Every time you create a new recipe, plan a catered event, or implement a new menu there are a number of steps which need to be taken in order for its roll-out to be smooth and successful. There is the creative phase where you design the dish, the “naming” phase where you decide how to phrase in on the menu and/or for social media, if its a catering then there are all of the function details & how many servings you need to prepare, then there’s the prep phase which may take multiple days, the ordering phase, and so on.
Although Excel is known for its computing abilities, it is also an extremely powerful and versatile tool when it comes to planning complex tasks. I’ve learned that using Excell culinary spreadsheets can save you time and money. This is where a catering Excel spreadsheet can be extremely helpful to the chef. By creating an Excel workbook for the task/event you can have a separate tab (page) for every aspect of the project and have it all organized in one spot. Using Excel for event planning and project management makes it easy to look both at the big picture and at all the minutia of details it takes to make any project successful. Following is an example of how to use Excel for an off-site catered event, including a video demo/tutorial. I named the Excel workbook after the event, and then added the following tabs, each with its pertinent info: Ideas, Menu, Prep, Ordering, Loading (for equipment & transport), Recipe. Now everything for this event is organized in one place, easy to edit, easy to print, and uploadable to my phone or tablet.
In the video tutorial at the bottom of the page I go through the whole process using this form as an example. However, the tutorial is not about the form, rather it’s about the techniques and concepts I used to create the form. If you pay attention to the technique then you’ll be able to create your own forms and use Excel to organize anything from implementing a new recipe, to rolling out an entire menu, to opening a new restaurant. Excel is your “mental mise en place” tool for organizing any project in the kitchen.
Idea Board – Brainstorming
Here is an example of the “Idea” tab, which is a virtual “Idea Board”. It is the first step in planning a foodshow or new recipe, a place to “play” with ideas. What I particularly like in Excel is the ability to quickly create an index of tasks with multiple sub-categories, so when I’m working on a new recipe I can brainstorm by throwing “whatever” on a page like this.
I’ll list the main idea for a dish concept, then indent its sub-components, and if I’m still working on an aspect of the dish like the sauce or garnish I’ll add another indent and list off a bunch of ideas for this part of the dish. (see the 3rd item in the example: Smoked Sockeye Salmon & Dungeness…)
I’ll put recipe ideas, and their sub-components, on the left, and images for inspiration on the right. I may not use any of these, but putting them here helps me experiment with a dish before I actually make it. You’ll notice that there is a photo of a white fish even though I’m planning on working with salmon. I like the presentation of this dish so it is one of the plate designs I was considering for my finished concept.
Prep Organization – the “Big Picture”
This is my “Prep Planning” tab. This is where using Excel for “mental mise en place” can significantly organize any event and save you a lot of stress. This is the “big picture”. It is everything which needs to be done, what day it needs to be completed on, how much needs to be done, and who is assigned to do it.
The best way to structure this is by starting at the end (ie the day of the event) and working backwards. In this example the foodshow is on Thursday and I need the Lox cut by Tuesday. By working through the various prep phases for the lox I now know that I need to pull the salmon from the freezer on the previous Friday in order to complete slicing it on schedule.
After the prep schedule is completed and the major work load items are added, it is easy to see which days are the heaviest prep days and where to backfill the easier days with prep which can be done ahead of time. You also have a picture of how to write your staffing schedule to accommodate the workload.
Another big advantage of having this form in your hands is that every day you can verify that everything is on track. And if you are busy with other responsibilities then it is easy for your sous chef or lead cook to keep the ball rolling.
Of course, any event for a Chef will have recipes, and usually lots of them. You can add as many recipes to one Excel workbook as you want to, allowing you to keep all recipes for a project (a foodshow, a food & wine dinner, a new menu concept, whatever) in one place.And you can scale them! So if the recipe needs to serve 25 people one week and 450 the next week Excel makes it easy to transform a recipe into a scalable recipe…simply change the batch size and the entire recipe recalculates. Awesome.
Excel makes “signature” dishes easy to organize as well. For my Fillet Mignon w/ Roasted Garlic-Pecan Crust recipe I have separate tabs for each of its sub-recipes: Plate-up (which has the specs for the plate when it hits the window, including a photo), Thyme Demi, Roast Garlic-Pecan Crust, and Scallop Potato Pie. The file is saved under its entree name, but all the recipes associated with it are part of that workbook and therefore are always together…easy to find. If a sub-recipe is one I use for another dish then I’ll save a copy of that recipe as well, for instance, I make a copy of the Thyme Demi and save it to my file for “Sauces”.
I have a number of different recipe templates on this side for you to check-out, however, this one is my favorite version so far because it uses a chef’s “shorthand” style for the recipe and has costing built into the right side of the sheet. And of course, it is set-up to be scalable. Just add the formula and you’re done.
The first 7 minutes of the demo shows experienced Excel users how to create their own “mental mise en place” worksheets in Excel. The remainder of the video goes through the process step by step so beginner Excel users can learn the process.
After watching the video, if you need additional help learning Excel, then I recommend Lynda.com as they have a plethora of Excel tutorials. It will cost you $25/mo, but you can watch as many tutorials as you want and it is easy to cancel anytime. So pick out what you want to learn, then sign-up and dive in. I’ve used them a number of times and highly recommend them.
Event Planning Template
If you want to use a variation of the form used in this video it is available for free download. You can modify it as needed.
Download the free Event Planning Template
Note: Microsoft Excel Required (not included)