Many times, when discussing food cost, a high food cost can be blamed on the chef’s inability to do their job properly. Many times, this is accurate, but they are not the only ones to blame. Diagnosing the issues in a restaurant are often not black and white, and margins are no different. Generally, it is a series of different issues that together add up to a concerning metric. This post should shed some light on some reasons why your food cost sucks (and how to fix it). I hope to give you some ideas you might not have previously thought of, and to love a server named Brad and hate a guy named Chad.
- Discounting: A problem so important, it’s listed five times. This is a particular issue in more upscale restaurants. Many service professionals feel guilt when charging a guest a certain amount of money for something, and will make the executive decision to discount it because they feel that the product is not worth the money. This is upsetting to many business owners, but it is also easily explained to staff. This is a matter of utility, and while a member of the service staff, Chad, may not feel that a vegan dish is worth $16 in comparison to a bistro steak at $19, explaining the utility will help Chad understand why a vegan won’t struggle with this value proposition as they do.
- Line item voids: Line item voids, or voiding something off of a bill after it has been fired, is often the most deceitful trick your front of house staff can do to slip something by you. Many point-of-sale software programs do not allow a server to do this without a manager’s over-ride, but other systems can. Review your employee permissions in the POS system settings. Sometimes, a server does not understand the difference between a comp and a void, and it is easily remedied. If the server knows that it is not proper (say this is the 2nd or 3rd time you have explained this), then you are probably looking at a write up.
- Incorrect ordering: It happens, it really does, but we all know that Brad is a better server than Chad. Brad rarely puts in an incorrect order. Chad on the other hand, does it frequently, forgetting modifiers, ordering the wrong item, forgetting items, and then having to do a service error comp. Chad sucks, we know. Chad is also destroying your food cost. Every service correction comp or item sent back to the kitchen is money being pulled right out of the bank. Your cooks can isolate a Chad in a moment (They are probably talking s@#$ about him in the walk-in right now), and they will be able to tell you who is your guilty party.
- Gifting: Chad’ girlfriend is sitting at the bar. She’s now three margarita’s deep, eating some tacos, telling the entire bar how awesome Burning Man was, and how there is this new designer drug M520(q)A1 that you just have to try. Chad’s girlfriend is the worst, but anyways. You pop into the POS system and see that her check includes two margaritas, but not a third, and no tacos. This, my friends, is gifting. Staff giving away products to those closest to them. Admittedly, this is much easier to do for the front of house (it requires someone to participate in the back of house in order to get around the POS, but if Chad is slinging drinks to Jane the cook during service, then she’s probably willing) but it definitely happens. it’s important to crush it, and to crush it like the ego of a fresh culinary school graduate.
- Employee meals: Chad is currently trying to get his swell on at the gym, so he is trying to get those grams of protein. He is ordering a lot of food, more than the normal amount. Now, you get a tax deduction for employee meals, but as we are all aware, the operating profits are razor thin, so if you don’t have a tax liability problem, this doesn’t work in your favor. Set a policy for employee meals. If they order off menu (which helps increase Menu knowledge of your staff as opposed to family meal), make sure it is clear what your policies are.
- Bread service, canapes & palate cleansers: Many restaurants offer bread service, and many upscale restaurants offer canapes or palate cleaners (or entrements or remise en bouche). These items can be prepared in advance, or are outside of the production and control of the back of house. One of the most common issues is over-serving of bread. A table of two gets six pieces, while a table of four gets six pieces. You see the issue, right? One busser cuts the bread two fingers thick, the other cuts off a hunk that is suitable for a meal. Additionally, there are sometimes up-sells; one restaurant we work with offers either olive oil or smoked cultured butter (+$2). How often do you think that gets rung in? Additionally, canapes are a choice snack for a server on the run, and maybe half of them make it to the table.
- Lack of menu knowledge: Chad has been working for the restaurant for six months, and still, somehow doesn’t know that there is Grana Padano in the farro. He serves the dish to someone who is lactose intolerant. Not only is this poor guest’s date night ruined, but she has sent the meal back to the kitchen. This item is comped and likely their replacement order. This is only one example of dozens of different ways that lack of menu knowledge can tank food cost.
- Not announcing specials: On Thursday, your fishmonger has a stunning tilefish and you fall to your knees in awe. You look at the fish’s perfectly clear, shiny bulging eyes; the last time you felt this feeling was the first time you locked eyes with your true love. You make the purchase and put the fish on the menu as a special. Brad sells six that evening, while Chad hates saying the special because, “It takes too long.” By Sunday, you have only sold half of the fish despite it getting rave review, and you are faced with the dreaded, Monday fish special, or throwing out the rest of what you have. You haven’t been this crushed since you realized that your one true loved was dating the guy at the popular taco shop down the street.
- Food dying in the pass: Just starting to write this, I can feel my blood pressure rising. After working on the line for years, nothing made my blood boil faster that food dying on the pass. All of your work spoiled by a lack of runners, or a server’s inability to hear the chef yell “service” or the smashing of a bell. Some food can be saved, but some can’t be.
So there you have it, I hope this helps presents some new ideas for how to improve your food cost and I hope I have built a character who you hate as much as Joffery or Jar Jar Binks. Is Chad an evil child that is the result of a lackluster upbringing, or is a just the village idiot?