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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Shift in the Demand Curve

The local economy here in the Washington DC metro area seems to be bouncing on the bottom. Diners are watching the check average and patronizing restaurants with entrees below $20. Zagat's blog had an article on the closing of two high end dining options here in DC.

So where do you you go if your expense account is alive and well?

The same blog has news regarding the new J&G Steakhouse opening in early July.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Alternate Uses of Over Supply

Many restaurants use their specials board to move over stocked protein items. The protein could be raw or previously cooked. Generally, a menu item is developed to utilize the over stock. For example, leftover roast may be diced and added to chili or soup. Fresh fish may be offered as the "Catch of the Day" and featured at an attractive price.

Many urban areas have charity organizations with the goal of reducing hunger among the homeless. They usually have trucks and will send a driver to pick up any donations. Some restaurants donate over stocked protein items which tend to lose flavor when frozen.

Certainly, many over stocked fresh items find their way to the freezers. Both raw and cooked items are frequently frozen. Some food loses flavor and texture when frozen and thawed. You may consider purchasing items in a frozen state. Commercial flash freezing retains more of the qualities.

My favorite uses of over supply is the stock pot in cold months and salads in warm months. We are now in summer. One of my clients serves a wonderful salad Nicoise using cold seared tuna. In addition to stocks and salads, you may be able to marinate some meats. Kabobs and BBQ often require several days in a marinade.

Photo from Simply Recipes.

Once your over supply of food spoils, the obvious destination is the nearest garbage bin. If the wasted food is disposed of in a heavy plastic garbage bag, it may eventually produce methane which is harmful to the environment. Compost piles may be an option if you are in the country. Some urban garden groups may be interested in your waste. Some fats and oils can be converted into a fuel which can be used in diesel engines.

Accurate forecasts help reduce the management energy spent trying to make the most of over stocked items. In a perfect world, there would be very little left over each night. Improved forecasts will reduce waste.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Macroeconomics of Food Waste

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)tracks food waste in the United States. They list food waste as the "single-largest component of the waste stream by weight" in the country. Americans waste 25% of the food we prepare each year.

This waste amounts to 96 billion pounds annually.

Click the photo below to be directed to their website:

Restaurants are included in the statistics. You can lower your food cost and the costs to dispose of waste (both sewage and garbage removal costs) and help the environment.

Food donations, offering urban gardening groups waste for compost and recycling fry oil for diesel are some of the solutions we read about currently.

The New York Times, October 9, 2008, article "Farmer in Chief" has two amazing facts:
After cars, the food system uses more fossil fuel than any other sector of the economy — 19 percent.

A bushel of grain takes approximately a half gallon of oil to produce; grass can be grown with little more than sunshine.

Combining these facts, we could cut the use of oil used to grow food which will eventually be wasted if we never order the excess food in the first place.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Exposing Hidden Food Waste

There are plenty of issues in every operation which could be corrected if only management was aware of their existence. Many operators avoid the effort required to create a detailed operations manual. Given the turnover level in our industry, this document should be mandatory. Imagine working as a line cook or expediter without any point of reference. You are hired and receive very little direction.

Immediately, you start work using your prior experience to guide you in your new position. Maybe you never cut steaks at your previous jobs since portion control cuts were used. Orders come in for strip steaks and you are told the meat is in a walkin cooler and the policy is to cut steaks from the boneless strip loin. Properly cutting steaks is not your forte. Instead of 11 steaks per strip, your efforts yield only 10 steaks. In a steak house this would be unlikely but possible. In a casual dining operation with a large menu, this is common.

Lack of training and standard portion control costs this operation 10% extra on each steak served.

Produce preparation is subject to tremendous yield swings. Even the industry sources disagree on produce yields. Whenever you prepare anything other than the entire piece of fruit or vegetable (e.g. head of lettuce or an apple), you have an impact on yield. On slow nights and in many low volume operations, produce prep takes place on an inpromptu basis. With no specific person or team tasked with produce prep, the exercise produces wide swings in yield.

French fries seem like a straight forward item to properly portion. One of my clients called me excited one day to retell a success story with our recently built usage variance model. The system uncovered a 30% overuse of fries. The issue involved poor training of a new hire. This cook would fry an entire bag of fries. He portioned the fries perfectly on each plate after the expediter showed him how the fries should look on the plate.

Early and late in the meal periods, his cooked fries would be routinely swept into the nearby garbage pail once they were cold. A quick training session fixed the issue. He was taught how to portion the fries before cooking during slower times.

[An anonymous reader left a comment on the Food Cost Basics post which pertains to waste.]

After 20 years of running Full Service Restaurants. Food cost can be attacked by two basic angles. 60% of all food cost is in the garbage can (waste). The rest is over portioned. Focusing your coaching and training on these two key areas will typically keep your food cost in check. However, in some types of restaurants, such as Steak houses, you have to focus on your budgeted number and it will be much higher, but keep in mind RTN or return to net. If you sell a 24 oz cowboy Ribeye for $20.00 and it cost you $10. You have a 50% food cost, but your making $10 on each one sold. For a comparison, take chicken wings, you might sell them for $10 and have a cost of $3. You have a 30% cost, but your making $3 less than the 50% cost, Ribeye. Food for thought.

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