Running Lean: How to Reduce Food Costs

As if getting back into the swing things now that many restaurants are fully open were not hard enough, now we have to face labor and supply chain shortages. If you are trying to get back on your feet and struggling with these realities, you may be at a loss of where to even begin when it comes to creating a leaner operation.

Let’s talk chicken for example. Chicken prices have gone through the roof in some markets. But chicken is a restaurant staple, so it’s just not practical to remove it from your menu. So how do you continue to serve chicken without passing the costs on to your guests or losing your tail on chicken dishes? The best answer is to run your kitchen as lean as possible until prices stabilize.

Below are five keys to running a leaner kitchen and lowering your costs:

Reduce waste. To reduce the amount of spoilage in your restaurant, use the first-in / first-out method. It may take a little longer to unload shipments but moving the older stock to the front of the shelves and putting the new stock behind it will ensure that you are not wasting good product. Also, be sure to mandate date labeling on all perishable products to help with storage and rotation.

Rethink your menu. Run a product mix (or menu item count) report to see the total amount of each menu item you sold for a particular time. Items that are only sold a few times a month should be removed from the menu. There is no need to buy product for menu items that you are not selling.

Multipurpose product. Finding ways to use product in multiple dishes will save you money by buying in bulk and also help you move through the item quickly to avoid spoilage. For example, let’s say you use artichoke hearts in only one salad recipe. You can either change the recipe to take them out or find new ways to use them before they go bad, such as on a pizza or pasta dish or special.

Portion control. Make sure that your employees are using a scale every time they prep and portion. Seasoned employees may feel confident enough to eyeball 10 oz of crabmeat, but if he/she over portions by even 1⁄4 ounce it will add up over the month. With restaurant margins being so low, this can be significant over time.

Study your voids/comps. It is important to look at your voids and comps every day to see if there is a pattern. Does the menu item not meet the customer’s expectation? Is the kitchen making a consistent mistake and need retraining? Is a certain manager comping his/her friends’ or family’s tab on a regular basis? Make sure you are not losing profits to unnecessary voids and comps.

Boost kitchen productivity. While not directly product related, kitchen labor is another area you can keep costs at bay in your restaurant. One trick is to boost productivity by carefully analyzing each task that is being performed and by knowing how long it takes. Sometimes you can actually save money by coupling employees in creative ways. Let’s say that one employee can dice 15 lbs of onions in one hour. However – because these are human beings and not machines – the same person can only dice 10 lbs of onions the second hour. You pay $20 for 25 lbs of onions to be diced. But if you change to two employees dicing onions for one hour instead you end up with 30 lbs of onions for the same $20.

There are many more ways to lower your food costs. Some are straightforward while others take some creativity, but even the smallest savings will add up over time. Start with these few steps and go from there. We wish you the best and continue to stay #restaurantstrong.

Read also:

Food Supply Chains Are Stretched as Americans Head Back to Restaurants

Why No Workers? Answering a Prickly QSR Question

How to Hire a Stellar Staff In This Lean Post-COVID Labor Market