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Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Portion Cut Decision

In the early 1990s, I sent a monthly newsletter (POSitive ROI)to 500 restaurateurs using WinFax. At the time, most chefs were new to technology and the computers found in most kitchens were not well utilized. Despite the lack of back office expertise, the restaurants were all buying POS systems.

I was fortunate to have two very trusting early clients who let me explore the data flow on the front lines. My monthly reports became more insightful and readership grew as I featured stories on specific report capabilities and interface options.

One day, a chef who had received three stars from Bryan Miller of The New York Times contacted me. He invited me to his kitchen for a meeting and a cup of espresso. We discussed production issues and menu ideas. The New York restaurant goers were being treated to 4 and 5 course meals for $19.92 at the time. The Democratic Party Convention was in town and the meal special was hot.

At this restaurant, the menu was very ambitious and popular items included Wild Boar and spectacular Veal Chops. They had the right equipment to butcher large cuts and this chef had many marvelous ideas for use of the trim.

From a purely technical perspective, he could rip apart his personal computer and replace boards and cards with newer versions. On the software front, he had some basic spreadsheet models for calculating the cost of various menu ideas. We chipped in and bought a back office package with recipe costing and menu analysis.

To hit the cost percentage he required and give a full meal with dessert and coffee for $19.92, he relied on pasta entrees. During the time I spent onsite, we would explore the feasibility of selling butcher yields and menu suggestions to top-flight chefs with no computer expertise.

We spent hours tearing apart butcher yield sheets and built models for Veal Rack 306, Veal Loin 331 and lots of fresh fish. He preferred the meat cut from large animals because the ratio of meat to bones was better. To get the best utility from each large cut, he looked for a second high price menu option whenever possible.

I came away from all these sessions with a bias for portion control meats. The butcher yield sheets documented the huge additional portion costs involved when a particular piece yielded one less steak or chop. Most kitchens do not have the right equipment or a chef with Alpine training in butchering and yields.

If you decide to butcher an expensive cut of meat, I recommend a credit of zero for bones, ground meat trim and stew meat trim. To truly benefit from the trim produced, you need a menu designed to utilize all the meat.

The zero credit will force you to focus on getting the proper menu prices for the work and risk involved. Use the bones in stocks. Try some unique uses for the trim (e.g. ravioli filling). The trim should help you create some hugely profitable chef specials. This is a big advantage over competitors who may be serving "blowout" items about to spoil.

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