How to Control Food Cost in Your Restaurant with Checklists

By Sarah Miller March 25, 2024 Blog, Restaurant
how to control food cost in restaurant

While restaurant dining was up 6.7% in 2023, margins remained thin, dropping from 10.6% to 9.3%. 67% of restaurants increased menu prices in 2023 to offset rising expenses. Rising food costs are compounding the challenge. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) for all food items saw a 0.6% increase from December 2023 to January 2024. For managers and other executives seeking success in the world of fast or casual dining, little is more critical than understanding how to control food cost in your restaurant. The solution is a checklist for everything from purchasing and inventory management to food preparation and storage protocols. With checklists in place, restaurant managers can mitigate rising food costs and minimize waste.

Let’s look at 10 ways that you can lower food costs and increase profits at your restaurants.

How to Control Food Cost in a Restaurant: 10 Ideas

1. Engineer Menus Based on Food Cost Analysis

Refining the restaurant menu based on a thorough analysis of food costs and profitability of individual dishes can significantly impact overall food expenditure. This strategy involves evaluating the cost versus sales data for each menu item to identify which dishes offer the best profit margins while considering customer favorites and seasonal availability. By focusing on promoting high-margin dishes and reevaluating or removing low-performing items, restaurants can optimize their menus for profitability. Additionally, this process can inspire creative use of ingredients across multiple dishes to minimize waste and lower ingredient costs, making menu engineering a powerful tool for controlling food expenses.

Use checklists to review each dish’s ingredient costs and sales performance. Focus on optimizing high-margin items and revising or removing low-performing dishes.

2. Align Menu Prices with Ingredient Costs

After creating a menu that uses more of your lower-cost ingredients, periodically review and adjust prices to maintain profitability. Compare menu prices against ingredient costs with a checklist. Implement slight price adjustments as needed to help ensure the financial health of the restaurant while continuing to meet customer expectations for quality and affordability. Use your checklist during menu planning sessions to ensure all dishes are aligned with the latest ingredient costs.

3. Standardize Portion Sizes

Varied portion sizes cause unpredictable food costs and customer dissatisfaction, as each dish’s cost and appearance may differ. Overportioning also contributes to increased waste and higher expenses. Ensure consistency in portion sizes, with detailed guidelines and checklists that help staff adhere to the correct quantities, directly impacting cost control and customer experience positively. Take advantage of technology like digital scales and portioning tools to maintain strict control over the amount of each ingredient used in a dish.

Implement a checklist that provides your kitchen with the specifics of how to prepare and present every dish, accompanied by visual aids or measurements. Regularly audit dishes against the checklist to maintain adherence to these standards.

4. Create Specials Using Seasonal Ingredients

Crafting menu specials around seasonal ingredients is a great tip for managers wondering how to control food costs in a restaurant while offering fresh and appealing dishes to your customers. Seasonal produce often comes at a lower price due to its abundance during peak times, allowing you to purchase high-quality ingredients at a fraction of the cost. This approach supports local producers while encouraging kitchen creativity. It enables chefs and menu design team members to create limited-time offerings that are cost-effective and enticing to customers.

Develop a menu planning checklist that tracks the availability and pricing of seasonal ingredients monthly and align it with brainstorming sessions for creating new specials that highlight these items. Use the checklist to ensure each special incorporates seasonal ingredients effectively.

5. Conduct Regular Inventory Checks

Excess inventory leads to surplus stock and creates expensive waste, driving up food costs. Shortages also affect menu availability. This lowers customer satisfaction and reduces brand loyalty. As your most loyal customers are your most valuable, this hurts profits. Checklists ensure accurate inventory tracking and supply ordering. Waste is reduced and optimal stock levels are consistently maintained.

Design a checklist for daily or weekly inventory checks that includes all ingredients and supplies, specifying quantities on hand and reorder levels. Maintain accurate and up-to-date stock levels by using it to systematically record inventory, identify discrepancies, and initiate restocking orders.

6. Optimize Food Storage

Efficient food storage is key to maximizing the shelf life of ingredients, reducing spoilage, and cutting down on waste. Invest in proper storage solutions and training staff on best practices for food preservation and labeling. This will decrease the amount of food discarded due to spoilage or improper handling. Educate staff on the optimal temperature and humidity levels for different types of food, utilizing vacuum sealing for longer shelf life, and the value of a first-in, first-out (FIFO) system to use older stock before it expires.

Implement a checklist that outlines proper storage conditions for different types of food, including temperature and humidity requirements, and incorporates a system for labeling with expiration or use-by dates. Use this checklist to organize and label all food items so that they are used in the correct order to minimize waste. Create a restaurant maintenance checklist to avoid food loss due to appliance breakdowns.

7. Negotiate with Suppliers

Secure lower prices per unit by buying in the largest quantities you can use without risking spoilage. This strategy strengthens supplier relationships and ensures a steady supply of essential ingredients, allowing for more predictable budgeting and cost management.

Formulate a checklist that includes historical purchase volumes, current market prices, and desired price points for negotiations with suppliers. Keep it handy during supplier meetings to discuss bulk purchasing options, negotiate better terms based on past and projected order volumes, and secure more favorable pricing.

8. Monitor Market Trends

Staying current on fluctuating food prices significantly impacts a brand’s ability to manage food costs effectively. By keeping an eye on market trends and seasonal availability, you can make smarter purchasing decisions, buying in bulk when prices are low and adjusting menu offerings to avoid ingredients that are temporarily expensive.

Establish a checklist to monitor food trends, including seasonal availability, emerging popular ingredients, and fluctuating market prices. Regularly update and refer to this checklist to adjust purchasing decisions and menu offerings in alignment with current trends and cost-saving opportunities.

9. Develop Digital Training Modules

Minimize waste and optimize by educating staff on how to control food cost in the restaurant through efficient use of resources. Develop digital training modules focused on these principles to provide a consistent and accessible way for all team members to learn best practices in food handling, portion control, and waste minimization. Conduct interactive and engaging training sessions to equip staff at all levels with the knowledge and skills necessary to contribute to the restaurant’s financial health, fostering a culture of efficiency and cost-awareness.

Develop a training checklist covering key practices and use them in staff training sessions to ensure all team members are knowledgeable and consistent in applying these cost-saving measures in their daily operations.

10. Conduct Regular Compliance Checks

Implementing a systematic approach to food safety helps identify potential issues before they escalate into costly problems. Avoid the financial repercussions of food-related violations, including fines and lost business due to reputational damage by maintaining compliance with food safety regulations. Hold employees accountable for upholding standards by verifying checklist completion and conducting regular audits.

Create a restaurant health code checklist that includes all relevant food safety and storage regulations, along with best practices for reducing waste and managing inventory efficiently. Integrate this checklist into your audits to ensure ongoing compliance and identify areas for improvement in food cost management.

Leverage Technology to Control Food Costs

The best way to manage all your checklists is with a digital solution like DailyChex by MeazureUp. Look for software that offers features including:

Mobile usability on any device.

Customization to your brand’s needs.

Built-in photo and video capabilities.

Integrated label printing and temperature monitoring.

Easy sharing of reports and other data.

Seamless integration with a brand standard solution like MeazureUp’s AuditApp.

These platforms hold employees accountable for upholding brand standards, streamlining operations and maintaining profitability regardless of economic pressures.

Boost your brand’s bottom line. Schedule a demo of MeazureUp and start saving on food costs with checklists today.