Every businessperson knows you have to spend money to make money. There will always be costs to running a restaurant, but part of navigating your budget is knowing which are necessary and which can be avoided. There are plenty of profit sucks hidden in your day-to-day choices, and knowing where those profit sucks are (and how to fix them) can make a big difference in the long-term success of your business.
1. Putting off equipment maintenance
Yes, it’s tempting to set it and forget it, but don’t just think about your equipment when it’s broken. When you have so many other bills to pay, regular equipment maintenance can go by the wayside. However, the cost of routine maintenance can ultimately save you money. Not only does it cost a lot to repair a major piece of equipment, but imagine how much it slows down service to be without that equipment for several shifts (if not longer).
And if lack of maintenance results in having to entirely replace the equipment much earlier than anticipated, that’s just more hurt to your bottom line that proper care could have helped avoid.
2. Ignoring energy efficiency
Understandably, business owners often want to hold onto their existing equipment until the very last moment of its lifespan. After all, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” right?
Well, just because something is running doesn’t mean it’s running the way it should. If you have older equipment models (especially big pieces like your ovens and fryers), you could be wasting a lot of energy. Earlier models often weren’t built for maximum efficiency and in some cases, older machines simply don’t run as well as they used to.
In either case, keeping inefficient equipment around adds up to higher utility bills for your business, which can have a major impact on your bottom line. With all the technological improvements made to kitchen equipment in the last ten years, maybe it’s time to finally upgrade to a brand new, energy efficient model.
3. Not doing FIFO
The FIFO (First In, First Out) rule is incredibly important to the success of any restaurant. Its directive is this: ingredients that have been there the longest need to be the first to be used. Why? Because the oldest of any one ingredient is the one closest to spoiling.
Throwing out what was perfectly good produce or protein just a few days ago means having to reorder to make up for the loss down the line. This is literally like throwing away money. If you use ingredients in the order they came in, you can avoid that waste most of the time.
4. Too much prep waste
Speaking of waste, it’s not just spoiled ingredients you need to worry about needlessly throwing away. When it comes to preparing ingredients — from chopping onions to trimming beef to filleting fish to slicing tomatoes — there is always going to be some usable product that gets cut away with the onion root, beef fat, fish bones, and tomato core. You can minimize it by going stem-to-root or nose-to-tail with some of your recipes, but it’s likely impossible to eliminate ALL waste.
The problem comes when your kitchen staff starts regularly cutting away too much of the usable product and throwing it away with the waste. That’s when you start running out of that product much more quickly than necessary. Your purchaser will be forced to buy more of it more often, and pay for more than you would have needed with just a little bit of extra attention and care.
The solution? Proper preparation training — not just when your staff starts working at your kitchen — but consistently throughout their time as your employee. Make sure everyone is on the same page, today and every day.
5. Inconsistent portion control
Similar to throwing away ingredients is line cooks offering too much of any one ingredient or preparation in a dish. Maybe it’s slicing steak portions a little more generously. Maybe it’s letting the mashed potatoes pile over the rim of (rather than just fill) the scooper. Maybe it’s adding eight asparagus to a plate instead of five. And for your bar area, maybe your bartender overpours by a few seconds.
This seems like a small thing, but remember that your menu items are all priced out to reflect the cost of their ingredients. If your kitchen (or bar) staff consistently serves portions too large, then you’re effectively giving food away. As with prepping the ingredients, it comes down to proper portion training. While a little leeway is assumed (if there are five asparagus on the entrée and one asparagus is a little small, adding a small sixth one isn’t going to break the bank), instill in your employees that consistency is key.
6. Not monitoring comps to employees
It’s just good sense to offer a complimentary meal (or at the very least, a discount on meals) to shift employees. It’s a great way to support your employees and make sure they keep their energy up during work hours. It also encourages them to get to know your menu in a more direct way.
However, calculate a certain amount of complimentary food into your budget, and monitor its use. If some employees are taking more than their share of comp meals, that’s going to be an issue to your bottom line. And then handle the employees who abuse this benefit the same way you’d deal with any behavior issue within your staff.
7. Server error
When it comes to food mistakes, it’s not just the kitchen staff you need to watch. Incorrect orders or misunderstood table requests can cost you dearly. For one, incorrect orders that can’t be fixed on the fly could lead to you throwing food out and having to make the plate over again.
But even if it’s simply fixing the food already on the plate (for instance, putting the steak back on the grill because the guest asked for medium and they got medium rare), you’re adding more time onto that ticket. And more time per ticket could potentially lead to fewer overall table turns. That costs you money, too.
Of course, everyone working in your restaurant (including you) will make a mistake at one point or another. As a manager or owner, you should be assuring your servers that they won’t get reprimanded for one error on an order. After all, creating an environment where your staff is constantly nervous they’ll make a mistake will only lead to them being distracted — and possibly making even more mistakes.
However, if you are seeing the same mistake being made over and over and it’s causing dishes to be redone (and food to be thrown out), then it’s time to have a discussion with the staff member involved and work on updating their training.
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