I posted on Facebook awhile ago asking if there was anything in particular people wanted me to address here in our "Shop Talk" series. The majority of responses seemed to be in need of some tips and tricks on managing their time. Understandable, especially when you look back at our first "Shop Talk" about pricing and the importance of valuing your time. Obviously if you can streamline your process without sacrificing quality, you can raise the value of your time without necessarily raising your prices. That makes customers happy and you happy. Win win!!
The tips below are just some of the things we try and do to keep ourselves focused and moving along. Everyone works differently, so these are not rules, just suggestions. Your mileage will vary. Efficiency though is not just about where do I place the mixer or when should I bake, it is about your environment and your habits. Such as....
Take a Break!
I thought it'd be cute if I led off with how to stop work first. I'm a smartass that way, but it is absolutely true, you have to know when to step back and sit down. The return on your time (how much work you get done and the quality of that work) drops dramatically the more you try and "push through" a project. Yes, there are times when things have to get done and you need to suck it up and finish, but as you go make sure to give yourself that snack break or a few minutes to check your email or phone a friend. Maybe you want to watch the latest episode of The Office, do it. Get off your feet, enjoy a beverage, it all helps keep you operating at peak efficiency. Just remember, take it easy in moderation, you've still got work to do ;-)
As a writer, this is a huge debate amongst my colleagues. Teachers would always tell us to work in silence, but the truth is, a lot of us perform better with a little background noise. It occupies parts of our brain that aren't focused on our current task and gets us firing on all cylinders. Music can, and most likely will, help you make it through your day easier. It also makes you happy!! We even have a DVD player handy and "watch" movies while working. An added bonus of this type of white noise, is it gives you good time markers. If in your head you thought stacking the cake was gonna take an hour and suddenly the music stops on that hour long CD.... uh oh! You're not working as fast as you thought. Maybe you need a quick break and then double your efforts?
When taking orders, you need to know everything.... EVERYTHING! Ask about florists, venues, colors, what kind of table the cake is gonna sit on, where is that table and on and on and on. Know the wedding as much as you can and that will sit there, in the back of your mind, helping you in the decorating process. Have all that info handy, along with sketches etc., maybe up on a nearby bulletin board. If you have to go digging through files to double check what color the eight foot flower bouquets on either side of the cake table are, you're wasting time and adding unnecessary frustration to your day. Take everything you know and make a checklist! If you can order it in the sequence it needs to be done, even better. You should earn a doctorate on every cake you create.
Mise En Place
There's an episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations where he goes back to the restaurant he used to work the line on and hops back into the fray. It is a great episode, one every aspiring chef should see, but what I recall most vividly is his preparation for the night. The way he folds his towels, where he wants his ingredients, the selection of knives, everything has to be in its place or "mise en place." Take the time to prep your area and have everything you need around you or at least know where it is so you can grab it quickly. This goes back to the checklist above. Know what you need, gather it, and you can move forward concentrating on decorating.
Cleanliness is Next to Buttercream
You got time to lean, you got time to clean! Okay, I know, we rarely have time to lean, but it rhymes better than "if you notice your workspace is dirty, you should probably tidy up." Your tools, your table, your mixers, everything should be kept as clean as possible while working. I'm not talking spotless, but have your towels handy and wipe down surfaces quickly and move scraps etc. to the garbage as you go. Don't save it for later, because later you're gonna be too tired to want to clean. Or you can be like Reva and have your husband do it! What a schmuck.... wait a second, that's me!
This feels like a never ending battle in our kitchen! We buy so many different types of storage at different stores for different things at different times that it becomes really hard to sync them all up. Buying in bulk would be the best option, and with a cookie cutter collection topping 1000, believe me I am getting close to figuring out a permanent solution for that disjointed pile!
Ideally, you want to have the same brand so that they stack nicely and won't slide all over the place. Also avoid "snap" type lids that just sit on top. You want some sort of locking mechanism that secures the lid to the bin. The snap kind warp and fall off and if the bin is too full they won't snap into place at all. You end up with a bunch of open plastic containers and a garbage full of lids! It gets messy.
Recently I discovered these plastic bins at Office Depot called "Really Useful Box." They have over 40 sizes ranging from .14 liters up to 145 liters! (They're British!) I originally got a few small ones for buttons, but I really like them and will probably use them for more stuff down the line like petal dust, molds etc. Pretty affordable too and they have a bunch of colors if you're so bold as to try and color code your supplies;) Check 'em out at Office Depot or their website I linked above. I think Staples has them as well. Now if only they'd give me free swag for mentioning them... hint hint Really Useful!!
A Trip to Sears
... or somewhere you can take a look at a good selection of toolboxes. Yes, I'm talking Craftsman tool chests with wheels and everything. I've been wanting to get Reva this one at Lowe's that is taller than both of us and has a stereo in it, but there are great smaller ones with plenty of storage and even a couple models with a work top and cup holders! They're great for your growing collection of rolling pins and spatulas and all the other little tools you'll collect as you go. And while you're there, check out smaller, handheld tool boxes because....
Caking On The Go!
When you start doing more deliveries, it will be extremely helpful to assemble a kit of all the basics that you might need on site to fix and finish off the cake. A couple spatulas, scissors, ribbons, tape, glue gun, pins, dowels and skewers, a knife or two and then we always have some pastry bags with buterrcream or anything else we would need for that specific cake. This kit should be cleaned after every delivery and then repacked and kept separate from your regular tools. That way, a couple of additions and you're ready to go every time and you don't have to think about it, you're just (mostly) prepared automatically. You can even keep it in your car in case you stumble upon a cake disaster on the freeway and jump in like an off duty doctor! "This cake is losing filling fast, I need 400 cc's of buttercream stat!"
That's just the tip of the iceberg really. Efficiency is all about personalizing your space and your habits to get the most out of your time and your abilities. It could be realizing its time to invest in a bigger table or a cushy floor mat to keep your feet happy or it could be discovering you like to have an apron on with a couple of your favorite spatulas in the front pocket. I do highly suggest the toolkits and the mise en place, but you're gonna have to be aware of what works for you so you can do your best work.
If you have your own ideas and habits you like, please share below in the comments!
On the next Shop Talk, we dive into the more advanced business world of branding!!