How do I figure my food cost?

Calculating how much the food you sell costs you to sell is a very important practice in running a profitable restaurant. Knowledge is power, and knowing your food cost compared to your sales and your ideal food cost is very empowering information. By figuring your food cost percentage, you have an early warning system to alert you to potential theft and waste.

Before we get into the process for calculating food cost, it’s good to talk about how often this should be done. I suggest calculating your food costs at the end of every week. If you happen to have a cost control issue, it’s best to know as close to the time the occurence happened as possible. The farther you get away from an occurence that caused a cost problem, the harder it is to determine what that occurence was.

You are going to need to track a few pieces of information to calculate your food costs. You will need to know:

  • How much is my starting inventory for the period I am evaluating?
  • How much is my ending inventory for the period I am evaluating?
  • How much food did I purchase during that period?

This is all the information necessary to calculate actual food costs for any given period. How long that period is depends on you. As I said, I suggest evaluating food costs every week.

In addition to knowing your actual food costs, you’ll need a couple other pieces of information to compare the actual food cost to:

  • What is your ideal food cost for the period being evaluated? (we’ll discuss how to calculate ideal food cost also)
  • What are your total sales for the period being evaluated? (you’ll also need to track your sales by item to calculate your ideal food cost)

Now let’s go one step at a time to get these powerful pieces of information.

Calculating actual food costs

Calculating your actual food cost starts by taking an inventory of all your food items at the same time every week. Choose one time as the starting and ending time for all your reporting for that week. I suggest ending your reporting after the end of business on Sunday, but before the beginning of business on Monday. Inventory levels are usually at their lowest on Sunday, so inventory takes less time to count and calculate.

The inventory that you take every week will serve as the starting inventory for the week to follow, but also the ending inventory for the week that is concluding. It will be used in both capacities to calculate food costs depending on whether the calculations are for the past week or the coming week. By counting your inventory, and using a spreadsheet to multiply out the value of all your items on hand, you will come up with a dollar amount that shows you how many dollars in inventory you have on hand.

This starting inventory is the beginning to the food cost equation. The equation looks like this:

starting inventory + purchases – ending inventory = cost of food for period

By taking a physical count of all your food on hand, you’ll have the starting inventory and the ending inventory parts to this equation. From there, you simply have to track your purchases within that time period. For this number, you’ll use dollar amounts from invoices received in the period being evaluated. It does not matter to the equation when that food is actually paid for.

Start with an inventory you took on the Sunday before a week started. Add all the dollar amounts for food received during that week. Subtract the amount of your inventory counted on the following Sunday. The resulting number is the cost of goods sold, or food cost, for the week.

Calculating ideal food costs

Ideal food costs are the amount of money the food you sold during a given period should have cost you. Compare your ideal food cost to your actual food cost to help you identify when there is a breakdown in your system. If your actual food cost goes up for a period, your ideal food cost should go up too. If it doesn’t, then you’ve just identified a problem, possibly theft or waste. If your ideal food cost does rise with your actual food cost, then you know your food cost is high not because your staff did something wrong, but because of the sales mix of your menu items for the period. This is important to know, because most high food cost menu items also contribute more gross profit dollars to your bottom line, so a high food cost for that period is not be a bad thing. The only way to know whether it is bad or good, is to compare it to your ideal food cost.

Here are the equations to figure your ideal food cost:

recipe cost for menu item × number of item sold = ideal cost for item

ideal cost for all items added together = ideal food cost

In a perfect world, your ideal food cost should match your actual food cost exactly. Since it’s impossible to perfectly measure every piece or food, or track every piece of waste, you will see some variance between your actual and ideal food costs. You have to decide how large a variance is acceptible. I believe you should expect to keep your actual and ideal costs within .5% of each other. Variances larger than this tend to point to problems in your system. These problems could include theft, waste, under-portioning, over-portioning, poor prep procedures, bad food receiving procedures, or other problems.

What we haven’t covered yet is the “percentage” part of food costs. I’m sure you’ve noticed that other restaurateurs express their food costs in a percentage. I also suggested your ideal and actual food costs stay within .5% of each other.

Food cost percentages

A food cost percentage is an expression of what your food cost you to serve compared to the sales you made during the period you’re evaluating.

The simple formula for figuring this percentage is:

actual food cost ÷ total food sales = actual food cost percentage

 

ideal food cost ÷ total food sales = ideal food cost percentage

 

The resulting percentage is the percent of your sales that go to pay for the food you sold, whether it’s actual or ideal. These percentage make it easy for you to compare your actual and ideal costs to each other, but also make it easy to compare food costs from different weeks, months, quarters or years to each other.

I hope this explanation helped you learn how to calculate your food costs. Calculate them every week, along with your ideal costs, and you’ll find that the extra attention you are paying to your costs will open your eyes to many opportunities to save money in your restaurant or food service. If you need some tools to help you calculate your actual or ideal food costs, please visit the webstore on our website.

What reports are needed to run a restaurant right?

That’s an important question. There isn’t enough reporting and record keeping in the restaurant business. Many chain restaurant can see by the end of the week whether they made money or not. Most independents have to wait until their accountant returns the monthly numbers anywhere from 4 days to 4 weeks after the end of the month. In my opinion, this is too late. If you don’t know how you did in the first week until the end of the month, you’re not managing proactively in my opinion. You need to be on top of a problem as close to when it happens as possible to solve it.

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Minimum reports I suggest for every restaurant owner:

Sales by item – day/week/period
Purchases & Expenses – week
Inventory – week
Ideal cost of sales – week
Prime cost – week
Budget – week/period
Preliminary P&L – week/period
Actual P&L – period/year
Guest counts – day/week/period
Gross profit per customer/item – week
Labor – day/week/period
Cash reconciliation report – server/shift/day

Each of these reports should include the necessary comparisons to sales, budgets, etc. Reports have to be designed properly, and include all the information needed. With just the budget, labor, purchases, inventory and sales reports, you can generate about anything you need, most importantly a preliminary P&L. If your reports aren’t enough to build a preliminary weekly P&L or cash flow statement out of, most POS software don’t, they aren’t enough in my opinion.

Of course there are other useful reports to have, but most I think can be ran on an “as needed” basis. There are also shift reports that are necessary to the operation of your business, but those aren’t included here.

Quick Tips – Keep your menu simple

Large menus have a lot of downfalls. Large menus require excessive prep, cause long ticket times, are hard to educate service staff on, need too much storage space, and generally drive down the profitability of your restaurant. Keep your menu as small as you can, focused on your concept, and easy to produce.

Quick Tips – Use color on your menu design

A great way to make your menu stand out, and to draw people to certain items, is through the use of color. When you add color to your menu, use the color scheme you’ve chosen for your restaurant. Use other colors to highlight, surround, or shade menu items you want people to notice. Color icons are a great way to tell more about a menu item, whether it’s spicy, a customer favorite, or a great value.

How can I make my employees accountable?

Question:

When you work in an excuse-driven culture, how do you change the mindset and teach others to become accountable?

Answer:

Unfortunately, the most effective method for me to implement quick changes in attitude is through forcing it. That almost always requires “executing a hostage in front of the firing squad”.

Words are the first step. Accountability has to be taught as an expectation. You tell employees that your business expects them to be accountable, which means doing everything THEY can do to fix a situation rather than concentrating on what someone else should have done to avoid it.

I teach that they only have control over themselves, and they will get the most accomplished by concentrating on what they DO have control of (themself) rather than what they DON’T have control of (others).

Once they know you expect them to be accountable, you have to hold them accountable. That means no exceptions to the rules, no favorite employees who get away with things, and unequal punishment. It also means having pre-determined punishment for violations to documented rules, and making sure employees are taught those rules and sign an agreement to follow them.

Once the rules and the punishments are in place. The only thing left is equal and fair enforcement. Even a tough boss will be seen as fair if everyone is playing by the same rules. The bad attitudes most often come when there isn’t enough accountability, and people are allowed to break the rules. Then, employees who follow the rules are the ones who feel slighted, and they end up being the ones who leave. When rules are fair, and enforced consistently, the bad employees are the ones who leave.

Any time a situation gets bad, I’ve found it’s often necessary to fire someone to get compliance from the rest. This is especially necessary when there has been an extended lack of rule enforcement.

When I observe an “excuse-driven” culture, it almost always means there is a lack of consistent enforcement of the rules.

Quick Tips – Get some signature menu items

A good way to make your food stand out, and to communicate what your food is all about is by creating a signature item in each of your menu categories. These items should be your highest gross profit earners, and the centerpieces of your direct marketing efforts. They help define you and your restaurant. You don’t need “a bunch” of signature items either. The more items you have that claim to be “special” or “signature”, the less special each of them are. Save your other great, creative ideas for your daily or weekly features.

Don’t give your customers what you want

How to make sure your products will sell

Pretty confusing main title, isn’t it? I’ll bet you’re wondering exactly what I’m talking about.

Along with the other biggest mistakes restaurants owners make, offering customers what the owner thinks is good, instead of what the customer thinks is good, is a surefire way to lose money in the restaurant business.

Here’s the scenario I’ve seen a dozen times.

  • Young couple sells their house and moves to a new city
  • New city doesn’t have restaurants offering their favorite foods from previous city
  • Couple decides to leverage all their assets and open a restaurant selling the fantastic food from their last city that they know everyone will love if they would just try it
  • Couple doesn’t realize the complexity of the restaurant business, and opens up underfunded and underexperienced
  • No one comes to restaurant, and couple blames their vendors, their employees, their landlord and their customers for their failure
  • Couple loses their restaurant, still owes $100,000 to the bank, loses their home which they used as collateral for the loan, owes $500,000 for the next 10 years of the restaurant lease, files bankruptcy and spends the next 20 years paying off their debt

Pretty sad scenario, isn’t it? It’s very common though. As a matter of fact, failure in the restaurant business is more common than success. Studies from Cornell University, Michigan State University and Ohio State University have found that around 60% of new restaurants fail around the three year mark. Between the 5th and 10th year, closer to 70% fail. While that is no where near the long-rumored 90-% failure rate that has been unsubstantially perpetuated for years, it’s still playing against the odds.

Now you’re supposed to ask, “How do I beat the odds?”. I’m glad you asked, and I’m going to help you past the first hurdle, and a common mistake, giving customers what YOU want, instead of what they want. Restaurant owners are notoriously egotistical. Sorry if I’m offending anyone, but it’s true. I’ve been this same way myself. Owners have the bad habit of projecting their own tastes on their public. They think because they believe something is delicious, that everyone else will too. Some of them are right. Many of them have eclectic tastes, and find themselves to be wrong though.

Our egos tell us that if we like something, it must be good. If we really like something, and we believe ourselves to be very knowledgable about that something, then it must be great, and will make us millions if we bring it to people who haven’t had it before.

The fatal flaw with this reasoning is that people who haven’t had something before will not have a craving for that something. There will be no demand for that something. So, while rotisserie fired Peking Duck may have been a hot ticket in your eclectic little community in San Francisco, that doesn’t mean it will be all the rage when you move to Phoenix. I know what you’re thinking, “You obviously haven’t tried Peking Duck, if you had, you would love it.”

You may be right. Your favorite food from your last home may be fantastic. It could possibly even spurn a following in a new community, and support a restaurant, once everyone develops a taste for it. There is the kicker. How can people have a taste for something they haven’t had? They can’t. You can’t build a following for a fantastic new dish or type of food in an area where people don’t crave that food. At least not without having a huge marketing budget to give free food to ten times the people you need to sustain your business. Until someone knows what they are missing, they can’t miss it, and they won’t crave it.

The moral to my point is this. Don’t let your emotions and your ego decide what you are going to offer your guests. You may think something is the greatest dish, or type of food, in the world, but if the people you are trying to sell it to don’t know about it, it’s not going to sell. Give your customers something they already want. If you don’t know, conduct a survey. Ask them if they know about a particular food, if they would go to a restaurant just to get it, how far they would drive for it, and what they would pay. Let your customers determine what you are going to offer them.

Don’t give your customers what you want, give them what they want.

Creating a manageable menu

Two of my favorite shows are Restaurant Impossible and Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. If you haven’t seen them, and you’re in the restaurant business, you’re missing out on a lot of free lessons.

Gordon Ramsay is a bit of bully. He likes to push people’s buttons. I think one of his other shows, Hell’s Kitchen, is just a stage for him to berate future chefs for ratings and money. Robert Irvine is a bit more respectful, but still tough. That said, I still think those two show are the most important shows on television for current and would-be restaurateurs.

If you watch Kitchen Nightmares or Restaurant Impossible, you’ll notice a reoccuring theme with many of the failed restaurants Ramsay or Irvine help; large, unfocused, unmanageable menus. I’m not sure what it is about the restaurant business that turns an average cook into an overbearing, pretentious egomaniac chef or restaurant owner that thinks they can stick something on a plate no one has ever heard of before and people will pay them $50 a plate to eat it, but I wish they made a pill to cure that disease. At the very least there should be therapy available to help these people realize that if a world renowned chef like Gordon Ramsay can be humble enough to cook simple food with quality ingredients, then they should be also.

Enough with the whining. I’m starting to annoy myself.

What I really want to talk to you about, is how to create a manageable menu for your own restaurant. There are three main factors I think you should concentrate on when you are putting together your menu.

  1. Your limitations
  2. Your customer’s desires
  3. Your financial needs

Notice that nothing in that list refers to ‘what you want’ to serve. To tell you the truth, it’s not important what you want to serve. For more on that, check out Don’t give your customers what you want.

Your limitations

First things first. Something you’ll see in a lot of independent restaurants is owners or chefs trying to do the impossible by offering a larger selection than their equipment, facility, ability or staff can handle. You need to realize that these things limit what is possible out of your restaurant. You can’t just go and write your dream menu without considering the factors that will affect your ability to produce the food on that menu.

Your menu selection needs to be limited to only the number of items that you have the equipment to cook. It also needs to have items that spread the work load across the different stations and equipment in your kitchen. If you have 10 different saute items, and only 4 burners, you’re going to keep a lot of people waiting for their food. People NOT being served quickly, means that tables aren’t turning, and you aren’t serving as many people during your rush that you can. In most restaurants, at least 80% of the day’s revenue comes from the rush periods where you are putting through as many people as you can possibly serve. If your huge selection means you can’t serve as many people during a rush, then you won’t make as much money as you could.

Your menu should also be limited to only the number of items you have the storage room to store ingredients for. If you’re working with a two door reach in cooler and a top loading, three foot wide deep freeze, you’re not going to be able to offer all those fun creative dishes you learned to make in culinary school. Limited storage space means limited menu. You can make the most of your storage space by getting multiple orders per week, but even then, you’ll have to watch your space. There has to be a spot for everything, and stuffing more things in a cooler or freezer than was meant to be in there means you don’t have quick access to it in a rush, which means slower service and less money as we’ve already covered.

Your ability may be the first limitation you want to consider. Just because you are the best at cooking whatever it is you think is your specialty, doesn’t mean you’re good enough at teaching other people to produce it to your high standards enough to feed a huge angry mob. It also doesn’t mean that people are going to think whatever you’re cooking is as good as you do. You need to be honest with yourself and work within your limitations. Cook what you KNOW how to cook, not what you’ve seen other people cook. If you’re not an expert on everything on your menu, it will show. Maybe your customers won’t know how to verbalize it and let you know that your food really stinks, or maybe they’re just too nice to say it, but it will still show in the ever decreasing number of guests you’ll serve.

Your staff is another limitation you have to take into account when creating a menu. You can’t produce haute nouveau cuisine with minimum wage cooks. Every market is different for hiring talent. Every manager and chef is limited by their own ability to find qualified help. If you can’t find help that can make a two egg hollandaise in a job interview, then you don’t need to have hollandaise on your menu. Limit your offerings to what your staff is qualified to prepare.

Your customer’s desires

If you want a menu that works, it has to work for your potential customers. Whatever idea you have about introducing some new, awesome cuisine to a market that hasn’t seen it yet, forget it unless you have tons of marketing cash to educate the public with. People rarely eat what they don’t understand. I know you think your idea is different, and the food you want to bring to the area is soooo good that people just HAVE to love it, but you’re most likely just projecting your tastes on the general public. Unless you have tens of thousands in marketing dollars to educate a new market enough to create an interest in a new type of food, you’re not likely to bring them in. People try new foods based on buzz. When it starts to get popular, people try it. When it gets to be the “in” thing to eat, people try it. Until your target audience knows about the food you’re going to serve, they won’t have an interest in it. How can they, they don’t even know what it is? Find out what your customers want, not what you want them to eat. Make your menu about them.

Stick to foods your customers are familiar with. A good place to start is at the local farmer’s markets and grocery stores. See what meats and produce the markets carry. Those are the things people in that area buy. Those are the ingredients they know and are comfortable with. If you can find items that are even grown locally, all the better. If you have to have everything flown in from some exotic far away place, people in your area aren’t likely to know what it is or even care. Sure there are some adventurous people out there like me that love to try anything new and interesting they can get their hands on, but we are the exception, not the rule. I checked my ego long ago to make myself realize that it’s not about me, it’s about whoever I’m feeding.

Once you’ve made it about your customers and figured out what they want, create a signature item in each menu category. These signatures items should speak to your unique selling point, and really communicate to your customers what you are all about. I also suggest that you make them the highest gross profit items in their respective categories.

Your financial needs

You’re wasting your time if you’re not making money, so naturally a manageable menu is one that gives you enough money to pay your bills. While I’m not going to go into detail about pricing in this article, I am going to make the obvious point that you’re in business to make money.

When creating a menu, you need to consider how much every item on your menu costs to make. How much does every person who walks through your door cost you in overhead to serve? How much profit do you need to make for this restaurant venture to be worth your while? These three financial considerations combine to give you the information you need to set the prices on your menu. From there, you just have to keep your price points competitive for the market, and make sure your food offers a good value for what it is. Your food doesn’t have to be “the best”, but it does have to be worth what you’re charging.

Pricing your menu by a budgeted food cost isn’t an effective method of ensuring you will collect enough money to pay the bills. You need to consider every cost of running your business including the rent, insurance, utilities, equipment, maintenance, small wares, labor, taxes and benefits to name a few. All together, the other costs of running your business make up a lot larger part of your financial picture than your food costs do. You have to estimate all these, determine how much you need from every customer to cover these, and price your menu based on all the costs of doing business, in addition to profit.

Creating a manageable menu is just the first step in rolling out a new restaurants menu. Read our article on how to roll out a new restaurant menu to get a great step by step guide on getting your menu from conception to implementation.

I hope this article gives you a couple things to think about before creating your menu. Just keep in mind that big menus equal big waste, big theft, big product costs, big ticket times, and big service issues. Less is more. A small focused menu that accurately conveys who you are and what your restaurant is about will make more money than any big menu. I only have to bet my reputation that I’m right, you may have to bet your business you’re not wrong.

Marketing tips for restaurants – vol. 1

Marketing is maybe the most important function of running a restaurant. It is also the function that most restaurateurs have the least skill at. That’s why I consider having “no marketing skill” one of the biggest mistakes restaurants make. You can read about the others here: The biggest mistakes restaurants make, and why they have a high failure rate .

In the spirit of helping restaurant and food services owners and managers build their business, I’m going to start a series of posts with marketing tips for restaurants.

My first marketing tip, trick, gimmick, offer, or whatever else you want to call it, involves bounce back offers to new customers. As you may have read in my other posts, collecting customer contact information is the single most important marketing practice you can undertake. Marketing to people who have already been to your restaurant gives you a better return per marketing dollar than any other practice. I bring this up because the marketing tip I’m going to share requires you to collect and store contact information for your existing customers to work.

New customers represent a huge opportunity for growth for your restaurant. These customers now know what your food is like, what type of value you offer, and where you are located. They have demonstrated that getting to your restaurant is not such a huge hassle that they won’t bother coming, and hopefully you’ve done a good job giving them good food and service at a price they feel comfortable with.

By collecting these new customer’s contact information, you are presented with the opportunity to turn them into regular customers, the back bone of every good food concept. Gaining one new regular customer could mean a $1000 per year or more sales increase for you, depending on your concept. If it’s a couple, or they have children or friends they dine with on a regular basis, it’s exponentially more. Since these are all new sales, turning this new customer into a regular customer means growth for you.

The marketing tip I’m about to share with you explains one way to try and get these new customers back into your restaurant, with friends. Here’s a couple reasons why this tactic helps turn these new customers into regulars.

  • Bringing someone back as soon as possible increases your chances of making a permanent impression. They are more likely to remember the server that helped them, how great the food was, and how good a value you offer.
  • Getting them to bring friends makes them feel more at ease and comfortable. People are more likely to make a restaurant their “hangout” if their friends are there too. By encouraging these new customers to bring guests, you help build the environment necessary to make them comfortable.

 Here’s the tip:

Send out direct mail “bounce back” offers to new customers. Give them a reason to come back as soon as possible, with friends. An offer I recommend is to give away a free appetizer, dessert or speciality beverage to each guest they bring with them. Use the mail piece as an opportunity to say “thank you”, and to entice them back with as many people as you can get them to bring.

Don’t offer just any old appetizer or dessert. Offer a particular one so you can use it’s name or description to make the offer sound more enticing. A “free Chocolate Avalance dessert” sounds a lot better than a “free dessert from our menu”. Use this opportunity to promote your signature items. If you don’t have signature items, get some. People need a reason to come to you instead of your competition. A signature item should be something in a particular category, dessert for example, that you make in-house, that is better than the other items in that category. This item should cost more, and contribute more gross profit dollars than your other items, while still being priced low for the incredible quality of the product. This is easily achieved, as your competition probably overcharges for their expensive items because they are worried about “cost percentages” instead of “gross profit dollars”. This presents a great opportunity for you to be the best value on the highest quality product. By using this product in your offer, it not only seems like a more impressive offer, but you are also promoting your highest gross profit menu item in that category. You’re killing two birds with one stone!

Use this type of a product, and the following verbage to create an attractive bounce back offer for your new customers:

Thank you for visiting our restaurant! We’re so happy to have made some new friends and patrons!

We’d love to be introduced to your other friends too! If you come back with this card before May 31st, we’ll buy you and your friends our delicious Chocolate Avalanche dessert, just for introducing them!

The reflex of the average restaurateur is to start asking, “How should I limit the offer?”, “Should there be a maximum number of desserts I give away?”, or “Shouldn’t I have a minimum purchase?”.
The answer to all those questions is “NO”! The only limitation you should have on a promotional offer is the expiration date, because it is there to build urgency and make people ‘act now’ (unless that particular offer is specifically designed to build non-peak time sales). If you have a good offer that allows you to make money and the customer to experience a good value, then you should want as many people as possible to take advantage of it. If you’re just giving stuff away and not making money, it’s not a good offer. The more people your new customers bring with them, the more new customers you have to try and turn into regular customers. Even if they bring existing customers with them, they’re likely getting those people into your restaurant more than they would have come in on their own, and the more friends that come to the restaurant, the more likely they will become regulars.

The only caveate I would throw in, would be to warn against using discounts as your promotional offer. There is nothing special about a discount. The only thing a discount serves to do, is to skew your customers perception of your value. It’s easy for them to see what type of value they would have gotten if they paid the same and didn’t receive the free dessert or appetizer, but allowing them to pay less with a percentage or dollar discount gives them bad information to make a value judgment on. This type of promotion also tends to attract “coupon clippers”, people that only go out to eat where they have a coupon. This type of diner isn’t likely to come back to your restaurant until the next coupon comes out. You can’t build your business on couponing unless you are pricing a “20%” discount into every menu item, like pizza chains do.

Armed with this marketing tip, I think you’ll find not only that your ability to turn new customers into regular customers increases, but that you’ll gain more new customers without having to do the searching yourself. Let your customers be your best sales people. Offer them something for bringing in their friends. Promote items that make you more money. Get more customers, and make more profit from each of them!

My name is Brandon O’Dell and I’m an independent food service consultant. I own O’Dell Restaurant Consulting and offer email, telephone and on-site consultations for $75 per hour. To receive 30 minutes of free consulting time with me, Brandon O’Dell, email or telephone me at my contacts found on my “About Us” page.

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