Work Study on Running a Kitchen

In the industrial world great attention is being paid today to keeping down the costs of different factory processes. It is known that the handling of the material in manufacture may account for as much as 80% of the factory cost and production engineers are making a close study of this factor. One of the methods adopted is to examine carefully all the actions involved in any particular operation carried out by an employee to determine whether it is being performed in the most efficient way possible, and if necessary to devise, test and institute new methods which may result in greater efficiency.

This work, known as Motion Study, is being used widely in industry where applications of the results reap valuable rewards in reducing costs, eliminating fatigue and improving staff relations. In one well-known biscuit factory, the output of a girl in the packing section was increased 45% by quite a small change in her method of packing 40lb. boxes. Under the old system she stood at a bench % 6″ high with a box 18″ deep on top, and in packing had to reach down to the bottom of the upright box. Under the new system the girl sits and has the box tilted towards her so that she can reach into it quite easily. Thus by this slight alteration the work is accomplished more easily and in a shorter time. Numerous examples could be quoted from all branches of both industry and commerce, and the principles involved apply equally well to the catering industry. Frank and Lilian Gilbreth led the way in the U.S.A., and Anne Shaw,* who went over there to study with Mrs. Gilbreth, has made notable contributions in this country. Up to the present little work has been done in the field of catering; however, it is proposed to examine here some of the principles involved and to suggest how they might be applied in catering.

Reasons for importance today

It is interesting to consider briefly why this study has been developed only recently although it is obviously so important fundamentally. There seem to be three main reasons which are separate but at the same time inter-related. The first is the desire in all activities today to save time. This is evident in many fields, but in none is it more striking than in communications, where the last half-century has produced phenomenal changes so that today the journey from New York, for example, to this country can be accomplished in a few hours. It is generally accepted that we must save time wherever possible in order to increase leisure. Unfortunately, for many people the increasing complexity of life today results in less rather than more leisure, despite all the time that is saved.

The second reason is the shortage of labor due to changes in social conditions. Up to the end of the nineteenth century there was no shortage of labor in this country. Working hours were long and rates of pay low. Today improved social conditions have created demands for shorter working hours and higher rates of pay and the only way to meet these is by greater efficiency in production. These changes are very obvious in the home. Until recently domestic help was readily available at cheap rates even in households of moderately low income levels. Because it was easy and cheap to get domestic hilp, efficiency of performance in the work both of the kitchen and of the home generally was not considered, so that today we reap a legacy of badly-planned kitchens and little or no mechanical held in the operations carried out.

The third reason why Motion Study has been developed in industry is connected with the rising standard of living which creates a demand for complex products at low prices and in large quantities. The manufacturer must focus attention on efficiency and do his utmost to increase it. This introduction of motion study is an effective method of achieving this result.

The time factor

Reference has been made several times already to the need for increased efficiency and the time has now come to examine more closely what is meant by this term. It has been said that “it is not lazy to do a job the easy way if the result is satisfactory and invariably the time taken is less.” In point of fact it may be more efficient to do a job the easy way, provided that the product is up to standard, because the onset of fatigue is thereby delayed and the work is accomplished more quickly. Increase in efficiency usually involves consideration both of fatigue and time. The subject of this chapter is often referred to as Time and Motion Study, but as a study of the latter must automatically include a study of the former any reference to time has deliberately been excluded from the title. Moreover, it is important in this work not to put the cart before the horse and to realise that it is by a careful examination of the motions involved in an operation, with a view to ensuring that they are performed in the most convenient manner possible, that time will be saved, and not by forcing the worker to increase output by concentration on the time factor alone without any alteration in the techniques involved. In the latter case unnecessary fatigue will ensue which will work against the desired result. If we take as an example the case of the operator in the biscuit factory, we shall see that by introducing incentives such as increased piece work rates she could be prevailed upon to increase output even under the old conditions, but the extra strain involved would undoubtedly increase fatigue and it is doubtful whether the increase could be maintained indefinitely. On the other hand, by altering the conditions of the operation and delaying the incidence of fatigue by allowing the worker to do her job sitting down, the increase in production was maintained for a more or less indefinite period.

The General Approach

Motion Study is obviously only of importance in connection with repetitive jobs, but in catering is in the fields of industry and commerce, the work of production involves routines in which the same actions are performed time after time. Left alone, the intelligent operator usually finds out by experience the most efficient way of doing a routine job and invents a system to cover it, in many cases without consciously realizing how the system has been built up. If, however, substantial changes are necessary, it may not be easy for the operator to introduce the required modification of her work. In any case the majority of operators have neither the interest nor the ability to put forward effective proposals.

It is useful to examine some of the operations which must be carried out in dealing with problems in this field. First of all, the process under consideration must be examined and analysed by watching an average worker doing the job under existing conditions so as to find out exactly and define the component movements involved. In some such investigations involving the use of the hands, a small light is attached to each hand and a photograph taken which shows the routes traversed during the operation. Similarly, where foot work is mainly concerned the movements can be noted and the routes subsequently plotted on a plan of the area under review. While actually observing the operation the investigator formulates and tries out alternative methods which could be used. The formulation of an improved system may involve the introduction of new items of equipment, the alteration of existing equipment or, in the simplest case, a slight alteration in technique.

Once a new system has been evolved as the result of motion study it must be tried out, and this is usually better not done by introducing it into production before it has been well tried by a capable and reliable operator. Frequently the investigator herself will perform the operation a number of times under the new system and bring to light any unexpected defects. The new scheme must of course be considered carefully to see whether it can be performed by the average type of person employed and also to decide definitely whether in fact it will produce the desired economies in both time and effort. The use of small lights on the hands can be employed again at this stage and a comparison of the record made with the one obtained in the original action. The fourth stage consists in putting the new system into production. Personal problems will inevitably arise at this stage, but usually they can be overcome in the course of time by the investigator keeping a careful check during the initial period.

It is not possible to quote examples from work of this type carried out in the field of catering as so little has yet been done in this country, but a simple example from the field of commerce may be described to suggest possible applications. Before a typist who is making seven copies of a report can start to type, she must assemble thirteen sheets of paper in the correct sequence of copy and carbon paper–an operation which involves a number of movements of the hands. A rack with narrow spaced shelves holding sheets of copy and carbon paper alternately is fixed in front of the typist and above her machine and enables her to assemble her papers with fewer movements of the hands. She takes the sheets in turn from the shelves as her hand moves down over the rack. When typing is completed the process of separating the typed sheets from the carbons can be simplified by the introduction of a further small modification. The top left hand corner is cut off all the sheets of carbon paper before they are put into use. When the typist wishes to remove them she holds the set of papers firmly with the left hand in the top left hand corner and gives a slight shake to release the carbon papers, which can then be removed altogether with the right hand and replaced in the rack above.

Important factors related to motion study in the kitchen

1. Posture
This question is much too large to be dealt with in detail here as it involves complex questions of physiology and anatomy, but its scope and importance must at least be indicated. It is axiomatic that the posture of the operator in performing a task should be the most comfortable possible considering the actions to be done. This is important not only from the point of view of efficiency but also for reasons of health. Whether the work involves standing, sitting, carrying, pushing, lifting or any other physical action, conditions should be such that the operator can perform them without unnecessary strain and so eliminate undue fatigue and the risk of causing deformity or other serious physical defects. It may not be possible to influence the worker directly apart from, for example, insisting on the wearing of suitable footwear, but it is possible to ensure that equipment is so designed as to be convenient in use. In standing duties, height is an important consideration, both for working surfaces such as table tops, cookers and sinks and also for storage and oven shelves. The agreed height for the tops of working benches in this country is 34″, and although this is convenient for a person of 5′ 4″ to 5/8″ in height it is certainly too high for a person of 5′ 0″, a height not uncommon among kitchen workers. For such persons it may be necessary to reduce the effective height of the bench by the provision of a suitable stand or in any other convenient way such as by the provision of tables that are adjustable in height. Lifting, pushing and carrying are other activities where the consideration of satisfactory posture is important and affects the design of equipment used, such as trolleys, trays and pans. This aspect should be borne in mind when new items are purchased and wherever possible alterations should be made to improve the performance of any already in use.

2. The design of tools
In almost all craft work the tool most suited to the job is gradually evolved by trial and error over the years, but this is only partly true in kitchen work. It is usually possible to obtain by search and discriminating choice the tool most suitable for the work to be done, but sometimes owing to methods of mass production, slight alterations have been introduced which do not improve the design of the tool either to use or to keep clean. Sometimes new jobs are introduced in large scale catering which do not exist when food is prepared and cooked in small kitchens. Take for instance the work of removing the eyes from potatoes after they have been put through the machine. The only two tools in general use available for this work are the vegetable knife and the potato peeler, both of which are designed for peeling and not for the job of gouging cut a small piece of potato. When used for this work they must be held near to the tip and it is obviously uncomfortable and inconvenient to grip a knife or peeler on the cutting edge for any length of time. The result is that instead of the eye being gouged out, a slice containing the eye is removed and this process is obviously wasteful. It is a pity that a special tool has not been invented for this purpose. It is advisable to examine any tool carefully when buying it to ascertain whether it will do the work demanded of it with the minimum expenditure of effort. It is also useful to consider at the same time both its wearing qualities and whether it is simple and easy to maintain and keep clean.

3. Rhythm
It is not always appreciated how important and fundamental is rhythm in the performance of routine physical action. Swimmers and mountaineers recognize its importance and regulate their breathing to fit in with the mechanical movements of their limbs, thus setting up a rhythm which helps them to accomplish their task more easily. To achieve a rhythm always helps in the performance of a routine task, but it must be possible to complete the cycle in approximately the same time as well as with exactly the same movements. The rhythm thus set up produces automatic. ally a sense of satisfaction, but if at any stage the action is interfered with and held up, a jarring effect is produced which is clearly not desirable. There are many jobs in the kitchen involving routine repetitive actions where a rhythm can be established by careful thought and arrangement.

It can, for example, easily be achieved in the washing up of a pile of dirty plates in two sinks. After the pile of plates has been put into the washing sink say on the right, the rhythm set up follows the following pattern. The plate is lifted with the left hand, washed on the front with the right hand then turned and washed on the back and dropped into the rack in the rinsing sink. This action is repeated until the rack is filled, when a short break may occur while it is removed with its load of plates and placed on the adjoining draining board; another rack is then inserted and the operation proceeds as before. Anything which interferes with this routine naturally causes irritation through the break in the rhythm; such interference may result from inadequate stripping of the plates before they are placed in the washing sink so that the operator has to stop to rectify the defect.

4. Natural conservatism of the worker
This and the next following point, more than any others, affect the introduction of new habits of work into the kitchen. Almost invariably the introduction of new methods is resisted by the workers concerned, and appreciation of this fact should guide the person responsible for organizing the innovation. Recognition of the psychological element in the opposition encountered at the outset will always help in planning the initial stages of the new method of working.

5. Mental effort
The breaking down of an established habit and the setting up of a new one inevitably call for increased mental effort on the part of the person concerned. In the case of the lower grades of kitchen worker particularly, this is a serious factor to be borne in mind by the person planning to introduce any new technique. In many of the changes made, once the settling down process has been completed the mental effort involved is really no greater than under the previous conditions, although it is always difficult to convince the worker of this fact. Various methods such as clear demonstration of the advantages, are adopted to solve this problem, but all depends ultimately on the willingness of the worker to co-operate. This can usually be achieved if she is convinced that the change is for the best.

Where the more intelligent grades of staff are employed changes of method are sometimes introduced so that the head is used to save the feet. In such cases the increased amount of mental effort required will continue, and a certain type of individual will even prefer to endure the physical fatigue rather than continue the additional mental effort.


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