Dear Food Fanatic: Training Staff, Controlling Food Costs

Real restaurant advice you can use from our resident expert

Q. We want to do some extra training for our employees to improve service quality and boost our sales. But it’s like pulling teeth trying to get everyone here at the same time. Need a fix!

A. I’m a huge proponent of continuing education. Employees need to be motivated and that’s most often done with money. Schedule the training on payday and then pass out the checks. Think about using the training as a platform for launching an internal promotion. Ask your vendors to contribute prizes to support the cause.

Q. Is it just me or is my product growing legs and walking out the back door? I run the sales numbers but they don’t jibe. Do you have suggestions on how to weed out my sticky-fingered employee, or should I just clean house?

A. First off, don’t hack off your nose to spite your face. You could lose some good employees despite a few bad apples. It comes down to accountability, so assign one person to receive the product and put it away. Consider not allowing employees to bring in backpacks or large purses and change the employee entrance away from the back door. If budget allows, install cameras at all door sites. If you make big changes, be sure to share the information with staff.

Q. The rising costs of ingredients and current market conditions are killing me. Got any ideas on controlling food costs without crushing quality? 

A. Everyone’s in the same boat. Start by reviewing prep procedures for potential waste and prep time inefficiencies. Emphasize to staff the cost ramifications of waste and how much additional sales are required to make it up. Follow up with quarterly staff incentives staff based on food cost control. You can also re-engineer your offerings so ingredients have three to four uses on your menu. Finally, review portion sizes and utilize innovative products to add value with lower cost items.

Q. Everything I read says customers want healthier options for kids. But chicken fingers and mac and cheese still sell the best. How do we reach more customers?

A. Families today are dining out more often—sometimes as a necessity, other times as a treat, so maybe that’s where the discrepancy lies. The key is to make it familiar, appealing to kids and grown-ups with great ingredients and clever names. How about putting broccoli in mac and cheese and calling it “mac and trees”? The blender can be a huge help: Puree vegetables into a sauce used for spaghetti, and use whole-grain or whole wheat pasta. Call it “power noodles” or something fun. Think of ways to “hide” healthy things so that the kids don’t really notice but parents love you for it (think offering zucchini bread instead of fries). These happy customers will reward you with repeat business. 

Q. We struggle with consistent plate presentation. Is there a way to cut down on our headaches?

A. Consistency is everything, whether it’s your staff and presentation or you reminding them. Run a complete line check before service starts every day—not just when you get aggravated. This line check should focus on the FATT method, which is based on flavor, appearance, texture and temperature of each line item and includes dry, refrigerated and frozen prepared items.

drawing of Chef Rob JohnsonFood Fanatic

Rob Johnson is a Food Fanatic chef for US Foods from Oklahoma City who’s a Southwest cuisine aficionado and a lover of all things bacon.


Follow the Food Fanatic on Twitter for more interesting tips