Who doesn’t love a salad bar or buffet? Well, so long as you’re not a germaphobe or restaurant owner you’ve probably got your hand up. Buffets have long been a customer favorite. For this reason, many restaurants utilize open bars as a way to fill more seats and increase ticket sales.
Unfortunately, the same money maker that draws in the crowds can also be a disaster when it comes time to calculating food cost. Buffets allow customers to stuff as much food as they want on their plates, without limiting portions or options. To cope, some restaurant owners simply ignore the food costs associated with their buffet while others scramble to gather incomplete or incorrect numbers all together.
Controlling Food Cost
We’ve put together this simple process to help track your buffet or salad bar’s food cost.
- Record the total cost required for stocking your buffet or salad bar, including labor and inventory.
- Subtract the cost of unused food items (those that can be reused the next day) at the end of the day from the total found in Step 1.
- Using the total found in Step 2, divide it by the total number of customers who ate at the buffet/bar that day. This will give you the total cost per buffet customer for the given day.
- Compare the total from Step 3 with what you charge per guest to use the buffet.
These four steps aren’t terribly complicated, but many operators become overwhelmed at Step 1 due to poor inventory management. To make up for it, they often overcharge for their buffet or salad bar to assure their costs are covered.
Take a few days to truly analyze the cost of each item at the salad bar or buffet. Take into account the cost of the product, its shelf life on the buffet, and the associated cost of labor. This may take some serious number crunching, but the end result will be more than worth the work. Knowing the average food cost for your buffet or salad bar indicates where adjustments can be made and where costs can be cut. More importantly, when you know your costs, you can accurately price your buffet and/or salad bar.
Adjust for Profit
Once you’ve calculated the average food cost for your salad bar or buffet, it’s time to make any necessary adjustments to increase profits.
Change Ingredients: If you’re finding that the cost of a single product is simply too high to be profitable on your buffet/bar, then it’s time to consider revising your ingredients and/or suppliers.
Add Portion Control Measures: Self-serve buffets and salad bars are at the mercy of your patrons. However, you can incorporate certain control measures to help reduce excess consumption. Try using portion-control serving utensils or making individual items, like rolls, smaller in size. As a last resort, change your self-serve buffet to a full-service buffet. This allows your designated employees to control portion sizes on customers’ plates.
Change Item Locations: Strategically placing food on your buffet or salad bar works on the same idea that retail stores use when setting up aisles. Think about where customers look first when approaching your buffet or salad bar. Where are their eyes drawn? Place items with lower food costs in the most visible areas, where customers will be more attracted to them.
Purchase Smaller Plates: While this may seem contrary to saving money, you’ll likely see less consumption at the buffet or salad bar simply because customers have smaller plates to serve themselves with.
Move From Self-Serve to Tableside: If all else fails, change your ordering procedures to help cut back on the over-consumption that is typical of self-serve areas.
Remember, the first step in controlling the cost of your buffet or salad bar is knowing how much it is actually costing you. You must first fully understand the problem before taking action.
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