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National Restaurant Association - To control food costs, start at the cook line

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To control food costs, start at the cook line

The cook line is, perhaps, the most volatile area for controlling food cost. Whereas theft can occur anywhere, and vendor prices and proper preparation practices certainly can have an equally negative effect on food cost, it usually is on the cook line that many restaurants lose their profits. Common issues include incorrect portioning, waste and overcooked or cold food resulting from the kitchen getting slammed with orders, items being prepared without a food ticket, or unrecorded sales, and communication failures between kitchen and service staff that can result in incorrect orders.

Review these proven tips to control your food costs:

  • No ticket, no food. This is perhaps the singularly most effective policy for controlling food and beverage costs. By employing a policy that all orders must be rung up on the point-of-sale system or cash register before they can be made, you eliminate the possibility of unrecorded sales. If your POS or cash register doesn't have the ability to print orders to the kitchen and bar ‑ often called requisition printing ‑ then you may want to start shopping for one that does. It is common knowledge among POS vendors that restaurants using requisition printers typically enjoy as much as 5% or more in cost savings than those that don't.

  • Keep a waste log. Every restaurant experiences some degree of waste, but it is a controllable expense. Create systems to both minimize and record wasted product, such as meals returned by the customer, kitchen mistakes and spoilage. Keeping an accurate accounting of the value of wasted product can help to account for variances between ideal and actual food cost.
  • Portion control tools. Poor portion control is one of the leading causes of food cost variances. Consider that your ideal food cost is based on the premise of exact portioning for each menu item, including the portioning of each ingredient within a menu item. If your prep and line cooks have gotten in the habit of "eyeballing" measurements rather than sticking to the exact recipes, chances are your food cost variance could be as much as 5% or more. Proven portion control strategies include the use of portioning scoops, scales and measuring spoons and cups. Pre-portioning can be effective in controlling costs by using portion baggies and a scale to pre-weigh product before stocking the cook line.
  • Recipe quick-reference charts. The fast-paced environment at most restaurant kitchens makes it impractical to use the recipe manual for every menu item. Characteristically, cooks are required to memorize the proper portions and steps for preparing each item on their station. The recipe "quick reference" is used as the name implies ‑ providing the cook with an at-a-glance list of ingredients, portion size and proper portioning utensil for each preparation step. Optionally, recipe references can be accompanied by photos of the finished product. Proper portioning and adherence to recipes, along with a visual reference of the properly prepared menu item help to ensure consistency in both taste and presentation.

This article is presented courtesy of RestaurantOwner.com, a source of operational and business resources for independent restaurant operators. For more information, visit www.RestaurantOwner.com.

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