Best Practices for Controlling Food Costs

By | October 18th, 2017

Four club chefs share insights into how they keep costs in line.

Without constant vigilance, food costs can spiral out of control. And the subsequent “solutions”—raising prices, lowering quality, or worse—can be damaging to a club’s food-and-beverage operation.

Lance Cook of Hammock Dunes Club (in toque) keeps meticulous track of purchases.

The better way to maintain a budgeted cost structure is to control it in a sustained fashion. Lance Cook, Executive Chef of Hammock Dunes Club in Palm Coast, Fla., does so by taking a multipronged approach.

Hammock Dunes, which does about $1.6 million in annual F&B, is budgeted to run a 47% food cost. But Cook’s comfort zone is more in the 42-45% range. One way he hits that target is by keeping meticulous track of purchases.

“I built a purchase-tracking spreadsheet in Excel years ago that is a crucial part of any operation I’ve run,” says Cook, who has been with Hammock Dunes for six months. “Any invoice that comes in is logged [into the spreadsheet], and at any point I can see a theoretical food cost.”

The spreadsheet helps Cook keep a close eye on all the moving parts of his operation—and is also deeply appreciated by Hammock Dunes’ accounting department.

Par for the Course

Lance Cook, Executive Chef of Hammock Dunes Club, hangs a series of par sheets outside his office to prevent product shortages.

In addition to the spreadsheet, Cook hangs a series of par sheets on the outside wall of his office that list all of the products the kitchen must have on hand at any given point, as well as the amount needed. These par sheets help avoid product shortages and allow key managers to see what has been ordered and what is needed.

“When I change the menu, I change the par sheet,” Cook notes.

Cook also hangs a product-needs list on a clipboard posted to the center support column in the middle of his kitchen. Staff, from both the front and back of the house, write anything on the list that they need him to order.

Waste sheets are also occasionally used when Cook sees costs starting to climb. “It’s our job to control waste,” he says. “So anything that goes into the trash gets logged on a waste sheet.

“I’ll add it up to show my staff how we threw away $500 worth of product,” he adds. “That might not seem like much, but over the course of the year it adds up to $6,000 in the garbage.”

Cook also doesn’t allow for errors with deliveries. In fact, his chef de cuisine and sous chef are the only other people authorized to sign for deliveries.

“We make sure every item is there,” he says. “That is not the responsibility of the dishwasher or the line cook—it’s ours, and it gives us a chance to also check quality and temperatures, too.”

From there, products are labeled, dated and stored. And any products that might pose confusion for a lesser-trained staff member are placed in separate areas.

“We once had a steward pull a Prime New York strip instead of a ribeye,” says Cook. “Those mistakes have to be avoided, as they can kill your food cost.”

Keeping the Prices Right

Robert Wysong, Executive Chef of Colleton River Plantation Club (Bluffton, S.C.), oversees two full-service clubhouses with menus that are ingredient-driven and regional in style. Colleton River budgets a 45% food cost and does $1.9 million in annual F&B.

Robert Wysong of Colleton River Plantation uses a number of strategies to control food costs.

“The biggest challenges with controlling food costs are member pricing expectations and value perception,” says Wysong, who has been with the club for five years.

To keep costs in line, Wysong runs streamlined menus that feature core items alongside features that change often and include seasonal ingredients, which tend to have a lower cost.

“The more you can cross-utilize, the better,” he says. “I am immersed in purchasing and look at our costs all day, every day. I ask the prices before I commit, and I compare pricing for like products.”

As cost considerations affect menu decisions, they also prompt the team to think creatively as they create new dishes. “As an example, designing a duo dish that showcases two different preparations—perhaps a sliced and a braised beef—will allow us to serve less of each, ” Wysong says. “It will still be a satisfying dish, but it will present a lower cost than a straight 14-ounce New York strip.”

Getting with the Program

Paul Zofzak of Champions GC runs a 38% food cost.

Paul Zofsak, Executive Chef of Champions Golf Club in Houston, Texas, runs a 38% food cost.

“That number has been the target for several years, as we balance between providing the service and quality the members expect and meeting financial goals,” says Zofsak, who has been with the club for one year. “My biggest challenge is all the freebies. We provide complimentary desserts with lunch, as well as fresh-baked cornbread and biscuits daily. I don’t take a comp credit for these items, so I have to make up for them elsewhere.”

Since Zofsak came to Champions, he has spent a great deal of time working closely with the club’s purchasing agent, to ensure he is getting a quality product at a fair price.

“We have to be vigilant and aware of everything that goes on in each step,” Zofsak adds, “including negotiating pricing, purchasing procedures, storage, requisitions, standardized recipes, training, cross-utilization, reducing waste and monthly inventory counts.”

Quality is Key

At the Union League Club of Chicago, Executive Chef Michael Garbin runs an even more aggressive 33.59% food cost, and does more than $6.8 million in annual F&B.

Michael Garbin, Executive Chef of the Union League Club of Chicago, keeps control of waste and overproduction.

“We keep costs in line by purchasing properly and looking for the right deals,” he says. “We check kitchen trash cans to see how much waste there is, and from what station or cook. We look at the plates on the Queen Mary [banquet carts] as they return to the kitchen, to see what was and was not eaten, as well as if portion sizes are too big.”

Garbin also likes to leverage “Chef’s Choice” menus to keep costs in line.

“Because we have a number of different member committees, we are able to do all of these menus as ‘chef’s selections.’” he says. “We also offer chef’s selections for last-minute bookings, instead of having the member take the time to do a menu selection.”

No matter the type of menu, though, quality is never sacrificed. But it does come with a price.

“Quality is our number-one priority,” says Garbin. “Price is always a concern—but as I tell my staff, I will buy whatever they want to use, as long as I get my ROI.”

2 Responses to Best Practices for Controlling Food Costs

  1. Chad Stein says:

    Hi all, i have many things to add to this subject. I think it would be really helpfull to other club chef’s. Thanks chad Stein


  2. mihai ripanu says:

    Hi, well written ! good to keep in mind and to apply.
    thank you!

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