashion I know someone’s looked at it every day.”