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Monday, March 10, 2014

Implications of a High Food Cost Percentage

If you find your self explaining away two consecutive months of poor food cost results, you need to dig into the numbers and locate the problem.  Persistent performance problems can point to a serious issue.

In calculating your food cost percentage, there are three factors:  sales, purchases and inventory change.  Many operators focus entirely on the inventory change when they look for solutions.

While inventory calculation errors are common, a complete focus on the inventory figure can become a distraction.  Lost sales, chronic waste, inconsistent portions and ordering too much food are major problems which need to be identified quickly.  The end of period inventory figure needs to be eliminated as a factor.

The best way to eliminate inventory errors from your food cost formula is to increase the frequency of inventory counts.  If your food cost percentage is too high, switch to weekly inventories if you currently count monthly.

In a typical kitchen, you will find two weeks of usage in the inventory.  If you had to discard your entire stock, the loss is roughly 4% of the entire year's food cost.  You may have a chronic waste issue with perishable protein items.  In an operation with protein items accounting for 40% of the food cost, a 10% waste problem is the same as discarding your entire inventory once a year.

The point is you shouldn't always look for food cost problems in your ending inventory calculation.

Check your labor cost percentages as a check for lost revenue.  If you have a problem with food and beverages being served to guests without a POS system order, you will find both food and labor cost percentages over budget.  Make sure complimentary food and beverages are entered in the POS system with the comp used as a payment method (approved by a manager).  Eliminate the service of desserts, soups, coffee and tea without a documented order.

Honest waste and spoilage winds up in your garbage.  The garbage can also gives feedback on customer satisfaction.  One of the most costly tactics commonly used in casual dining restaurants involves selling an over stocked protein item which is past peak quality.  These menu items are found in the specials.  The POS system will point to a low number served to guests in relation to the line production.  Now the raw ingredient which was over stocked has been transformed into a finished menu item which has been over produced.

Eventually, the walk-in cooler will contain several pans full of these mistakes.  How will this food leave your restaurant?

Generally, leftover food will be served to employees, discarded or reinvented as a new special of the day.  The last option is the most risky tactic.  First, the demand for the protein item was incorrectly estimated.  This error caused the raw ingredient to hit the specials board.  The company loses the wages paid to prepare the original portions which make it back to the refrigerator. 

A second use of kitchen staff to create a new special adds to the labor cost.  Any over production on the second round needs to be discarded.  If any of the unsold food is served at a later date, the chance for food poisoning increases.  Even if no one gets sick, the quality of the meal will be low.  You can lose valuable customers.

When you find your food cost percentage is too high, remember to count more frequently, check for a higher labor cost and always check your garbage cans and walk-in coolers.

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