Commissary Distribution Systems for Restaurants

Chefs are cooking in a kitchen.
Chefs are cooking in a kitchen. (Image: Design Pics/Design Pics/Getty Images)

The commissary distribution system uses a central location for food production and distributes the food from that location to the client restaurants. The client restaurants use the commissary system, rather than creating meals from scratch on site, to ensure consistent taste, texture and quality from one location to another. Users of the commissary system include chain restaurants, airlines and institutional kitchens, such as those found in schools, military bases or prisons. The commissary system is useful for scaling up operations, but it also has its drawbacks.

Lower Preparation Costs

The commissary distribution system allows restaurant owners to operate at a much lower cost than if they produced their food on site. The centralized kitchen that mass-produces the dishes can buy ingredients at a much lower rate by purchasing ingredients in bulk. Commissary distribution systems also use fewer man-hours to produce the same number of dishes, as the mass-production system offers opportunities to improve the efficiency and productivity of meal preparation processes.

Better Quality Control

The centralized kitchen at the heart of the commissary distribution system allows managers to exercise greater control over the quality and quantity of ingredients used in each recipe. The quality-control processes ensure that the ingredients used in each meal are best suited to the recipe before the central kitchen sends the meal to the client restaurants. The quantity-control procedures help prevent spoilage of key ingredients at the central kitchen, which saves costs in wasted ingredients.

Higher Upfront Costs

While the costs per meal are often much lower with the commissary system, the costs to build such a system can be staggering. The expenses involved in designing and building a kitchen to make hundreds of meals each day are much higher than those of a standard on-site kitchen. Also, the system must account for the transportation costs from the central kitchen to the client restaurants. Driver pay, fuel prices and vehicle maintenance costs must be accounted for when establishing a commissary distribution system.

Problems Become Magnified

With the economies of scale involved in a commissary distribution system, a small problem can quickly grow into a major one. For instance, a mechanical breakdown in the preparation process can delay the production of dozens or hundreds of meals, costing the distributor thousands of dollars until the problem is repaired. The monotonous nature of the assembly-line preparation process can also lead to worker oversights or omissions. These mistakes can lead to widespread foodborne illnesses, which can cost the restaurant and the distributor in lost reputation and potential liability lawsuits.

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