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11 Ways to Reduce Your Food Cost Today

Image courtesy of sporkist of Flickr under the creative commons license

Image courtesy of sporkist of Flickr under the creative commons license

It’s nearing the end of the month, and the accountant or controller lets a casual slip: Your numbers are sitting in the 35% range. You wipe the beads of panic sweat and wonder what has gone wrong. Look no further WDC! Before you go kicking in garbage cans to look at waste, here are 11 things to look out for when it comes to food cost. Following these are sure to lower you a few points.

Keep track of your invoices and keep a history! I am amazed at how many times this comes up. We are selling tuna like crazy, so imagine what would happen if the price jumped from 25$ a kilo to 35$? Catastrophe, that’s what!

Call your supplier’s competitors. Call your suppliers. If one supplier can give you a hell of a deal on prices, unless your current supplier is an idiot, he will match those prices. If not, don’t let the door hit them on the way out. Usually, depending on the amount of business you bring to them, they will be keen on keeping you.

Check your produce as it arrives. I am not saying that you should check through everything and that you always have to be there. Train someone to do that, and spot check. I mean it. Spot check. You never know what a supplier will try and pass on you if you are willing to take it. That leads into the next tip:

Never accept sub-par quality. A supplier will love you if you don’t check. They are in the business of making money too. If you are willing to take their salmon that the new guy did that looks like absolute dog crap, then that is good for them. Unfortunately, that does not help your costs any. Don’t accept it at the source. Send it back with the driver, and follow up with a nice phone call to remind the sales rep that you will not put up with it.

Track your purchasing habits. This is pretty important, especially if you go with a supplier that deals in bulk. If you know that you are going through 5 cases of calamari on Friday, 3 on Saturday, then order 8 on Thursday. A lot of times you are slapped with a surcharge if your order is small. Also, when you buy from your regular supplier, it is usually a lot cheaper than buying the items piecemeal from an emergency supply.

Set up a production schedule. This is so important, it makes me want to scream when I see it is not being done. To give you the example of calamari from above, if you are going through 12 boxes in 3 days, don’t cut those boxes daily. Cut them on Thursday. This eliminates the waste of emergency production, when you are “in the weeds”.

Create and use standardized recipes. How many places have I worked where the cook has no idea about the standard for a plate. It is different “depending on who is working.” Translation? Your costs are all over the place. Imagine that you have one cook who puts 30 mL of demi-based sauce on the plate vs another who puts 80 mL. That is over 200% of the difference, and this can throw your cost average for the plate out by as much as 30%.

Determine the cost of the entire plate. Sure, the plate has steak, potatoes, demi, and beans, right? So the cost is those item’s portion cost plugged into a formula? Not so fast. You also have to account for seasoning, things like oil (searing or for frying) bread, butter, etc. All of these things affect your bottom line. To use the example of spices, I like to add 5% for seasoning, unless I have a determined cost for a spice that is central to the dish. (Like curry powder in a curry sauce.)

Look ahead to costs after the current season. Hey! Asparagus soup was nice in the spring, but in October, it will be expensive. If you have that item on the menu then, your costs could spike by as much as 50%. What do we do then? Establish a middle ground. Better yet, find a soup that is not seasonal, and offer the asparagus soup as a special.

Stop having blow-out specials. Ugh. There are a lot of people who will disagree with me on this one. Thing is, people are not really stupid. If you have salmon on the menu, and suddenly another salmon special, people will eventually guess. Worse, you will weaken your existing menu item’s performance. How do you know about that? See the next one:

Keep a record of your sales. I mean this. Most POS systems have the capacity to spit out what you have sold during that day. Here is what you do with it: plug the numbers into a spreadsheet by day. Compare after a while, and you will see a pattern. Some items will be dogs, (they are not selling), and some will be heroes. Check out the prep on the dogs, and see if that is not an issue. If you are only selling 5 portions of your ribs on a super busy night, why are you prepping 5 liters of sauce?

That is a lot to get you all started. Are there any tips that you all have to reduce your food costs?

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