This year has demonstrated the power of managing your inventory like a pro. As operators have had to shift to offering takeout only, inventing new business models, partially opening their dining rooms, and responding to evolving consumer habits all within the space of days or weeks, they have had to ensure their inventory can keep pace. The next several months could bring even more ups and downs for restaurant businesses, so what is the best way to ensure you’ve got enough (but not too much) of the right ingredients at the right time, when you your traffic may be difficult to predict? Befriend your freezer and stock it with batches of foods ranging from soups to sauces to vegetables in an effort to extend your inventory and minimize waste. Prepare some extra portions of frozen meals that can be promoted and sold individually to guests – or offer a promotion to dine-in guests who may want to purchase extra portions of their favorite fresh dishes. Consider brining vegetables as shelf-stable (and on-trend) side dishes – and preserve fall fruits in dried form or in sauces or chutneys. If you have operated as a grocerant in recent months, keep it going. Do a detailed assessment of each item on your menu to confirm its actual cost to make sure you’re minimizing waste and maximizing profit.
Consumers are willing to pay a subscription fee for everything from podcasts to vitamins to tech gadgets these days. So why not their favorite restaurant? According to research from the Global Banking and Finance Review, 70 percent of business leaders say subscription-based business models will be central to their future prospects – and yet for many businesses across different industries, subscriptions remain an area of untapped potential. When it comes to restaurants, subscriptions for drinks, food and really anything consumers crave may an emerging way for foodservice businesses to monitor loyalty to their brand and build in some longer-term sales security through recurring revenue. Grub Street reports that Panera, for example, which launched a monthly coffee subscription service for $8.99 last winter, is now considering other ideas including a lunch subscription service focused on kids who are learning from home this fall. It’s easy to see why: A parent who has paid for their child’s lunch subscription is more likely to make a point of coming to Panera for lunch – and perhaps ordering a meal of their own. If you have been offering meal kits or dessert boxes or family-style dinner bundles during lockdown, these items could easily convert to subscription-based services that not only give you some advance warning to source the items you need in your inventory, but also help you secure some recurring revenue for the uncertain months ahead.
As waste management continues to be a top priority for restaurant operators, news headlines appear every day about new technologies that can give companies in the food supply chain a leg up. In recent weeks, edible coatings and stickers for produce, as well as sachets that can be packed in crates of fruit, have all made news for their potential to significantly prolong the shelf life of produce and other fresh foods. Your suppliers will no doubt be adopting such technologies in an effort to compete in the marketplace, but there are a number of steps you can take right now in your business to make sure you’re making best use of the fresh products you buy. As Restaurant Owner & Manager advises, follow the first in, first out rule by adding a use-by date to new products you receive and then placing them behind older products in storage. Store food in airtight containers to help protect the hygiene of your products and minimize the potential for cross-contamination. Keep meat on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator. Ensure proper temperatures in both your refrigerator (40˚F or lower) and freezer (0˚F or lower) and have employees check those temperatures regularly. Finally, store food without overloading your storage areas and clean your shelving, equipment and storage units daily to prevent the buildup of contamination.
Your guests want to know exactly what they’re eating: A recent Nielsen global sustainability survey found that 67 percent of consumers would like to know everything that goes into the foods they eat. In the U.S. specifically, 46 percent of consumers say claims about food products have a direct impact on their buying decisions. So the origins of the food you serve, as well as the language you use to describe it, are heavily influencing your guests’ decisions about whether or not to purchase an item from you. So how do you improve upon your current efforts to enhance transparency? Study your existing supply chain and ensure you understand the direct sources of your ingredients, as well as the labels your suppliers use, from “organic” to “all-natural” so you can explain them when asked. As Webstaurantstore advises, your menu should list ingredients, mark common allergens and highlight locally or ethically sourced foods. If asked, you should be able to provide nutritional information in your restaurant or online. (Food Safety Magazine advises you verify nutritional information with a third party whenever your information is more than a year old or if you have changed suppliers or ingredients.) Identify substitute suppliers who can help you improve upon certain areas of your supply chain – and determine if and how much you need to raise menu prices to compensate for the difference without alienating your guests. You may need to introduce new dishes to offset ingredient changes you need to make to your core menu. Finally, educate your guests about the changes you are making and why – and take pride in them on your menu. Your guests want you to outline your supply chain for them and use brand names and labels to identify the ingredients they will be consuming. Their input may even be helpful to you as you make gradual menu improvements on a continuous basis.
Late this summer, the Mediterranean fast-casual brand Cava opened its first innovation kitchen, a technology-driven effort designed to collect and analyze consumer tastes and trends in real time – without the time-consuming hassle of organizing focus groups or experimenting with new menu items in test locations. Cava isn’t the first brand to launch such an effort and it’s further evidence of the increased pressure restaurant operators face to innovate their menus and to get them right each time. Even if you don’t have state-of-the-art technology to help you fine-tune your menu, you can still innovate your menu well if you start with the problem you’re looking to solve. Are you looking to improve the quality of your off-premise options? Increase your dine-in traffic? Then let that question drive your decisions. Chefify advises operators to keep several factors in mind when making menu changes. First, be able to back up your prices with market research and an understanding of what your guests will enjoy and are willing to spend for a particular product. Next, make sure your new menu items are extensions of what you already do well – not overeager attempts to follow the latest trends. Third, be clear about your ingredients and list them so guests (particularly those with food allergies) can make the best choice for themselves. Fourth, make sure that if you need to cut food costs, focus on your less-essential ingredients so you’re not sacrificing the quality of the core ingredients that make your restaurant appeal to guests. Finally, opt for a minimal, easily understood menu that allows guests to make decisions quickly when they’re hungry and allows you to both minimize your food waste and improve your order accuracy.
If you serve avocado on your menu, you’re well aware of the rollercoaster ride it has been taking lately with regard to supply and demand. According to a USA Today report, the price of avocados in early July had skyrocketed 129 percent since the same period during the previous year. While restaurants are making adjustments such as diversifying suppliers, raising prices and finding substitutes for the beloved avocado where possible, these are steps that should be taken not just when one key ingredient is in short supply but across the spectrum of a restaurant’s inventory year round. When you monitor your inventory more closely – even in times of plenty – you can more easily ride out times of scarcity. MarketMan suggests you take such steps as tracking food costs throughout the year so you’re more able to spot seasonal fluctuations in price, as well as what you have paid historically. (Team Four can help you with this.) Where possible, fill your menu with seasonal produce to minimize costs – it will also encourage guests to visit you while a favorite item is still available or when a new one is about to be featured on the menu. Partner with your chef to make sure he or she is able to use what’s in season and can minimize costly extras. When it comes to suppliers, try to lock in prices for the long term and don’t hesitate to shop around for better deals when it’s time to renew your contracts. Look around for deals online, particularly for non-perishable items that can be purchased in bulk. Monitor your spending regularly using software with purchasing and ordering management features that can help you stay on top of price fluctuations.
Any chef can confirm it: Running a restaurant well can require the skills of a lawyer, doctor, designer, HR manager, mechanic, janitor, and the list goes on. And that’s on top of having to offer an appealing, in-season menu that can be readily adapted to different nutritional needs. While that ever-changing environment can bring interest and variety to each day, chances are you were drawn to the restaurant industry more because of the food than for your ability to negotiate a beneficial contract or identify the best cleaning supplies. Further, the multitasking often required in a restaurant setting can kill productivity: A University of Michigan study found that when a person attempts to accomplish more than one task at a time, productivity drops by 40 percent. Team Four’s Palette program can serve as an extra pair of hands, taking on some of the responsibilities on your plate so you can multitask less and focus more on parts of the business that suit you best. For example, Palette can help you fine-tune your brand, including redesigning your menu or updating your graphic identity on your website, signage and marketing materials. You can also access restaurant equipment, linens, office and cleaning supplies, along with services for managing waste collection and pest control. And in case your menu or inventory needs attention too, we can help you develop new recipes, identify cost-effective menu substitutions, improve your food safety record and offer negotiated contract pricing to help ensure you’re getting the products you need at the best value. You can access the full list of services included in Team Four’s Palette program at www.palettefoodservice.com.
There’s a lot of room for cost savings in your inventory. Are you making the most of it? RestaurantOwner.com has some tips (and Team Four can help you incorporate systems to manage them if you need assistance). First off, make sure you have detailed specifications on every product you buy. They can be useful when comparing bids from suppliers and gaining a better understanding of where you might be able to get a less expensive product to deliver results similar to a more expensive one. Next, lower your inventory levels. If you’re like most operators, you have more food on your shelves than you actually need. It pays to assess your inventory by product, then reorder based on how much of that product you are likely to use, plus a bit added just in case. By cutting back on your excess inventory, you demonstrate to your team that portion control and precision are important. As a result, waste and spoilage should become less of a problem. Finally, list the 10 to 15 items that comprise the majority of your food cost and take a daily inventory of those items. At the start of each day, tally the opening quantity you have on hand for every product. Add any purchases you make that day, then at closing, count your ending inventory. Add your starting amount and purchases, then subtract your ending amount to get the amount of product that was used that day. Compare that figure with your POS product usage report. If your actual usage exceeds the usage tracked on your POS, you could have a problem with theft, over-portioning or another issue that needs adjustment right away.
Do you know how to determine your inventory’s magic number? If you can find your optimal inventory level it will help you set your ideal food cost percentage, all while helping you minimize waste and decrease the frequency of selling out of your most profitable menu items. Upserve suggests operators use this formula to determine how much they should be spending on inventory each day: Average monthly food sales x food cost percentage / days in the month.