Retail Operations and The Joke of Being Average

The current course focus on retail operations, having half of the class taking care of the school’s bake shop for two weeks and the other half taking care of the catering and production. Today I’m going to talk about the catering and production, where I spent the past two weeks.

It was a good experience, the closest to a real-life bakery experience one can get while in school. Apparently during summer there is a decrease on the number of special orders, but we still had plenty of work to do. Some days were just so repetitive in terms of recipes and products that it was a good training on how to get better and faster doing the same thing.

I had the opportunity to take care of the production list for a couple of days, and it was harder then I thought. Not only I had to review the orders, and make sure we were producing the right items, I also had to forecast what we would need in the days ahead. But I’m glad I took on the task.

Within the production list, there were orders from the other half of the class, for the merchandising project they were doing. More on that next week, as it’ll be my turn to do this project. But just to give you an idea, students are divided in teams and are asked to develop a merchandising theme, including a special product to sell.

The two initial groups took our regular recipes to a new level, with added flavours and special packaging. It was all good until the end of the week when we got a special order of 12 dozen of sugar cookies decorated as soccer balls. The “soccer ball cookies experience” was so far probably the toughest time for me in school.

On Friday, when we got the order I was responsible for the production list for Monday, it also coincided with a change in instructors and since no one in class, other than myself, had any experience decorating intricate cookies, the project became my responsibility.

Not sure it was lack of planning or lack of directions, but the team responsible for selling the soccer cookies didn’t end up bringing us a template, a picture or even a sample of the cookie they wanted.  And that was when I started stressing about it. During the weekend I sent some emails to the classmates enlisted to help with the cookies, with video tutorials on cookie decoration, I printed a template of the ball and hoped for the best.

To make the story short because of the lack of experience and other administrative problems, it took us a good 2 hours to be able to start decorating the cookies. And by then, everyone involved in the process was feeling overwhelmed. It was not only tough on the cookie decorators, but the rest of the classmates that end up having to take care of all the production of the regular products.

We kept saying it was a learning experience, and it sure was, but when you are stressed about something it is hard to see the big picture.

The whole experience helped us with the planning and execution of the next special products (cookies decorated like the facebook logo for example); helped with our piping skills, to the point I want to start making more decorated cookies, but the best outcome in my opinion is that it united the team. We still worked hard after that, but after the soccer ball cookies were done we spent the next days, joking around and laughing, as we never had before.

Now thinking back of what I could have done differently, I could have waited for the team responsible for selling the cookies to come up with directions or a template, should they want the product done in time. I could also have chosen a simpler soccer ball template, I could have enlisted more people to work with me, but in the end going through the whole experience as a group was definitely one of the best learning experiences we had so far.

And as in “What happen in Vegas stays in Vegas” I will refrain from telling you about the dough sheeter dance and the joke of being average, but after these two weeks we became a tighter group.  And that by itself was worth the trouble.

From Trash to Treasure

Today’s assignment is about waste management in a bakery.

When researching about food waste and waste management, I came across several definitions of what is considered food waste. In fact, food waste definitions can vary so greatly that for purposes of this assignment I will consider a broader definition of food waste as food that has expired, does not meet desired food specifications for human consumption, process foods or foods that you would normally throw in the trash.

But the truth is that even without a proper definition, everybody has (or should have) an idea of what food waste is and that wasting food when there are so many hungry people in the world and more so that natural resources are finite, is a very bad idea, but how can we deal with the problem?

We may not be able to solve the world’s problem, but we can certainly start in our homes. And as business, how can one deal with waste?

In a business sense, we have to understand that not only that stale bread that get thrown away or that jug of milk that expired in the back of the fridge is waste, also the time of producing a product that gets over baked or is simply not sold is waste.

In my opinion the first step is avoiding unnecessary production. And in order to do that, good record keeping of sales and inventory, also proper food handling and making sure the refrigeration temperatures are correct at all times, are indispensable.

Adopting a “First In, First Out”  (FIFO) approach to inventory handling can prevent ingredients to expiry, but not by itself, as without the proper training employees could ignore the system in favor of grabbing the most convenient box.

Keeping track of sales can help the bakery manager in many ways, but for purposes of waste management it reflects what products are most popular, and when they are sold, aiding in the production schedule. Which leads to best ordering practices avoiding the bakery not being able to use all of the product received before it goes bad.

But even when all of the good practices are observed, products may not be sold, cookies can get over baked, the what?

We can sell day-old products at a discounted price. Or donate items to shelters and food banks. Also getting creative in recycling leftovers, transforming what could become waste in new recipes.

That is not as bad as it sounds; raise your hand if you don’t have several recipes for left over Thanksgiving turkey?

Take a trifle for example, much tastier when made with leftover cake. Rum balls… hum rum balls, are just so good that one may even be happy in having left over cake.

I just learned in school that we can use over proofed or simply poorly made bread dough as a base for new bread dough. It sounded awful at first, but if you think that so many people give sourdough starters as a gift things start to make sense. And the bread made using leftovers was simply delicious.

Another product that had me roll my eyes was fruit bars. Imagine a “gone wrong” bucket filled with all sorts of cake and cookies scraps and leftovers transformed into a bar cookie. I never thought it could be tasty, and just tried because it’s part of the learning process, but it was surprisingly tasty. And if I was not aware of its origins, I would just think it was a spiced bar cookie.

Such a clever way of repurposing waste product, especially in a learning environment where things not always turn out as planned.