Conversations and quotes in this article have been transcribed from the Foodbeast Katchup podcast: “#106: How Cheesecake Factory Feeds 100M People A Year,” out now on Spotify, the Apple Podcasts App, and all major platforms where podcasts are heard.
The Cheesecake Factory has become an iconic sit-down restaurant that feeds not only some of your favorite celebrities like Drake and Kim Kardashian, but over 100 million mouths across the country.
While Cheesecake Factory gets lumped in with other run-of-the-mill chains such as Applebee’s or Friday’s, we learned that there’s a lot of behind the scenes details that go above and beyond what you would assume the standard to be.
In other words, we’ve been kind of sleeping on The Cheesecake Factory, and there’s a reason they’re a finely-tuned machine that serves over 250 items within a menu of over 21 pages.
We got a chance to take a peek in the back of house, and even spoke to Chief Culinary Officer Donald Moore on the Foodbeast Katchup podcast, where he detailed everything that goes into making the restaurant run, and run efficiently.
Here’s what we learned:
Every Single Thing Is Handmade
“We have over 250 menu items, we make everything from scratch. We buy over 700 ingredients to pull that off.”
This one was a bit shocking, as it’s easy to freeze mozzarella sticks or buy pre-made sauces, and you wouldn’t be terribly mad about it, but Cheesecake Factory doesn’t bother to cut those small corners with over 600 recipes that go into everything from their sauces to their mashed potatoes and even hand-cut cheeses — the team in the kitchen is in hours before opening, prepping everything.
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KATCHUP PODCAST EP. #106: The CHEESECAKE FACTORY Episode 🤯 🍰// We talked to Donald Moore, the man behind all your favorite @Cheesecakefactory dishes, and got a behind the scenes look at how they feed over 100M people a year. With over 250 dishes on their menu, the Cheesecake Factory runs like a finely-tuned machine, and you’re going to want to hear the detailed process that goes into prepping and cooking EVERY SINGLE DISH that comes out of the kitchen BY HAND.🤚😳// Tune into the @foodbeastkatchup podcast on Spotify, Apple Music, and anywhere major podcasts are streamed. #Foodbeast
They Constantly Tweak The Recipes
“I would bet, without exaggeration, we’ve changed that dish [Louisiana Chicken Pasta] 40 times since it’s been on the menu.”
We learned that Cheesecake Factory does not settle for the same iteration of recipes, and are constantly trying to improve without drastically changing the core tastes that fans love. The Louisiana Chicken Pasta was one example that Moore gave, as it was one of the dishes we tried while visiting the restaurant before the interview. They also just recently changed their hamburger bun technique, steaming it so that you get that sponginess up top.
The Staff Retention Rate Is Crazy
“We keep our people. Our retention is industry leading, and our training is very good.”
We’ve had a lot of restaurateurs come through the Foodbeast walls, many of which have admitted how hard it is to find good help. This is almost a non-issue for the Cheesecake Factory. On average, an executive manager will have been working at Cheesecake is 13 years. Their operational managers average 15 years. There are longtime veterans running these kitchens, and Moore credits the restaurant’s culture.
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They Mind F*ck You
“We put chicken Samosas, probably seven or eight years ago. Nobody knew what they were. We chanced one word in the description… and they went to our third selling appetizer.”
It’s crazy how the human brain works, and how little changes affect how we react. Moore gave the example of the Samosas, highlighting how they removed the word “ground” when describing their chicken, and it just clicked better with the customers. Unless you constantly analyze the menu, you probably don’t even realize the minimal changes, but they’ve probably changed your mind while ordering.
Pricing & Portion Sizes
“The pricing strategy and portion size… that started from the beginning. He [Founder David Overton] wanted to say, ‘What’s the most I can possibly give you at the least price, so that we can still take care of our business, take care of our investors.'”
It starts at the top, and there’s a delicate balance between being able to pour on a plethora of food without losing money. Somehow, Cheesecake Factory has mastered that balance. If you’ve ever been to CF, you know you’re taking home leftovers, and you know you didn’t have to break the bank for it. God bless y’all for this.
Millennials Aren’t Killing Them
“You have to understand your guests. You have to evolve… innovate, and offer those things to the changing demographics, or changing consumer wants.”
If you haven’t heard, we’re killing everything. Cheesecake Factory isn’t worried about our murderous rampage, though. They’ve done a good job of evolving, offering vegan dishes, low calorie dishes, trendy dishes, and always have their ear to the streets. That 250 item menu has something for everyone, and guests, even us dreaded millennials, have responded with opening our wallets.
The Kitchen Tech Is Innovative
“We use data, technology… to make sure that the cooks don’t have to scream like in the old days where you’re like, ‘Hey I’m going up in 4 minutes with this dish, you go up in 6 minutes.’ If they had to do that, it would sound like the stock market. We’ve used technology to quiet the kitchen, balance the food better, and make it more delicious.”
The age of the ticket system is long gone. Cheesecake Factory has a proprietary, catalog-like system, that everyone on staff can access at any time. You might see the screens while passing by the kitchen area, and each one contains detailed looks at every dish on the menu. You can look up any recipe, and down to the teaspoon, it’ll show you how it is supposed to be properly made. That system updates regularly, and the changes get sent out to every Cheesecake Factory around the world, so that everyone is on the same page. Everyone in the kitchen knows their role, and no one has to tell them how to do it any differently. This system also controls the timing of each dish, so everyone in the back knows just how long it’s going to take for each meal to go out, and there are no surprises. That’s what it takes to make sure 250 dishes aren’t causing confusion back there.
They Go Big On Hiring
“I was just in Orlando last week… and Miami a couple weeks ago. We’ll hire anywhere from 200-300 staff members for those restaurants.”
The Cheesecake Factory we visited for, um, research purposes, was in Cerritos, California. That one also had about 200 staff members with 50-60 line cooks making sure you get your orders promptly and are delicious.
How do you keep so many staff members at a time where the restaurant industry is as competitive as ever? Strong management. Moore believes that their executive managers, at all their restaurants, thrive to create an environment where people actually want to work. Moore said a key is respecting the staff at every level and acknowledging their goals. Whether they want to move up to management positions, or simply work their 40 hours a week to take care of their families, Moore said they want everyone to thrive while working at Cheesecake Factory.