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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Leveraging Your Investment in Food Cost Control

The current economy presents a once in a lifetime opportunity for the operators who have an effective food cost control system in place. Imagine adding rampant commodity price increases to an out of control food cost mess. Can you picture the meetings in operations with soaring food prices, theft, poor ordering, waste and lousy portion control? Obviously, the managers who were already abusing the lax system will contribute all the bad news to the market conditions.

If you are on top of your costs, you can see the usage variances and the rate variances and put each in perspective. You have an enormous advantage over many of your compeitors. Many operators are avoiding the tough issues and calling attention to the rise in corn prices. Certainly, corn price increases have fueled a quantum leap increase in many food stocks. However, at this time corn prices have been trending lower and many companies are losing money despite menu price increases.

The companies who recognize the opportunity offered by their tight cost controls will prosper in difficult conditions. Look at McDonalds. Their stock is up over 15% in the last 365 days. They have always employed a tight cost control environment. Their perceived menu value and tight cost controls put them in the driver's seat.

Contrast the value menu concepts with the upscale, casual dining segment. How would you like to manage an upscale casual restaurant with the cost of sales completely out of control? Look at the industry press and you will see plenty of failures.

So you are in control. How should you take advantage of the weak competition? I would offer tremendous value to your guests. Use your advantage to make sure the competition isn't even close to making their menu a value proposition. Don't play games with menu prices and don't beg people to come to your restaurant. Let them come for the quality and value. Once the guest arrives, give them lots of extras. Get some buzz going through word of mouth.

Fresh baked rolls and desserts could get rave reviews with a minimal increase in food cost. Take advantage of the perceived major price hike in flour to create a competitive advantage. When bakers are in the news due to high flour prices, you can offer top notch baked goods as a complimentary extra.

I'm just using one example. You know your strengths. Use your tight cost control system as a weapon to win this war. Pick a few of your kitchen's advantages and feature these menu items and extras to defeat your competition.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Food Cost Control ROI

If you've invested the time and money to build a food cost management system, this year will give you an above average return on investment. The reason your ROI will be higher is the edge may keep you in business. Many of my clients have seen their sales decline from 2007. Certainly, everyone has seen an increase in their cost of sales. Energy costs are soaring and the impact is seen in every delivery.

Management's #1 challenge is to survive 2008. Once a solid short term strategy is in place, the entire organization can work together to meet weekly goals.

In the longer term, many companies will emerge stronger and with fewer genuine competitors. If you follow the industry news, you've seen plenty of failures. Stale concepts and red hot brands have faltered. The future will be quite profitable for companies with profitable business models today.

The ROI from an investment in a food cost management system is greatest now - in a downturn. The reports you see each week give you an edge. This edge could be the difference between a profit and a loss. Reports which show price fluctuations are very useful. While your competition sees higher food cost percentages, you will understand these increases better. Menu analysis and recipe costing tools help with pricing decisions.

What is the impact of a smaller portion option? How are my top 25 items performing this year? If I raise prices, should I do it across the board or on specific menu items? Reports from your food cost system will help to answer these questions.

Some programs have reports with a gross margin analysis. The reports use standard recipes and current purchase prices to calculate gross margin by menu item. The calculation subtracts the recipe cost from the selling price and multiplies the result by the number sold (from your POS system). You can now see where your profits are produced. Menu engineering models use this data to help you with pricing decisions. I like to treat the menu as a portfolio of profit generators.

Purchase history reports will help you see price trends on your high volume items. You may not be in a position to buy differently but you will be able to measure the impact. This information puts you in position to make better decisions.

The perspective of the manager who is armed with a food cost management tool is superior. Your profits will grow tremendously as the economic conditions improve. Your ROI from the investment may just be a solid future for your company.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Food Cost Benefit

As we see oil prices beginning to drift lower (after threatening to go above $200 per barrel this summer), corn just hit a one month low. Prices of certain commodities are still near historic highs but this decline is a positive for restaurant operators.

On the micro-economic front, the industry has focused intensely on food cost control. Restaurants are buying less expensive ingredients and watching their storage areas closely. I hear lots of stories about tight cost control each week. The energy is moving beyond cost of sales. Operators are looking at power bills, sewage usage and garbage pickups. No expense category is ignored.

In the long run, the macro-economic conditions will improve and sales will rise. Smart operators will continue to control costs tightly. Future operating margins will be better than before the current downturn.

The coupon fever in our region has cooled a bit. Beverage sales are still off from the peak but a greater % of patrons are ordering drinks. Budget conscious guests are loosening up a little and splitting a dessert item again.

I was in the field last week and flights seem fuller. Airport restaurants were doing a brisk business in Washington and Miami. Fellow travellers seemed to be willing to pay for a meal before going to their gates rather than purchasing a sandwich on board. Portion control can be seen everywhere as kitchens carefully monitor the center of the plate ingredients.

Investments in cost control systems and tighter policies will payoff for years to come. Lower commodity costs and a drop in energy prices could accelerate the speed of the profit improvement in 2008.

Restaurant Data Pros

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