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10 Hacks chefs should know

For a highly profitable kitchen

Perhaps you’ve been a chef for years and are no stranger to the unforeseen costs that crop up and leave you feeling underpaid and overworked. Or maybe you’re just starting out and are researching all of the best practices for running your new venue.


Either way, we’ve put together our top ten recommended ways to save money, both in and out of the kitchen, to help you run a thriving, successful venue.

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HACK 1

Regular inventory checks

1. Regular inventory checks

Let’s start at the beginning: inventory. It’s time to get really curious about how your kitchen is running and how your food is selling.

Start by going back six months, we know this will take time, and you’re a busy restaurant owner, but hear us out. Digging deep into your inventory trends over the past six months will give you a really clear picture of what ingredients you’re using heaps of, and what you’re over ordering an ingredient that’s not being well represented in your menu (i.e. where your biggest wastage points are).

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Do this once and stay on top of it, and you won’t have to do it again.

While you’re deep in past inventory, think back on consumer trends over this time too and weigh these trends up against how inventory fluctuated. Do they match?

Chances are you have a pretty good idea of seasonality, not to mention a handle on how weather patterns, exports, and economic matters affect supply. We’ll be deep diving into this one later on, but for now, just keep it in mind as you analyse your inventory.

Once you’ve taken the long journey back into your inventory history, commit to tracking it weekly so you can stay on top of what you’re ordering and where it’s going. There’s no shame in adjusting your ordering week-on-week as you start to fine tune your needs and become clearer on where your money is going.

HACK 2

Kitchen organisation

2. Kitchen organisation

I’m sure we don’t have to say FIFO twice. We know you know, but it’s worth repeating - organisation is key in the kitchen.

Start with deliveries.

First off, don’t accept deliveries during service. It’s a sure way to miss something.

Hey, it happens, orders get messed up, items get left off, that’s no big issue. What can turn into a big issue is when you’re too busy to check and end up spending money on something you haven’t actually received. The follow through for rectifying these costs is more hassle than it’s worth, and over time both your supplier and you might forget about any credits accrued and they’ll be left unused, which is wasted cash.

wholesale stock order

FIFO

Yep, we said it again. It is one of the simplest things you can do to ensure your stock is accounted for and you’re not throwing dollars into the bin (literally).

Organise your products on a first-in-first-out basis and ensure everything has an ‘ordered on’, ‘opened on', or ‘made on’ date. There’s no more frustrating way to lose money than to throw away a whole batch of something that’s gone off while it was shoved into the back of the walk-in.

wholesale stock order

Use your team.

As the boss, you might not have time to be the one checking every order or organising pantries, which is understandable. Why not delegate these tasks to your team?

Pick one staff member who is always working on delivery days, or someone who’s a bit of a neat freak (trust us, they’re out there) and allocate organisation to them. If there’s no one person on the team who wants to own it, then create a roster of staff who will oversee the tasks throughout the month.

HACK 3

Cost out every single dish on your menu

3. Cost out every single dish on your menu

The final task on the analysis list is costing out your menu. You may have a general idea of how much each dish costs, and up until now, that might have been enough for you. But if you’re truly wanting to optimise your dollars, don’t skip this step.

Consider down to the cent how much each dish is costing you to create using the ingredients and portions you’re currently using. Not only will this give you a really clear picture of where exactly your money is going, it’s a great exercise in understanding how to optimise and price your menu.

Some ingredients are really expensive, and this is a good time to assess if they’re bringing in as much as they are costing you.

wholesale stock order

Some will, some won’t. But armed with this information you’ll be able to create a more cost-effective menu.

If there is a really popular dish, upweight the cost of it and balance it by down weighting the cost of a less popular (but more expensive) dish. This helps balance high-cost items, so you can keep them on your menu even if you’re selling less of them.

Think about it, people will always pay more for a bit of avocado, right?

Finally, this process allows you to clarify where there is space for substitutions. If a particular ingredient is costing you a lot to get in, but no one would miss it, then change it for something more cost effective. Think a different herb or a vegetable that’s in season and super cheap at the moment.

As a general rule of thumb, your menu should be selling at an average of 4 x what it cost.   This equates to a 75% gross profit margin or 25% food cost. A useful and free tool to help cost out your menu is  www.cookkeepbook.com.

HACK 4

Analyse your supplier chain

4. Analyse your supplier chain

Going through the first three steps will help you set up a really clear, really efficient system of understanding how your restaurant is running based on your current ways of working.

The next step takes a little more research.

While you’re already ordering a lot of your products in bulk, it wouldn’t hurt to do some shopping around to ensure you’re getting the best price-to-quality ratio. This might mean ordering different products from different suppliers to secure the best prices.

Basically, you’re working to hack the ordering system to get the most for your money.

wholesale stock order

However, particularly if you have a really awesome relationship with one (or all) of your suppliers, you may also just want to open up the conversation with them about their prices. If you’ve noticed that something is cheaper somewhere else, or you can get more of it for less, ask them if they’re willing to create a competitive price.

Of course, we’re a very loyal industry, so we know how much it means to stick with what you know, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get some great deals while you’re at it.

Try using free buying groups like www.kitchenmate.com.au  to save time negotiating on products and prices constantly.

HACK 5

Better prep

5. Better prep

There are a few components at play here, so it’s important to take every scenario into consideration rather than trying to come up with a blanket approach.

Generally speaking, you’ll likely save some money by purchasing products that are whole and breaking them down in-house, such as whole poultry and beef products. What’s important to balance is the cost of labour. Monitor how much you’re actually saving by ordering those products whole and if it balances staff prep costs; sometimes the difference is only a few dollars.

That said, breaking proteins down in-house also gives you great insight and control over food waste and gives you the opportunity to get a little creative with your menu.

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Each time you portion up a protein, count how much you expect to get. For example, if you’re cutting up a 1kg cut of beef into 100g steaks, you should get 10 steaks. If you don’t, you know that some of your money is going to waste.

Of course, that’s not entirely unavoidable, but it’s good to understand because not only does it mean you can take that into account in your numbers, it’s also an indication of the quality of your produce.

Another way to save money on prep is to pre-prep as much as you can. You already know which items are popular on your menu and which take a while to prep, so start every shift getting as many ingredients as you can ready ahead of service. Set aside pre-sliced protein or produce that are portioned for your most popular dishes. When it comes time to fill orders, you’ll be ready to go.

HACK 6

Get creative with your produce

6. Get creative with your produce

Most consumers these days are pretty switched on to seasonality, so running your menu to match the seasons should be welcomed and expected.

In addition to simply planning your menu around what you already know will be in season, keep your ear to the ground each week to understand if there are shortages or an abundance of a particular ingredient. This will allow you to adjust your menu, save money, and support your local farmers and producers.

If you’ve ordered too much of a particular ingredient, surprise your customers with a great daily or weekly special. If a specific crop is affected by the weather or pests, find a creative way to use the good bits, so you don’t end up wasting the whole product.

Finally, make a deal with your supplier to take on any misfit produce. It’s a great way to save money and support sustainability in the food industry. As mentioned above, if it’s really aesthetically unappealing, use it in a way that the aesthetic won’t matter, like in a sauce, dip or puree.

Of course, not every venue will have the ability to do this, but if you can, it’s a great exercise in cost saving and sustainability. Your customers might appreciate knowing you’re working this way too.

HACK 7

Get creative with your meats

7. Get creative with your meats

As with the above, the same goes for your proteins - get creative!

This is particularly useful if you’re going to be breaking these down in-house, this gives you a really great opportunity to start working with the off cuts.

If you’re up for it, why not strive for a whole animal approach? It forces you to get savvy, is a very sustainable approach to protein use, and it supports your local farmer. If the whole animal isn’t quite right, that’s okay too. It’s really just about thinking outside the box when it comes to reducing waste and utilising less known or less popular cuts.

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Basically, when you buy a protein for your menu, you want to already be thinking about what to do with the off cuts. By principle, you should use a protein in at least two different dishes.

Bones and carcasses can be used for stock and broth, or fish stock used to make fish butter which can be served as an exciting accompaniment for another dish. Off cuts of your striploin can be used to make a ragu or burger patties.

There are so many ways to minimise waste when it comes to protein, and this is the number one cost for any menu, so start thinking bigger when it comes to how to use it.

HACK 8

Take steps to reduce wastage

8. Take steps to reduce wastage

Food waste just might be your number one money loss in the restaurant biz. It’s something so easy to lose track of, but for so many reasons, it’s worth getting on top of.

There are lots of ways to reduce food waste, including the ones listed above like using off cuts, creating weekly specials, and organising your kitchen properly. Through all of this, you’ll want to be keeping a careful watch on where your biggest wastage is happening and try to optimise your systems to reduce it.

wholesale ordering app

We’d also suggest working with your team to minimise wastage. One way to do this is to allocate clear ‘waste’ bins for each staff member where all of their waste for the day goes. Review it together at the end of each service and analyse if there are ways to optimise, or techniques you can share to help your staff make the most of products and ingredients.

Similar to your organisation ambassador, why not assign a sustainability ambassador as well? Again, the chances of you having a staff member who feels passionately about sustainability are pretty strong. Reward them and allow them to monitor, analyse, and develop your waste programs.

Finally, any leftover produce can be incorporated into staff meals, but within reason, your staff works hard - treat them well!

HACK 9

Stay on top of market trends

9. Stay on top of market trends

Another important way to stay on track is to keep on top of market trends and plan your menu well in advance.

There are a few things that will remain true always, such as that meat prices increase over the holiday period, and fruit and veg price and quality will fluctuate between growing seasons.

On top of this, weather patterns and export patterns will also greatly affect the prices of produce. If you’ve been keeping track of market trends for a while, you’ll be able to make some educated assumptions based on what you know. For example, drought conditions, bushfires, and floods reduce farmers’ ability to increase herd numbers, pushing prices up.

It’s also important to keep an eye on the export market, as reduced export numbers (as we’ve experienced through the global pandemic) put pressure on livestock farmers.

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Both of these situations force farmers to de-stock their herds to cover the costs of managing the property, which in turn pushes prices up for the end user. However, as they begin to prepare for these circumstances, they’ll send livestock for early slaughter to help reduce numbers, and during this period, supply increases, pushing prices down for a little while before the gradual increase.

Staying in-the-know on when these things are happening by keeping a close eye on market prices and openly communicating with your supplier so you can plan for these changes and adjust your menu ahead of time.

When it comes to predicted price fluctuations, such as over the holiday period, check in with your supplier and see if you can secure a fixed rate by placing your order early.

In order to stay across predictions and changes in the market, keep on top of key resources such as EYCI reports and
other resources from MLA,
and ABARES.

HACK 10

Stay on top of market trends

10. Streamline staff costs

Finally, shifting our focus from the produce itself, we have one final tip for managing your venue costs - staff.

First and foremost, quality over quantity. Well-trained staff that are aligned with your values and the ethos of your restaurant will pay for themselves ten times over by keeping the quality of your offering high and your customers happy and returning for more.

This also means the people you hire should be aligned when it comes to optimising systems, combating food waste, championing organisation, training and mentoring staff, and overall cost management.

Once you have your team in place, there are a few additional efficiencies you can look at. Cross train staff so you have a more versatile team of people who can really roll up their sleeves and get through a tough service as a tight knit unit. This opens up space for mentorship amongst staff as well, further strengthening your team’s relationships and improving the working environment.

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Encourage open communication with your team, both with yourself and others in lead positions, and amongst themselves. This means people will feel nurtured, and in turn happy to contribute and work to their highest potential.

Last but not least, manage your rosters weekly. Take note of how things are working, if your staff are properly portioned over busy and slow days and where the strengths lie within your team.

Continue to manage and tweak your rosters week-on-week as things change and different staff needs arise. This will not only allow you save on costs straight out by reducing numbers on slow service days, but it will also keep your staff happy and feeling supported, in turn creating a more enjoyable working environment for everyone, and hopefully, reducing staff turnover.

Bonus Tip [COVID-19]

Bonus tip

[COVID-19]

With the threat of snap lockdowns looming over the next year, it’s even more important to monitor your stock. Keep an eye on daily new case numbers, and when you see rises, aim to reduce your stock levels to the bare minimum. Try doing smaller and more regular orders during high risk periods.

Things are ever-
changing in hospitality

While this is not an exhaustive list for an efficiently run business, nailing these ten points is a great start to having a clear understanding of exactly how your money is being spent and earned.

Following these suggestions will also result in a happier and more supportive work environment, giving your entire team a place in the overall success of your business.

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Posted on: May 31, 2022
Posted By: Geoff Philcox

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