How to Solve Large-Scale Baking Challenges

Last-minute, difficult or high-volume projects—which sometimes are all three—can create a variety of complications. How do you manage it all and still keep up with your typical fresh selections for regular customers?

Two bakery owners offer tips for confidently conquering those out-of-the-norm orders, events and holidays that keep you on your toes.

Staff Smartly

For Stephen Siegel, owner of Pinkbox Doughnuts with multiple locations in and around Las Vegas and more in the works, keeping his walk-in retail customers happy while also filling large custom and wholesale orders presents a daily challenge. “The hardest part is not getting the big order out, it’s maintaining the retail,” he says. 

To meet the demands, Pinkbox Doughnuts staffs retail, wholesale and custom orders separately. “It’s basically three different businesses in our business,” Siegel says. 

Although not all bakeries have enough staff to separate their business this way, scaling this idea down could be as simple as dedicating staff to a particular part of the business as needed. If wedding season is upon you and custom orders are piling up, consider assigning staff members to focus solely on that aspect of the business.

Also, think about hiring extra help for your busy seasons and holidays to meet customer demand. 

Know Your Limits

Mark Ostlund, owner of Sandy’s Donuts with three locations in and around Fargo, North Dakota, often does fun custom orders based on specific themes for companies and individuals. But occasionally, the ask is just too complicated to get exactly right. “We need to know our capabilities and understand that sometimes it is just something we cannot do,” Ostlund says.

If you are faced with a project out of your comfort zone, try to find someone within your staff or a peer in the industry who can help you work through the logistics of the order to see if it’s feasible for you. Although you might feel as if you never want to turn down business, Ostlund says that in a busy bakery, that’s sometimes the better option: “It just costs you so much in time, research and trial and error to be profitable.”

Communicate Effectively

If you’re constantly running late and having trouble fulfilling orders, take a step back and look at the way you communicate with your team. 

It takes every team member working together to make your big projects successful. From the salesperson to the donut-maker to the store manager and the delivery driver, everyone must come together to coordinate and organize the production event before carrying it out, Siegel says. 

If there’s a breakdown in communication, you need to identify the source. “It’s almost like a machine moving, and if something in that machine stops or goes the wrong way, the whole machine gets thrown off a little bit, and you’ve got to help it back on track,” Siegel says.

If you find that the communication breakdown is coming from the top, be sure to take the time to clearly express your expectations to your staff. Provide detailed directions about what you want done and how you want it done. For example, Ostlund uses pictures to let staff know what he is looking for when creating a product.

Worry Less and Plan More

The “what ifs” will always be there: What if someone calls in sick? What if your delivery driver shows up late? Bakers constantly face challenges that require flexibility on the job, but shifting your focus to planning ahead can help keep you on track.

You can’t plan for unexpected orders, but you can plan for a good portion of your biggest days, Siegel says. Use previous years’ sales data and a list of holidays (standard and out-of-the-box days like National Donut Day on June 5) to create a yearly calendar that highlights the days that are typically your busiest. 

This calendar not only allows you to prepare months ahead for the onset of big orders, but it also gives you an opportunity to create and test fun seasonal products and promotions well in advance. “Many times recipes are not scalable, and we have to do some trial and error and taste testing to get it right before we use it,” Ostlund says. 

Once you have your yearly calendar in place, make sure to keep your staff informed of what’s going on through regular meetings. For example, if a holiday is coming, ask your staff to get ahead on tasks that will help production run more smoothly.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Out-of-the-norm orders, projects and events will always pose challenges, and learning how to proactively deal with them is part of growing your business. It’s about practice and improvement, not perfection.

“It’s a never-ending, evolving system,” Siegel says. “If you think you’re perfect at what you’re doing right now, then I don’t think you’re maximizing your business growth potential.”

Photo: iStock

Infographic about baker's percentages