Scenario: A charming foodservice consultant (ahem) audit’s an operation and finds that the food quality is not where it needs to be, but your customers will not tolerate a substantial price increase. For some, these two problems are diametrically opposed. How can prices stay low while simultaneously increasing quality? Of course, in a large, complex operation there are frequently all manner of inefficiencies that can be eliminated to reduce costs, but for now we will examine the two most direct contributors to this problem: food and labor cost.
All too often, when a food service provider is asked to improve the quality of their offerings, their reaction is to go “gourmet”. Customers don’t want to buy my turkey and swiss sandwich? They’ll love my turkey, goat cheese, pesto, and sundried tomato sandwich on cornbread!!! The truth of the matter is, if you start with a poor base product, no amount of layering toppings and condiments onto it will make those ingredients good. If you start with a great base product, every ingredient that you add can actually lose more customers than you gain. Rather than trying to create a Dagwood Frankenstein abomination, operators are much better suited to focus on the basics. That means using great bread, turkey and cheese, and handling those ingredients properly. Bad burgers? Rather than putting onion rings, barbecue sauce and chili on top of it, why not focus on the quality of the ground beef and bun? Suffering from terrible tacos? What’s in your tortilla?
For the purpose of comparison, let’s take a look at a burger that gets mediocre reviews. This basic burger features a 5oz patty made from distributor-bought ground chuck, a 1oz slice of American cheese and a basic white bun. At $3.50 a pound for the ground beef, $3 a pound for generic cheese and a $.35 white burger bun, the cost of this burger would come in at $1.63.Targeting 28% food cost, you would need to charge $5.82.
To make this burger more popular, you could add two strips of bacon ($.70 cents cost), avocado ($.50 cost) and garlic aioli ($.25 cents cost), which would bring the total food cost to $3.08 at a price of $11 for the customer. By contrast, you could get a great potato bun for an extra $.30 cents and a high-quality cheddar for an extra $.19…but what about the ground beef?
Grind it yourself. Seriously. JGL has clients that serve thousands of customers per day who grind their own beef, in-house every day,and there are lots of benefits. From a financial perspective, it’s a lot cheaper.That $3.50 a pound ground chuck is about $2.00 a pound if you buy a whole chuck round. You can save even more, and make a better-quality burger, if you use the trim from your steaks in the blend. If you’re required to serve your burgers medium-well, you could use hard fat like suet in your 80/20 blend which won’t drain away onto the grill like soft fat, preserving the burger’s juiciness and saving another $1 a pound for that portion of the burger. The product cost of your custom burger patty is now $.59, as oppose to $1.09 for the pre-ground beef. It is also a safer product because factory ground meat is a much bigger risk for food-borne illness than properly in-house ground.
But what about the increased labor associated with grinding the beef? A competent employee making $12 an hour can grind and shape approximately 60 burgers per hour, bringing the labor cost to an additional$.20 per burger and adding $.60 to the burger’s price, bringing the overall cost of the burger to $6.54.
Here’s the best part…it doesn’t just work for burgers! Why use expensive, high end deli meats when you can cook off your own turkey, ham or roast beef for a fraction of the product cost and virtually no associated labor? Why use frozen fries when real potatoes are half the price per pound and quickly dispatched on a potato slicer?
At a time when minimum wages are on the rise, the popular sentiment is that labor must be cut back, but what it really means is that labor must be used efficiently. Shifting funds from buying products pre-made to making things in house, especially by utilizing slow periods during the day before and after peak service times, gives the operation more control over the quality of the product without substantial increases in over-all cost…and in some cases, it can even save you money! Don’t pay another company’s employees to make your food, invest in your own staff and it will pay dividends both now and down the road.