Managing a restaurant business is a balancing act of keeping sales and profits high, while maintaining expenses at a minimum. With profit margins known to be notoriously low industry-wide, you have to be conscious about your actions, from hiring labor and choosing the right POS software to deciding on menu prices and purchasing food. Your time and money are precious — don’t let your resources go to waste. To start, here are a few pieces of advice in cutting food costs at your restaurant.
Calculate the cost per plate.
Make a list of all of the ingredients the restaurant has on hand and mark down the price of each one. (That means everything — even salt and pepper.) Determine the value of ingredients and overhead spent per dish, and set a selling market price based on the food-cost ratio you want. Make sure it is reasonable enough that you break even and is still fair for customers.
If you have a hard time coming up with a number that looks right, that’s a sign that you need to find less expensive alternatives. Do this on a weekly basis so that it becomes common practice. Keeping track of these expenditures will come in handy for future purchases.
Build a network of vendors.
Get references when choosing vendors as you try to keep food costs down. Make sure you develop connections with several names so that you have more than one option and can avoid emergency store runs. Your best bet is to stay in contact with popular distributors like Baldor, LaFrieda, and AFI. These companies have strong reputations in the tri-state area for providing quality produce and meats for the hospitality industry.
Often if you have a close relationship with suppliers you can negotiate receive discounts as well. Another alternative to keep costs down: work directly with farmers and buy local produce. Not only will you know how your ingredients are grown and where they come from, you can stay in close contact with the owners.
Besides ordering wisely, be sure to train restaurant staff to reduce waste and costs. Have the chef de cuisine inform cooks on the value of the goods. In addition, think outside the box and be resourceful about using the entirety of a piece of produce. For example, if a cut of meat is part of a main dish, keep the bones to develop broth or stock to use for other menu items. As Dan Barber, creator of the wastED movement, would say, trash can be turned into treasure; these under-appreciated parts can still be repurposed for things like purees or sauces.
To decrease waste further, be meticulous with your employees about labeling their mise en places with accurate expiration dates. That way they can keep track of what comes in and how fresh the ingredients are when reordering.
Adjust for seasonality.
Sit down with your executive chef to develop menus that revolve around the seasons. Since seasonal ingredients are more plentiful they won’t hit your budget as hard. Keep in mind that healthy food cost for a restaurant should be around 17-20%. (Though it can be up to 25%-35% if you own a higher-end restaurant.) Having separate spring/summer and fall/winter menus lets you offer diners more variety and gives them a reason to come back for more.