Cost Cutters

Cost-saving measures operators can start now

Running a restaurant costs big bucks. Doing it well? That’s another beast entirely. With the economy still on the mend, many restaurants large and small are struggling to maintain quality while saving money.

To maximize the positives, restaurants can take small steps to reduce front of house and kitchen costs without compromising the customer experience. Make these tips your mantra for navigating the months ahead:

1. Go the distance. Follow the example of Eben Copple, executive chef at Yardley Inn Restaurant & Bar in Yardley, Pa., to ensure the best prices. Copple was paying $4 per pound for heirloom tomatoes until he did some extra legwork and got them for $1 per pound.

2. Ask purveyors about specials. Everyone wants to move inventory so check for deals. Also take advantage of lower pricing that accompanies produce surges during the growing season.

3. Offer online ordering. This method gives customers more time to peruse menus and results in larger sales—an average of 12 to 20 percent, says Jared Shimoff, senior director of NetWaiter in Redlands, Calif. It can also lead customers to order more frequently.

4. Be flexible. Marty Cattaneo, chef at Dio Deka in Los Gatos, Calif., scored zucchini for $1.25 per pound at the height of the season. But when unexpected chilly weather set in and affected the crop, the price rose nearly 600 percent. Instead of losing money, he removed dishes with zucchini from the menu.

5. Rethink waste disposal. White Castle tested a food scrap diversion program and found ways to cut garbage disposal costs by composting and donating unused burger buns. Some of the test units eliminated one weekly $130 waste haul per month.

6. Manage the walk-in. Be vigilant about labeling and rotating ingredients with a daily inventory of the walk-in. If cooks aren’t dating products properly and ingredients spoil, you’re essentially throwing money in the trash.

7. Be judicious with linens. Cleaning costs can be reduced by ensuring that cooks and servers are maximizing use of towels before tossing them in the laundry.

8. Keep an eye on prep. Your line may be solid, but it pays to regularly check in on cooks to ensure that they are scraping the last bit of sauce from a bowl or butchering meat with the least amount of waste.

9. Stand guard.  April Adams, general manager of Anchorage Café in Louisville, Ky., scrutinizes and signs for all deliveries herself, just in case a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon arrives instead of the high-end, single vineyard cab she originally ordered. Always check in high-end and perishable products, and don’t hesitate to send back anything that doesn’t meet your standards.

10. Reduce liquor liability. Proper alcohol training and I.D. scanning equipment can save money upfront—and down the line. Jared Kaplan, senior vice president of products at insureon, estimates that training reduces liquor liability costs by 15 to 20 percent. Purchasing a digital I.D. scanner can up the savings another five percent. I.D. scanners can also help avoid fines or loss of your liquor license for selling alcohol to underage customers.

11. Get greener. Energy efficiency extends far beyond replacing lights with energy-efficient bulbs. Look into automated light switches that automatically turn off lights in the walk-in or simply turn down setting in the hot water sank for savings.

12. Become an advocate in cross training. Sure, everyone has a specific job, but that doesn’t mean the host can’t help bus tables or the dishwasher can’t prep mise en place. Use slow or down times to get other work done, whether it’s organizing areas or cleaning the walk-in.

Jennifer Olvera covers food, travel and dining, writing for the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, and others.