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10 Food Cost Control Tips for Restaurants in 2017

May 23, 2017

Ask any restaurant owner, kitchen manager, or head chef about the pains of food cost and portioning control. They’ll probably say tell you it’s one of the least enjoyable but most essential aspects of their job.

The task is often seen as frustrating because the tiniest variance in a food order can result in thousands of dollars of profit lost each year. That’s also what makes it so important.

Luckily, a food cost calculator tool does exist, but it’s up to restaurant owners to take action and make sure back-of-house employees control those costs. Here are 10 ways owners can keep costs at a reasonable point to maximize profit and eliminate waste in the kitchen.


1. Raise prices on your menu by a small amount.

If per-item profits are shrinking, consider raising prices by a seemingly negligible amount. If your chicken parm isn’t as profitable as you’d like but is still a popular dish, raise it from $15.50 to $15.95. If you sell - on average - 30 chicken parms every day, that’s $4,97.50 in added revenue per year.


2. Try menu engineering, and get rid of dishes that are dogs first.

Menu engineering involves taking active steps to identify the strong and weak points of your menu and changing it as needed.

If your POS system comes with inventory and menu engineering software, use this to your advantage! This kind of insight identifies your “dogs” - or the menu items that lack in both popularity and profitability. Eliminating these menu items altogether with make your business more profitable.


3. Add more carbs to your menu.

Atkin’s, paelo, and keto have no place in some restaurants.

Jokes aside, carbs make ordering and menu pricing an easier endeavor. Items like potatoes and pasta are usually cheaper to buy in bulk.


4. Get creative with your restaurant menu design.

One of the most important parts of menu engineering is deciding how to design your menu layout. It should be built to promote your most profitable items over the others. Font, text size, boxing, and placement on the menu itself all impact a guest’s decision in your restaurant.


5. Shop around at different wholesale food sellers for the best prices.

Choosing one supplier for bulk inventory orders typically results in lower order costs. If your restaurant provides local or organic options, still consider approaching these vendors to see if they work with anyone in your ideal supplier network.

Don’t just settle on one - do some research in your area to see which provider offers the best quality for the best price. Cheaper food may sound like the best route, but if this compromises quality, customers will easily notice.


6. Make sure you are serving appropriate portion sizes.

Are many dishes coming back half eaten? Have a chat with your head chef to see if plates can be made smaller of if you should look into “small” and “large” sizes for some dishes.


7. Watch your meal composition.

Without lowering the quality of your food, use more of the less expensive items in a meal. If one of your plates is full of some of your most expensive ingredients, make sure it is marked up appropriately. This profitability information can also be discovered in your menu engineering software by discovering your “plow-horses” - those dishes that are high in popularity but low in profitability.


8. Don’t give away too many freebies, such as bread and butter.

Consider portioning your freebies closely, factoring their price into a per-dish cost, or both. Only bringing out more bread if customers expressly ask for it is one way to cut back on this expense.


9. Change your specials throughout the year.

Seasonal menu changes can help you save money - what’s in season in nature will be cheaper and will help with profitability and what’s hot with customers will help with popularity.

The National Restaurant Association predicts what’s hot each year. Take note of these trends and try incorporating them into your seasonal specials menu.


10. Use a menu pricing tool.

It’s crucial to understand your costs to keep your business alive, but it’s also helpful from a competitive standpoint. Using a menu price analyzer can show how your food prices stack up against other concepts in your area and what changes - if any - you should make to your prices or your brand.

For example, if your burger is far pricier than the burger next door, consider lowering your price or rebranding your burger as artisanal or high-quality. For the latter, you’ll lose out on those looking for a quick bite, but you’ll earn the attention of those who want something a little more special.