Recipe Tech Writing (unnecessarily long)

Subject: Recipe Tech Writing (unnecessarily long)
From: "Matthew Bin" <mattbin -at- hotmail -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 24 Dec 2002 15:32:43 +0000

I thought I'd throw this anecdote into the ring, on the subject of recipes and tech writing.

My father quit his job as a production supervisor for a big manufacturing plant to open a restaurant a few years ago. (Not the first time he's totally changed his career incidentally.) In his career in manufacturing, he became very familiar with philosophies of quality (especially Crosby), and implemented a quality system in the plant. He's been something of a quality evangelist since that experience.

So when he opened his restaurant, he wanted to do the same thing. I was working at the restaurant every summer (I was in university at the time), and one or two days a week through the school year. We had a long drive from home to the restaurant, and a lot of the time on the drive we talked about how to implement a quality system there.

I don't know how many of you have experience in the restaurant industry, but if you do you'll know that a lot of the people in it like to think that there's no way to systematize how things are done. I think that's why food in a lot of restaurants is inconsistent and, at times, of poor quality. (Not true in the fast food industry, incidentally.)

My father's philosophy is "write down only those things that you need to have done right"--ha, ha. It flew in the face of everything his cooks and the franchisor said, but "stubbornness" is a family motto so we set about putting the 60-odd recipes on paper.

Each recipe was in a table with 3 columns, Item, Amount, and Procedure. Each food item had two recipes, in fact, "prep" (which could be done in advance) and "plate" (which is done after the order comes in from the table). All the prep recipes ended with something going into the fridge or the freezer.

The results were pretty much the standard results for a quality system, namely:

- more consistent food preparation, even while the head cook wasn't there
- higher quality food
- less food waste
- faster food preparation
- smoother cookline, especially during rushes

It also allowed us to refine the recipes and procedures, because once it's on paper you can sort of see it more clearly in your mind. We were able to shave seconds or even minutes off some of the procedures,

Anyhow, some side benefits were that the recipes were adopted by every restaurant in the franchise (although the franchisor was crooked and we left the franchise soon after the recipes were adopted). Also, the health inspectors (who ate at our restaurant together every week) looked at our recipes and told us that we were closer to HACCP compliance than any restaurant they'd ever dealt with.

This was really important experience for me in my proto-TW career (although few prospective employers ever seemed to care about it when I had it on my resume--before I had any "real" experience). Unlike with software manuals, you can see the result of each procedure immediately, and testing the manual is a lot more fun.

Anyhow, that's my own recipe TW experience. I wish the food service industry in general would adopt tech writers--I'd love to work in the industry again (though not as a fry cook or grill man, I'll tell ya!).

Happy hols to all,

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