When trying to exert cost control in your restaurant, it can be easy to assume you need to make sweeping changes and that quality will be necessarily lowered in the process. However, saving on or eliminating expenses altogether could simply be a matter of consistency in use and limiting food waste, and there’s no better place to start than with your inventory.
Your kitchen’s ingredients are the core of the product you’re selling to the public, and making sure they’re cared for and used properly is very important. If you’re wasting food, you’re throwing away money. There’s simply no way around that.
Here are seven tips to lower your food waste and better manage your kitchen inventory.
Organize your walk-in
Stock your inventory correctly, especially in the walk-in where the food safety is especially important. There are many organizing tactics kitchen managers use in their walk-ins that work, and you might need to research what will work best for the shape and size of your kitchen.
No matter what tactic you employ, the basics of food safety should always be followed. For instance, ready to serve foods (including produce, even if you plan to cook the produce) should go on the top shelves. You want to avoid these ingredients getting contaminated by raw meat dripping from above, because you absolutely need to throw them out if that happens.
Meat should be organized by the temperature it has to be cooked to. Fish (especially any fish served raw) should be on the highest protein shelf. Beef should be on the next shelf, then pork, then chicken on the bottom shelf. The idea is that if the beef container does drip onto the chicken, the chicken will be cooked at a higher temperature than the beef. But if the chicken contaminates the beef (or pork or fish), that meat won’t be cooked at a high enough temperature to make the chicken juice safe.
Hopefully your packaging will be leak free regardless, but putting the meat in that order could save you having to throw contaminated proteins out.
First in, first out
This should be a core part of your kitchen routine. Rotate your stock so that you’re always using the food you bought first. Adding labels to containers and cans to mark the dates when they were opened can help you make sure they get used in the correct order. Again, this is to avoid throwing out ingredients that could have been used before they spoiled. If you find you have extra ingredients getting close to their throw out date, your chef can design specials to use that ingredient and avoid waste.
Choose versatile ingredients
A good way to ensure efficiency with your inventory is using ingredients you know you can use in a wide variety of dishes on your menu. Some of this will come naturally if your menu has cohesive flavors.
That being said, you might be tempted to order an ingredient that you only use in one particular dish. This isn’t a complete culinary faux pas, but consider:
- Can the ingredient be stored for long periods before going bad?
- Can you buy close to the amount you need for the dish during one ordering period so you don’t have any left over?
- Is this ingredient particularly expensive?
- Have you cost out the dish properly to reflect special ordering the ingredient?
- Is the one dish a star dish?
You should also brainstorm to see if there are special that fit your brand and where it makes sense to use the ingredient before it goes bad.
Think nose to tail
Making sure your kitchen staff uses as much of the ingredients you purchase — even if that part of the ingredient isn’t as recognizably useful — can be an immense cost savings for your restaurant. Nose-to-tail and stem-to-root cooking has become very trendy in recent years, but the bottom line is that it saves you a lot of money in ingredient costs.
Start slow if you’re unsure. Integrate meat trimmings and/or leaves and stems into the broth bases for your daily soups. Tomato stems can be simmered in your pasta sauce (and removed before serving, like a bay leaf) in order to boost the richness of the tomato flavor. And all vegetable refuse can be repurposed for composting if you grow any of your own produce on site.
Minimize prep waste
There is always going to be SOME waste when it comes to prepping produce and proteins. However, proper knife cuts can help you throw out as little usable product as possible. Train your staff (and then hold retraining sessions to keep them up to snuff) on how to properly prep all your ingredients. Not properly deskinning a fish could mean big slices of the fish left on the skin. Trimming the fat on beef could end up trimming away perfectly good meat. And over time, cutting a carrot too far from the root will mean having to use more carrots to prep enough ingredients for your service. That means going through carrots quicker and having to reorder earlier.
Besides training your staff on how to properly prep your ingredients, it’s also important to train them on how much of each food goes on each dish. Just as you’d expect your bartenders to not overpour drinks, so should your kitchen staff be held to a standard of precision in how much protein, starch, and vegetable go on each plate. Your items are priced out to reflect the cost of your ingredients, so if more ingredients are being put in each item than you priced out, that will affect your bottom line in a big way over time.
Avoid mess ups
But it’s not just about avoiding wasting food during prep! It’s also about not wasting food when it’s cooked. Think about every time a pan or plated dish has gotten dropped in your restaurant. Think about every time a dish gets burned. Think about if there’s a mistake from the recipe or if a guest’s special dietary request wasn’t followed.
Not only does that take extra time to replace, but the food itself has to get completely replaced, meaning you’ve spent two dishes worth of ingredients for a check that only covers one of those plates. Accidents do happen, but proper training and really driving home the importance of precision to your staff will help cut down on these costly mistakes.
Cost management lives in more than just inventory control. Check out how staff scheduling can help keep expenses down and cash flow positive: