Rising food and labor costs—including the move toward a $15 minimum wage—is adding pressure to many restaurants and chains. Reducing overhead while still maintaining customer-pleasing quality is crucial to continued success, and one simple way to alleviate the pressure is by streamlining your menu to increase efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
Operating costs related to wages can be difficult to reduce without compromising service, so menu adjustments are a viable alternative to address thinning margins in food costs. Consider these 4 ways to save on operational and food costs while still offering your customers a great dining experience.
Reduce the Size of the Menu
Large menus may seem most desirable for customers, but in addition to the overwhelming nature of choice, it’s an operational challenge for restaurants. The more items on the menu, the greater the time and cost involved in training staff, which can multiply if there is employee turnover. Using data from your point-of-sale system and actual food costs, determine which items sell best at the best margins and focus on those products. Reducing items available during certain times of day (or overnight for 24-hour quick service formats) can also control costs when there are fewer patrons.
Save Prep Time with Pre-Made Ingredients
Sometimes the most cost-effective option isn’t the most intuitive. It may seem to make more sense to buy inexpensive fresh ingredients, but if all those ingredients require significant staff time to prep them then buying pre-made ingredients and items can be better for the bottom line. Vegetables that are already cut and prepped, or even finished products like French fries and other appetizers can save a lot of labor time and expense but can still be made special and unique with house-made toppings and signature treatments.
Use Ingredients in Multiple Dishes
Rather than building and maintaining a menu of very different items that share few ingredients in common, capitalize on popular items and ingredients and expand food offerings around these successes. Offer multiple burgers and sandwiches using the same signature bun. Incorporate some ingredients into multiple dishes, and even consider ways to use cuts and what would otherwise be (perfectly edible) “scraps” in other menu items. Look for ways to use items in several different ways.
Upscale Winning Appetizers
Fill gaps in your menu by elevating popular appetizers (especially those with great margins) to the entrée side of the menu. Larger appetizers are great for sharing, while an entrée based around the flavor of a popular appetizer can hit the spot as a meal option without increasing food costs.
Don’t be afraid to make menu adjustments to stay profitable. It’s still possible to have a crowd-pleasing menu without risking having to close the doors due to escalating operational costs. A streamlined menu, creative use of ingredients, and up-scaled appetizers can help you manage costs and win customers at the same time.
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