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25 Essentials to Controlling Food Costs

by Caroline Cooper, August 19, 2010

Last weekend I took a walk though arable land and couldn't fail to notice that all was not well with the wheat crops. I suppose it's not surprising; I only have to look at my own garden and see the effects of the recent dry (UK) weather.

The impact, of course, for the hospitality sector is more food inflation. Not helped by the potential banning of grain exports from Russia, floods in Canada, India and Pakistan. And the poor cereal crops have a knock on effect on meat prices as well as bread and pasta, and there are predications of price increases on soya, palm oil and cocoa too.

So is it time to check on the basics on keeping control of your food costs?

Hopefully your head chef or kitchen manager has all these things in hand, but in case not here are my 25 essentials to controlling food costs

I'm sure there are many more ideas, but these are the basics…..

  1. Plan menus around seasonal availability
  2. Create costing cards for every menu item, and update ingredients costs as they change
  3. Include methods for all recipes, train chefs and provide the right tools to follow these methods
  4. Establish yields of all recipes, and check these are being achieved though production and sales controls
  5. Check suppliers prices before ordering, and adapt the menu if costs jeopardise your margin
  6. Only ever order what you need - chef will only be tempted to use more if it's there, and the excess goes to waste
  7. Negotiate drop discounts with your main suppliers - if they can save on delivery costs they might be willing to negotiate
  8. Only ever buy products on offer if you know you can incorporate into the menu without it affecting your sales or margins
  9. Check invoice prices against list prices
  10. Don’t accept expensive substitutes for out of stock items
  11. Check all deliveries are complete, adequate shelf life and in good condition - never accept anything which is not to standard
  12. Keep stores tidy, with everything having its own place - it's far easier to control 
  13. Keep stores locked, with access only from those who need it
  14. Ensure stock rotation to avoid spoilage
  15. Take stock regularly, weekly if possible, but as a minimum monthly - to get accurate stock consumption figures (this also encourages low stocks and good rotation)
  16. Keep your menu choice limited to avoid low stock turnover - customers usually perceive a low turnover of stock anyway with very extensive menus 
  17. Keep records of patterns in menu popularity to help planning and ordering
  18. Batch cook as orders come in to meet demand
  19. Check what comes back on plates - and ask if wastage is due to poor quality or too big a portion?
  20. Keep a wastage book to track all wastage - you'll be amazed how much goes in the bin and for avoidable reasons
  21. Investigate the cost of a blast chiller if you don’t already have one - it could pay for itself in a short space of time
  22. Ensure all chefs/service staff are trained in portion control
  23. Supply the right size serving equipment for a standard portion - if a portion of chips is 8 oz and you provide a 10 oz scoop that's 25% over and your margin gone
  24. Educate staff in the budgets and margins involved in the businesses - if they think you make a fortune on each dish they wont respect food costs 
  25. Have guidelines for staff meals and what they can and cant eat or drink
   ….And a bonus point…

26.  Accidents do happen - but ask staff to let you know when there has been anything out of the ordinary to affect wastage

Caroline Cooper is a business coach with over 25 years in business and management development. She is the founder of Zeal Coaching, specialising in working with hospitality businesses, and is author of the 'Hotel Success Handbook'

Caroline Cooper 
Zeal Coaching 
tel:  +44 (0)7887 540914

Also See: Old Tricks to Manage Successful Food and Beverage Operations / Nasir Zahir / February 2009
Your Bartender is Jessie James and He Needs to Pay for College / Beverly McCay / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / Fall 2000

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