How to Cut Food Costs in Your Restaurant

How to Cut Restaurant Food Costs

Food costs are one of the biggest parts of a restaurant's overhead spending, and rising costs are an ongoing issue. As prices across the board are increasing, we must find ways to keep our overhead down, and profits up. How do you do that?

Can you shop more efficiently, and encourage your staff to waste less so that you can start saving? Some methods of saving money are obvious, while others require you and your staff to get creative. Let's take a closer look at how you can keep costs down.

Plan Ahead

Get to know your stock and be in constant contact with your staff about the low items, or moving quickly. Last-minute shopping can often cause you to overspend because it sends you to the closest store rather than your regular purveyor. 

Last-minute shopping also makes you spend more because you buy a small amount of an item rather than in bulk.

Buy in Bulk

Buying in bulk saves money the majority of the time, like 99% of the time. Selling bulk product is more cost-efficient for stores, and also for restaurants. The extra space that the bulk product takes up is worth it when you are trying to cut food costs.

As long as you can use the excess product, buying in bulk is suggested. Buying in bulk because it is cheaper does not make sense if the product will expire or spoil long before you can use it.

Stock up on Sale Items

We all love a good sale, especially when we are trying to save on restaurant food costs. When that sale comes around on items that you purchase regularly, take full advantage of the sale prices and stock up! If you purchase wisely, you won't go through the stock that you buy until another sale comes along.

Shop Around

For those specialty items that you just have to have, and the items that seem oddly marked up in certain stores, shopping around for better deals should be your mission. A restaurant owner must be a smart shopper if they want to save money.

Of course, you don't want to spread yourself too thin by having to run around to 10 different stores on shopping day, but sometimes you can't avoid it. Stock up while you're there so that you don't have to keep coming back every week.

Hint: Check out the local farms, farmer's markets, and even produce auctions. Once you develop a relationship with local farmers, they may even begin to cut you better deals. Extend an offer to them to come to enjoy a meal at your restaurant in exchange for better prices regularly. The same thing goes for meats, cheese, etc.

Selling for the Season

Seasonal items taste best when it is the peak season for them. Not when they are forced to grow unnaturally in an off-season. In-season produce tastes better and is more affordable than in an off-season.

In addition to playing to the season, is serving what is local to your area. If your restaurant is on the coast, it's only natural to serve seafood. If your restaurant is in the middle of a farming area- farm to table is the most ideal.

Get to Know Your Food Purveyors 

How well do you know your salespeople? Take the time to get to know your purveyors and sales reps. They are your ticket to getting insider tips on sales and getting better deals from your purveyors.  

Reduce Your Waste

One of the easiest ways to reduce waste and cut costs is to use as much of the product as you can. Cutting up vegetables for a salad? Save everything from the onion peels to the carrot tops for boiling down into stock. 

Scraps that would have been tossed away get new life as a base for sauces and soups. What you can't use, see if you can start a compost bin, or donation bucket to a local pig farm, and used coffee grounds are great for worm farmers.

Speaking of reducing waste- you know those old table bases that you were about to throw away to replace? Why don't you get them to powder coat it instead? They are perfectly good, they just don't look fresh anymore. Powdercoating is durable, and perfect for the restaurant business.

Get Creative With Leftovers

Today's fresh veggie can become tomorrow's soup, and throw that leftover pasta or rice in there, as well. Your job (and your BOH staff's job) is to not let food go to waste. Sometimes it takes a bit of research, imagination, and creativity to use up leftover cooked food, but throwing away food is like throwing away money. 

Proper Storage Practices

If your kitchen staff is not storing food properly, it could be going bad before it's time. Sealing items in airtight containers, labeling things with dates, and of course rotating older items to the front of the fridge will help with waste. Also, check refrigeration temperatures to make sure coolers are at the proper temperatures.

Taking Tips From Your Elders

Want to save money on food? Look to those who are experts at it. That's right, Grandma knows best!

People who have lived through times (or in places/socioeconomic status) when food was in short supply learned how to make do with less, and also do more with less. Instead of letting a case of produce go bad they would freeze, dehydrate, or can it to stop the aging process.

FIFO or Bust

If your staff is not rotating stock properly, there is a good chance that the product is getting thrown away because of neglecting the golden rule of a restaurant kitchen. FIFO (first-in, first-out) should be the standard procedure when deliveries come in. 

Anything that does not get rotated to the front has a chance of spoiling before it can be used. 

Planning the Menu 

A lot of work goes into planning and printing menus. Take the chance to add in low cost, seasonal items that make more sense for your budget, and create less waste. Switch menus out accordingly.

Explore Your Options

If you want to use a specific item on your menu, no rule says you have to have it in one form versus another. For instance, peas.

The humble vegetable is best served fresh, as most vegetables are. However, if it is being used in a sauce or soup, you may be able to use frozen peas. Find a decent IQF product, and run a test batch for a taste comparison. 

Adjusting Sizes

Improper portion sizes are one of the restaurant's biggest struggles to get right. No one is perfect, but we must try if we are going to succeed in saving money while keeping customers happy. 

If portions are too large, you are giving away product, and creating unnecessary waste. Whereas portions that are too small can upset customers, causing them not to return, or having the server running for more.

Extras brought to the table run the risk of servers wasting precious time, and even creating more waste due to extras being served in disposable containers, or more dishes in the dish pit.

It Starts in the Kitchen

You do not have to be a micro-manager to have consistency coming out of your kitchen. Give your kitchen staff the training and tools to succeed, and you will notice a difference. Use scales, pre-measured ladles, and souffle cups of different sizes to support consistency.

Consistency s key in a restaurant, and includes front of the house staff, just as much as the back of the house! Get those bartenders and servers on board with proper portion control, too. Giving staff freedom for personal expression does not include how thick or thin they slice fruit garnishes, or how many lemons they serve with an iced tea. 

Remember, no one cares as much as you do, and you can not expect them to. With that being said, there are better choices for staff members than others. If someone is just there for a paycheck, chances are that they may not care about food waste or your food costs.

Get yourself a nice set of tables and chairs in the break room, and sit the entire staff down with and let them know the game plan on how you intend to save the restaurant money on food waste.

Remind Your FOH Staff 

Coming off as a business owner who is trying to be cheap is not the same as being a business owner who is trying to limit waste, which in turn saves money and can give better holiday bonuses etc.

When servers are busy, or otherwise not putting thought into waste, items such as extra sides of sauce or giving out too many lemon wedges can drive food costs up and create waste.

Tasting Menu or the Entire Staff

You can talk until you are blue in the face about how you want your staff to pay more attention to the portions and waste. But, until you actually have them eating the food that they are serving, it is hard to connect the dots. 

Have the kitchen staff watch you prepare dishes with the proper amount of everything, and then have everyone taste it. If you notice an unusual amount of excess sauce left on a plate from pasta that they are serving, show them the proper amount they should be using so that there is no excess aka waste.

Staff should know what the food tastes like that they are preparing and serving, otherwise they are completely out of touch, and have a better chance of having a lot of waste.

Staff Meals

Staff meals can be a tricky subject for restaurant owners. The debate of whether employees should eat for free, for a discount, or pay full price for their meals while working. 

If you still haven't found a solution that works for you, how about offering a staff meal per shift? This is also a great way to get rid of something that you have an excess of or something that will likely spoil unless you sell an unusually large amount.

Another idea is to give them a limited menu to choose from if they will be getting free meals. Not every restaurant owner wants their staff to eat the most expensive menu items every day.

Careful Catering 

Food waste is especially common with something like a catering buffet line. If your restaurant offers a buffet for catered events, it can be a challenge to find the balance between having the right amount of everything, not running out of a popular item, and having an extreme excess leftover. 

Need extra chairs for your growing business? You will definitely need a place for all of your customers to sit! 

Check the Trash

Knowing where you can be saving more money includes knowing what is consistently being wasted. If more pickles are being thrown away than being consumed, maybe it is time to stop serving pickles with every sandwich. Have your servers start asking instead of automatically giving it away just to have to throw it away.

Observing what is being thrown away also gives you a chance to see what is being wasted by the staff. It doesn't hurt to make sure that things like random pieces of silverware aren't ending up in the garbage, too.

Another way to save money is not to throw away your old set of chairs in the trash, but to get them reupholstered! Give them new life instead of throwing away money.

Controlling Theft

Unfortunately, theft is always something you have to be aware of in the restaurant business. Remember, theft is not always about employees walking out with food and beverages without paying for them, or without you knowing. But, it is also about your staff giving away food for free.

When employees give away free food to customers to boost their tips, or to treat a friend, they are helping to drive up your food costs. Whether you like it, or not, you have to put some type of policy in place that protects you and your restaurant from being ripped off by your employees.

Installing cameras around your establishment, keeping detailed in-depth stock reports running at all times, and locking up liquor is a good place to start. Stop problems before they begin.

Food Costs

Owning a restaurant can be thoroughly exhausting, don't let it exhaust your bank account from extreme food costs. Put these tips to work for you ASAP to start noticing considerable decreases in your restaurant food costs. Some of these tips can be put into immediate effect.

For all of your restaurant table, chair, and furniture finishing needs contact Richardson Seating company, they'll help you keep your spending down, too!

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