A recent article in The Guardian highlighted just how easy it can be to dine out for under £10; a timely reminder that restaurant-goers’ insatiable appetite for low-cost food is pushing many restaurateur’s budgets to breaking point, and it shows no signs of slowing.
With that in mind, we understand that effectively managing the cost of food is high on the agenda for nearly every restaurant, whether they fall into The Guardian’s sub £10 dining category or not.
If you’ve spent hours scratching your head, staring at number-filled spreadsheets trying to work out how to increase your margins while still investing in the best possible produce for your kitchen, we’ve got 6 ways you can effectively manage your food costs.
1. Become a member of a purchasing group
Joining forces with the competition in order to lower food prices may sound rather unpalatable, but if you’re an independent restaurant, you’ll need help in gaining purchasing power.
Big chains have it by the bucketload. They have purchasing departments, PR clout and budgets that enable them to scour the globe for suppliers. You don’t have any of that, and neither do your independent competitors, which is why a bit of Dunkirk spirit can go a long way.
By joining a purchasing group, you’ll be able to compete with the chains when it comes to supplier negotiations. Try it – you’re all in this together.
2. Manage waste
Waste is a killer in the restaurant trade, and it often takes place right under your nose. Start recording all of the waste generated by your restaurant. That means anything that was binned, burned, spilt or returned.
The more closely you record your wastage, the better handle you’ll have on your inventory, and that will often prevent you from over-ordering next time.
3. Be consistent with portions
Independent restaurants are often known for their generosity when it comes to portion sizes. Don’t worry – we’re not going to suggest you start reigning it in, but you should always be consistent with portions.
The key – as obvious as it may sound – is to serve the right amount of food, every time a plate leaves the pass. Refine your menu and ingredients to ensure you’re not over-using certain elements of each dish. In doing so, you’ll end up with happy diners, as well as a lower food bill at the end of the month.
4. Monitor food prices
Keeping an eye on the market should be a weekly task for every restaurateur. If you track food prices in the wider market, you’ll be able to better plan future menus and their pricing. How much is the price of eggs predicted to increase or decrease over the next two months? What about fruit? Are there any prevailing market conditions likely to impact the cost of your desserts?
5. Stocktake regularly
Everyone dreads stocktaking day, which is why so many restaurants put it off for as long as possible. Do so at your peril, because the less of a handle you have on your inventory, the more chance you have of spending too much on food.
It pays to take inventory regularly – once a week will help you keep on top of your costs and spot any blackholes into which your produce is falling.
6. Don’t be lazy – prep, prep, prep!
In the fast moving world of the restaurateur, you’d be forgiven for hunting down convenient ways to cut corners that don’t impact your service or the quality of your food. That’s fine, until such tactics creep into your purchasing habits.
If you’re buying pre-chopped lettuce, you’re overspending on stock. Buy it unprepared and get ready to get your hands dirty. Prep as much produce in your own kitchen – don’t pay someone else to do it for you.
We’ll leave you with this last thought: always shop around. You may have a great relationship with a particular supplier, but allegiances and friendships shouldn’t get in the way of your margins. If you feel like you’re getting a rough deal, you probably are. Keep as many suppliers on your books as possible.