Tips and tricks from US Foods
Sure, food costs aren’t necessarily one of the most exciting aspects of running a restaurant—but they’re certainly among the most important. Your food costs can be the difference between a fantastic year and a just-okay one; and yet a lot of ambitious operators don’t take them into consideration as much as they should.
Cutting your food cost does not necessarily have to mean compromising on quality. We chatted with Jason Pratt, Restaurant Operations Consultant for US Foods, who works with restaurants of all shapes and sizes to help them stay organized with inventory, streamline the way they handle purchasing, and find efficiencies in their food costs. He told us about some of the more effective strategies restaurants can use—from the systematic switches to the little adjustments—for getting their costs in order.
Focus on optimizing your top ten line items.
The best way to make a big, immediate impact on your food costs is to start with the ingredients that you spend the most on. “Follow the handling process,” Pratt says. “Look at how that item is checked, stored, and labeled.” This will help you identify opportunities for making those processes more efficient, thereby lowering waste.
Use technology to help with inventory.
US Foods' inventory app.
“The most common pitfall operators make when figuring out food cost is just taking their purchases and dividing that by sales,” Pratt says. “The problem is that it doesn’t account for products they start with, or the product they currently have on their shelf. It’s a really inaccurate picture.” These days, one of the easiest ways to do detailed inventory is to use one of the many tracking apps out there—US Foods has its own app, which will automatically update prices of each item; there’s also Plate IQ, which digitizes paper invoices, and calculates the estimated cost of dishes.
one of the easiest ways to do detailed inventory is to use one of the many tracking apps out there
Establish consistency in your operations.
The restaurant industry has an extremely high turnover rate, which can make it difficult to keep processes and dishes consistent from week to week. Make sure that you are taking the time to train each new cook on the exact details of prepping and constructing a dish, and encourage your cooks to be hyper-organized. “If you have someone who is trained well and can replicate the process of creating a menu item, it can help eliminate waste, minimize mistakes, and lower costs,” Pratt says.
Have a seven-day prep sheet.
Pratt tells his clients to keep track of how they are prepping and using ingredients over the course of a week, which can help them evaluate areas where they are over-spending. "You can easily see where you over prepped and immediately make adjustments based on that,” Pratt says. “It’s a great way for a kitchen manager to make a quick calculation of what products are on hand and set daily prep levels.”
One of the biggest challenges that Pratt sees is when operators hold issues about food costs too close to their chest. “Communicate clearly with your staff. Tell them, ‘This is our goal. This is how far away we are.’ If you can get managers and employees to rally behind that goal, that’s how you can make an impact.” Remember: your employees are the ones taking in deliveries, ringing in orders, and handling product. “They are the ones with the most relevant feedback.”