What Grills Teach Us About Scaling

A rainy Friday but we’ll still have our Foodie Friday Fun as if the sun was shining and we’re firing up the grill outside.

Beef and Corn on a Charcoal BBQ grill

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is getting to be that time, of course, and with it comes one of the big differences between a professional kitchen and most amateur kitchens:  the ability to scale.  Cooking for a family of four is vastly different from making the exact same meal for 24.  In the case of the aforementioned grill, grilling burgers, dogs, and chicken for four is relatively easy; doing so for 24 requires excellent timing, a much bigger grill, and a way to keep food hot while the rest of it cooks.  That’s why I have a firm rule against “piece work” when cooking for a lot of people – I always use big cuts – racks of ribs, briskets, whole chickens – and cut them into serving pieces.  It makes scaling the operation a lot easier.

Many business folks don’t think about scaling.  They develop a product or service or management style that works when things are small but which can’t handle a much larger set of challenges.  Managing a staff of three can be easy – communication should be efficient, there are only a few egos and skill sets to align.  When three becomes 30, look out, especially if your management style is one of detachment or tolerance rather than engagement.  Obviously there are technical challenges in many businesses as well – servers can only handle so much traffic, sloppy code can’t process quickly enough to handle demand are some examples in tech.  Customer service lines can be full, inventory management can be a nightmare – some non-tech issues.  Those are things that must be contemplated very early on with an eye towards the stress brought on by success (not a bad problem to have, right?)

How the business will grow and how to support that growth is probably not on enough radars.  Do we get bigger through new products?  Do we add areas of focus?  Do we get enough funding to make acquisitions?  Strange as it may seem, planning a cookout can help think it through.  If you’re running out of food or serving it cold, guest walk away hungry or maybe sick.  Scaling to serve your guests (customers) isn’t something that just happens – it requires thought and planning.  So does business!

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