Food Cost Fluctuations
Question: Why does my food cost fluctuate so much? I am always higher than industry standard. What should I be doing differently, if anything?
This issue seems to be one the most familiar topics of concern with which independent restaurant owners battle. And why shouldn't it be when you consider that at most full-service concepts, 75% to 80% of revenue is generated from food, and next to labor, food is the highest monthly expense.
There isn't one thing that normally creates the cost fluctuation, but a combination of items working together that require attention. I tell those I work with that to reduce food cost we must first think like food! Funny, I know… but it works.
Start with the back door and think about receiving deliveries. Ask yourself if you regularly use a scale to double check the weight of items as they are delivered. Do you open cases to double check the amount of items to certain they match the invoice and purchase order?
Next move on to storage and ask yourself if you rotate items on the shelf to ensure the "first in first out" inventory method. Do you properly label and date all items? Now take a look at your preparation area and ask if there is a written product prep list provided each day. Does it include the amount of each recipe to prep? Are there complete recipes written and available in this area to follow? Does staff refer to them each time the recipe is produced? Finally move to the hot line stations and expo window.
Look through the setup of each station to see if product is correctly portioned, and if the amount of product matches the par level. Ask yourself if the correct sized spoons, ladles, scoops and other utensils are in position. Are there plate photos displayed above each station? Watch as plates are prepared and place at the expo window. Ask yourself if each of them matches specification for portion and presentation.
I find that most reasons for food cost fluctuation are found in the inventory-ordering-receiving process, recipe-preparation procedures, and portion-plating step. Inventory of all perishable and dry goods are best managed by using a running inventory format with proper par levels. Checking a form like this when placing orders and maintaining it with correct information with each delivery, helps insure a constant amount on hand while reducing waste, spoilage and theft.
Clearly written and accessible recipes and preparation procedures are a must if you are to expect kitchen staff to prepare each recipe correctly and consistently every day. Making certain that the proper sized scoops, spoons and ladles are used helps guarantee that each plate is getting the size and amount the recipe calls for, while reducing the chances of over portioning and waste. A clearly labeled chart or recipe reference with plate portions and corresponding pictures is needed for cooks to follow so that every pasta plate requiring 8 ounces of pasta and ¼ cup of tomatoes receives just that.
Once you are confident with the consistency of your receiving, prepping and plating process. I suggest you review the cost of your menu items. It is quite possible that over time, the menu mix has changed creating greater sales from items with higher plate cost. This might lead you to change your food cost target, consider some menu reengineering, and a review of menu prices.