This is the fourth page in a series on Food Cost Control, following the guidelines set forth in the Forty Thieves of Food Cost article. There are also a total of 7 mini quizzes (some yet to be created), each one being associated with a specific sub-section of the Forty Thieves. This section deals with controlling Preparation and Production…the Forty Thieves guidelines lists the items in blue as potential food cost drains:
- Excessive trim on vegetables, seafood & meats
- No check on raw yields
- No secondary usage of trim items
- OVER production!!!
- Improper cooking method – poor technique
- Cooking at the incorrect temperature – excess shrinkage
- Cooking or holding products for too long a period of time – poor batch firing
- Not using food production schedules or Prep Sheets
- Not using/following standard recipes
- No waste log used for items thrown out
Lets take a deeper look at how the chef or kitchen manager can control these costs.
Excessive Trim on Vegetables, Seafood & Meats
Prep cooks and line cooks will often take shortcuts and not use proper knife & production skills when cutting vegetables, fish and meat. Train your people properly…and then follow-up regularly to be sure that they are not being lazy in their technique. Also, look for training seminars and send some of your staff to them, perhaps making them compete for the opportunity to go to one.
The most common fruit & vegetable cheats (and product loss) include:
- Cutting & discarding the top & bottom of bell peppers
- Cutting & discarding the top & bottom of tomatoes
- “square-cutting” round fruits to remove the peel
For trim techniques check-out these videos:
- Cut a Bell Pepper
- Cut an Onion
- Cut Watermelon – read the comments under the video for some great tips on trim usage
- Fillet Halibut
- Fillet Salmon
No Check on Raw Yields
Do you know what kind of yields your staff should be getting from the various products they work with? And do your recipes account for the trim loss of each product? Using a Yield Chart can be a great tool to both track the work of your crew, and to give them an incentive to get better as they see how good the people with the best knife skills are.
One training tool to gauge the skill level of new or inexperienced staff is to have them put all vegetable trim into a clear Lexan tub for one shift. This makes it is easy to see how well or how poorly they did on proper vegetable cutting, and gives you opportunity to train them correctly.
Here are some useful tools for yield tracking and control:
No Secondary Use of Trim Items
Do you have a specified use for trim items? Or does trim sit in your walk-in until it is time to toss? The most crucial part of trim utilization is to have a plan in place BEFORE you prep the item. If you need bell pepper julienne then what will you do with the top and bottom…toss it or dice it for some other use? If you cut your own beef tenderloins how do you utilize the chain? If it goes into the trash then it may be cheaper to purchase pre-cut steaks…and throwing it into the stock pot is only slightly better than throwing it away.
Although it is obvious that over production of product can result in waste/loss and therefore hurt your food cost, it is still worth discussing. Over production is frequently the result of mismanagement, and is not always a matter of employee error. While it is true that the staff does the production, it is the role of management to do the forecast and tell the staff how much to produce. If next week is going to be slower for whatever reason, it is management’s job to a) know this, and b) communicate it to the staff along with new prep numbers.
If you tell the staff, “Next week will be slower”…so what!! That’s not leadership! It’s telling them to guess how much to prepare so you don’t have to make a decision or take responsibility for a wrong guess on the numbers so you can tell your boss, “Well, I told them it was going to be slower and prep accordingly.” As the Chef or Kitchen Manager it is your job to forecast the numbers and delegate to your staff how much to prep for…and take the heat if you are wrong. You should be telling the crew something like, “Decrease the prep by 10%”, or better yet, issue a revised prep sheet with new pars.
Here is a partial list of the reasons over production happens:
- No awareness by management of seasonal or special event/holiday trends
- Poor communication to staff of seasonal or special event/holiday trends
- Staff over producing to make their life easier (for instance, making a double batch so they won’t have to make it again in 2 days)
- No daily pre-service to tell staff how busy or slow you expect the day to be
- No prep sheets with separate pars for slow and busy days (week days/week ends)
- Prep sheet pars which are not updated for seasonal business changes
Improper Cooking Method – Poor Technique
Properly training the staff in all aspects of a recipe is essential both for consistency and for saving on waste. One classic example of an improper cooking method is to add pasta to water which is not boiling. The result will be mushy, starchy pasta that is garbage.
Every product has a best technique and best cooking method to achieve the result you are looking for. Be sure that your crew: a) are properly trained how to do it correctly, b) are not taking shortcuts.
Cooking at the Incorrect Temperature – Excessive Shrinkage
The perfect example is cooking a prime rib at 350° on high fan until it is done! Massive shrinkage and massive loss of potential revenue is the result of this incorrect cooking temperature and method for prime rib. If you use a convection oven then cooking at about 285° on low fan will save you a lot of cash. And if you use an Alto Shaam, they say that their oven will save up to 20% compared to traditional cooking methods.
This applies to all roasts…cooking long and slow will give you a better yield and therefore a lower food cost. You may still want to sear the meat at a high temperature for a short period of time, but the majority of the cooking time should be at a low temp, and definitely with low (or no) fan.
Sous vide cooking is another process which maintains the original integrity of the product and cooks with a significantly lower loss due to shrinkage. There are additional considerations/challenges with sous vide cooking, but it may be worth looking into for some of your production.
Cooking or Holding Products for too Long a Period of Time – Poor Batch Firing
For the purpose of this conversation, batch firing means cooking enough product to get through a relatively short period of time (10 minutes – 60 minutes) and still serve quality product which looks as if it was cooked to order. Although batch cooking typically relates to buffet or cafeteria style cooking, many restaurants will also batch fire certain parts of the menu such as vegetables and starches.
There are two crucial timeframes for controlling your food costs as it relates to batch firing: 1) The transition from busy to slow times during service, 2) The end of the shift before closing when the staff is tired and tends to cook too much just to make life easier.
What is of particular importance to successful batch firing is the necessity to have someone in charge of evaluating the flow of business and modifying the amount of product to produce. For instance, if you batch-fire fresh asparagus for plated dinners off the Line then you should do this with the intent that it appears freshly cooked, is vibrant green, has a slight “bite” to it, and is in overall excellent condition. You can probably hold asparagus for 10-20 minutes in this state in an alto shaam. So, if it’s slow then you may fire asparagus to order, if it’s busy then you may fire 5-15 orders at a time. And when it slows down again you will fire less.
The standard should be fire “x amount to get through the next y number of minutes”. For instance, fire enough to get through the next 10 minutes of service. This amount will always change as the level of business changes. And the most crucial part is having someone who is aware of the flow of business and communicates that it is time to fire more or fire less.
Not using Food Production Schedules or Prep Sheets
Prep sheets are an absolute must if you want to control your costs and either a) not run out of product in the middle of the rush, or b) have to throw away product because too much was prepared. Your prep lists should contain two columns for pars, one for slow days and one for busy days (typically the weekend). This way the staff knows how much to prep for each type of day (busy or slow). Remember to update the pars with the seasons if your business fluctuates with the time of year.
Not using/following Standard Recipes
Standard recipes ensure a number of things including flavor profile, consistency, quality of products used, the yield which is expected, and proper technique. Without standard recipes the crew just “wings it” which can be terrible both for the consistency of product to the guest and for your food cost.
What typically happens is everyone starts out with a standard recipe, but then over the course of time small parts of the recipes get modified, short cuts are taken, unauthorized “tweaks” are added. Person “A” trains person “B” who trains person “C” who trains person “D” and things get diluted along the way.
Follow-up on your recipes on a regular basis to ensure the crew is still following the original one. Taste test your entire menu on a regular basis. Quiz your team.
No Waste Log used for Items Thrown Out
The waste log is a necessary tool…even though I hate it! A waste log indicates areas of rotation or ordering failure, or on a positive note, opportunities for improvement! In an ideal world there would be nothing on a waste log because nothing would get thrown out. This however is unrealistic, and a waste log will let you know areas of inefficiency in your operation which need your attention to fix.
If items are on the waste log then you need to determine the reason.
- Was too much ordered?
- If so, did you update the ordering pars?
- How can you catch the error and utilize the product if it happens again?
- Was the product improperly rotated (ie someone took newer product before this product)?
- If so, is this an organizational issue in your storage areas? Fix it. All similar products should be together in the same area all the time with a clear rotation method (FIFO).
- Or is it a training issue, with staff not practicing FIFO? Educate them.
- Was too much prepped?
What should be on a Waste Log?
Only include items which have spoiled which you should have been able to sell if it hadn’t gone bad. These are the things you need to deal with. Do not include things like vegetable or meat trim.