8 Tips For Keeping Your Food Costs Low

Sunny Stree

One of the biggest challenges in running a restaurant is calculating and monitoring food costs. It is fine science, one that take discipline and diligince on the part of both management and staff. Managing food waste, keeping track of inventory, and pricing your menu items accordingly is definitely an art form However, most operators recognize that maintaining a low food cost is one of the most important factors that contribute to your profit. An exciting menu in the front and a simple process in the back ensures low food costs, higher efficiency, satisfied customers, and a healthy bottom line. Here are 8 tips for keeping your food costs low.

1. Know what your target food cost percentage is

Depending on the segment, food cost can range anywhere from 20-40%. Once you have that number you can determine portions and appropriate ingredients for your menu. Be sure to do the research to narrow down what an apporpriate food cost range for your restaurant should be. Breakfast food differs greatly from a steakhouse. We’ve written a great article on how to calculate that percentage here.

2. Portion control

Some of the most important utensils to have in your kitchen are portion scoops. If your staff is scooping an arbitrary amount of chicken salad onto a sandwich, all those calculations you did for food costs goes out the window. It may not seem like much, but an ounce here and an ounce there can add up quickly. Give your staff the tools and take the guess work out of portioning, which can also make it easier for them to operate in the kitchen.
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3. Pre-portion Ingredients

Another good tip is to pre-portion and bag ingredients. If you have turkey sandwiches, add slicing and weighing the turkey as part of prep in the morning so when a sandwich is order, the turkey is already portioned out. Less waste, less work during the lunch rush.

4. Weigh everything

This might be obvious, but exact weight is the most accurate measurement. If you find yourself or your staff eyeballing portions and guessing about how much a pound of potatoes is for a batch of mashed potatoes, that inaccuracy will be reflected in your food waste and hurt your overall food cost.

5. Keep a waste log

Don’t end up at the end of the week with a mysterious lack of tomatoes or apples. Keep a waste log and review it at the end of every shift. This way the staff is cognizant of food being wasted and you know where improvements can be made.

6. Weekly focus items

Each week pick 3 hot items in your kitchen to focus on. Make sure they are being portioned correctly and review your systems for that item to make sure it’s easy and efficient for your staff to portion and prepare. This can be especially powerful for the more expensive ingredients on your shelves, such as proteins and cheese. If you notice too much cheese is being put on a particular salad, for example, find a correct portion scoop or something of the like to help the staff put the correct amount on. In addition, be sure your not over portioning these items which can lead to spoilage.

7. Keep inventory low

Imagine you’re at a lunch spot and you have some tasty fries. The ketchup bottle on the table has just a tiny amount of ketchup left. You’re going to work hard to get that last bit out. But if there are two full bottles behind the almost empty, bingo. You open a new one up. That last bit in the first bottle is now wasted. Don’t have so much temptation in your kitchen - ensure you and your staff use every last bit before opening the next container. Every little bit counts when it comes to food cost.

8. Understand yields

If you have a 10lb bag of potatoes and you calculate food cost based on that 10lb for a mashed potatoes recipe, have you also thought about the waste that you’ll create when you peel those potatoes? Before calculating the price of a 4oz serving of mashed potatoes, peel that whole bag of potatoes and weigh it again. It could end up being only 8 lbs. Knowing the yields for prepped items can effect your end recipes, so adjust accordingly.
A low food cost means higher profit margins and less food waste- better for your bottom line, and ultimately better for the environment. It's a win win in every case. It just takes deligence and smart kitchen tactics, and smart menu design. Take a look at Sunny Street Café's menu to get a good idea of where to start.


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