There’s no need to close your doors when kitchen employees call in sick or don’t show. By using a bit of ingenuity and preplanned responses to a lack of cooks or other kitchen workers, you can maintain a superior level of service and get through the night. In extreme cases, you might need to sacrifice profits to maintain quality, but this will result in a long-term goodwill benefit to your business.

Create Simple Specials

To take the burden off your cooks, offer a number of specials that are quick and easy to prepare. Price them in a way that makes them very attractive, even if this reduces your profits for the day or shift. While you might lose hundreds of dollars in profits one day, you will prevent tens of thousands of dollars in damage to your reputation and in lost future sales, which can result from unhappy customers.

Prep More Items

Look for items you can precook and have ready to serve, including side dishes. Some items won’t sit for long without a degradation in quality, but others will. Take a gamble on precooking certain high-volume items, including proteins, if it won’t reduce quality and you are willing to toss out a few meals in exchange for preventing order backlogs.

Shift Staff

You don’t have to be a trained cook to make food. Have your head chef train one or two servers how to use your deep fryer or to make simple items such as hamburgers or salads. Teach a non-cook how to plate dishes, allowing your cooks to make the main item, such as a steak, piece of fish or chicken breast, giving it to someone else to add it to a plate with rice, potatoes, vegetables and sauce. If you don’t have enough dishes, silverware, pots and pans to make it through a service, assign someone to wash dishes in shifts so you do not run out of necessary items for cooking and serving. Make sure the stand-in dishwasher knows how to use your dishwashing machine and where you keep soap and sanitizer.

Reduce Your Menu

If you can print temporary menus, create new menus for the service during which you’ll be short-staffed in the kitchen. Eliminate labor-intensive dishes and the total number of dishes you offer. Keep your best sellers on the menu and remove items that take extra trips to the freezer or cooler and require extra preparation.

Add an Expediter

If your head chef expedites orders, add an expediter on the other side of the line to help keep orders on track. This will help your cooks focus on getting food prepared. Have your expediter and head chef meet in advance to determine how the chef wants orders communicated and to create an efficient system.