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BFS Capital Blog

Restaurant Spring Cleaning: Refresh and Reset Anything

April 23, 2013

Spring cleaning can be much more than a fresh coat of paint. For small businesses, spring cleaning can include delving into your operations to see what you can improve or tightening up your operational procedures.

For restaurants especially, the hectic and never-ending cycle of serving customers all week long can be so intense that it seems impossible to pause and see the bigger picture. But, this is why spring cleaning is so important. Here are three big areas you might not automatically associate with spring cleaning:

    • Analyzing food and beverage inventory and costs
    • Revamping or replacing menus
    • Reviewing your food safety procedures

Streamline Food and Beverage Costs

Restaurant owners and chefs say that two of the most stress-inducing words in restaurants are “food costs.”  Industry experts say that real stress comes when you use gut feelings instead of actual calculations to figure your monthly food costs. On, Restaurant Associates NW President Chuck Gohn says that the best gauge of food cost comes from your own analysis of your inventory, recipes, sales mix and price structure. In other words, feelings and guesswork are taken out of the equation.

It’s not necessarily an easy process, and can, in fact, be trying. But the key, Gohn says, is having a system in place for identifying all ingredients, having current inventory prices and tracking your menu sales mix. Luckily, what was once a tedious manual process is now streamlined by a variety of user-friendly software programs that let you make updates with a few keystrokes. Initially, of course, you need to find and enter all the relevant data. But once you have, you will have a database of valuable information, including inventory usage, purchase trends and profitability of individual menu items.

The Restaurant Resource Group provides a user-friendly Recipe, Inventory & Menu Profitability Workbook (currently called EZchef software) in Excel. Get started here.

John Nessel of the Restaurant Resource Group talks about the necessity of periodically physically counting your food and beverage inventory to ensure accurate cost reporting and in turn, accurate profit and loss statements. After all, Nessel says, along with labor, food and beverage costs are your largest expenditures, with an estimated (median) by experts to be 33 percent of total sales! But while labor costs are relatively fixed, food and beverage costs are variable and controllable.

Nessel says that doing a regular inventory count is an absolute must for having an accurate picture of your food and beverage costs. And, it’s the key to the very important distinction between food costs and food purchases:

    • Food costs are the total food purchases necessary to generate the food sales that you recorded for a specific time period.
    • Food purchases (what your accounting system will produce if no inventory adjustment is made) simply tell you how much food you bought during the month.

Only when you make the inventory counts and record the adjustments every month will your P&L statements give you an accurate representation of your food costs. Nessel further recommends tracking food and beverage costs by category (food, beer, wine, liquor), which he says will give you even better quality information and make it easier to spot problem areas.  After the inventory counts, you can make a series of simple entries in Quickbooks or whatever other accounting software program you use.

Update Menus

The website says that your menus are among the top four things your guests spend time looking at and consciously thinking about. Even so, relatively few restaurant owners put much energy or strategy into their menus, failing to realize that as part of the “face” of your restaurant, menus say a lot about your establishment.

But this can be rectified in a few steps. Your menus can be transformed into effective communication tools by making them unique and personalized; removing pictures and dollar signs; and training servers to complement the menus.

Restauranteur-turned-restaurant professor David Pavesic, Ph.D, FMP, does a deep and fascinating dive into the psychology of menu design.  Understanding these principles, he says, can make your menus your “silent salespeople” that can actually increase check averages and guest loyalty.

Because the menu functions as your restaurant’s business card, it should reflect your overall brand image. But at the same time, the menu can be a powerful tool that can directly influence what your guests will order and how much they will spend. In other words, there is a direct connection between your menu and your sales revenue.

Pavesic draws on a variety of published research in detailing virtually every aspect of menu design, from what sizes work best in certain type of environments to how your guests’ eyes and brains react to different kinds of fonts.

Review and Comply with Food Safety Procedures

Your guests take it as a given that your employees are following proper food safety procedures. But most have no idea how many of these procedures there are and how rigorous restaurants must be in their standards. offers an overview. Generally, food safety can be broken down into these specific areas:

    • Shopping
    • Storage
    • Preparation
    • Thawing
    • Cooking
    • Serving
    • Leftovers
    • Refreezing

As a restaurant owner, you’re undoubtedly familiar with the FDA’s recommended safety system (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point), which is based on seven principles that cover every step of food storage and preparation.

But restaurants are a dynamic industry. Change is constant in the face of employee turnover, incorporating new equipment, and introducing new menu items. This simply means that having food safety procedures in place is just the beginning. There also needs to be a system in place for regular review and updating of the procedures internally as well as keeping up with industry developments.

Case in point: food allergies. More and more of your guests seem to be suffering from (or are aware they have) food allergies. Research shows that there is a group of major allergens that causes 90 percent of all food allergies. This list includes, but is not limited to, milk, eggs, certain fish, certain nuts, wheat. Notifying customers of the presence of certain allergens has been shown to be an effective way to cut down on reactions.

Another area that’s evolved in recent years is cross-contamination, and a new understanding of the potential for spreading bacteria and illness has resulted in new standards for food prep and food storage.

The FDA maintains a series of fact sheets on safely handling food that are accessible and user-friendly. Get them here.

Image courtesy of  -Marcus- /