How to Calculate Your Food Cost Percentage

restaurant owner
The motivation to make food is driven by passion. But the sad truth is that even beloved, critically acclaimed, and seemingly-always-busy restaurants can be forced to shut down if proprietors aren’t diligent about keeping costs down.

One of the best ways to rein in your restaurant’s budget is to ensure that you’re keeping food costs down. That’s why it’s critical to know how to calculate your food cost percentage.

Why you should calculate your food cost percentage

The average restaurant’s profit margins are between 10 and 12 percent, though for many, “razor-thin” might be a more accurate description.

For example, renowned chef and restaurateur David Chang has said that he should charge $28 for a bowl of ramen at his New York restaurant Momofuku to cover the cost of the food and a “reasonable (and not remotely greedy) margin.” Instead he charges $17 because the higher price would be deemed too expensive by diners.

Just how much of the average restaurant budget goes toward food costs? Full-service restaurants spend roughly 32 percent of each dollar on food and beverage costs, according to a report by the National Restaurant Association and Deloitte & Touche LLP. So, calculating (and closely monitoring) your food cost percentage is vital and could be a matter of staying in business or closing your doors.

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The basic food cost formula

If you want to know how to calculate food cost at your restaurant, just follow this simple food cost formula:

basic food cost formula

Once you’ve calculated your food cost percentage (or tracked it over several months), you should be in a better position to develop strategies that help save on food and increase margins.

How to save on food costs at your restaurant

With the help of analytics (and probably a calculator), you can get a handle on your food cost percentage and make the changes necessary to improve your bottom line. Here’s how to get started:

  • Evaluate every item on the menu.
    Using the food cost formula above, determine the cost of each menu item by calculating the price of each ingredient. Then ask yourself whether your menu prices are comparable to the true cost of the item, or whether you need to make some adjustments to both the ingredients and the price.
  • Remove low-performing items.
    Employ analytics from your Restaurant Point of Sale to find out what’s selling, and what’s not. Consider removing the items that don’t sell well or substituting meats or bases that are commonly used in other menu items.
  • Keep your menu seasonal.
    Not only are in-season fruits and vegetables tastier, they’re also cheaper. So, for example, remove seasonal items from the menu at the end of the summer to keep costs down and quality up, and replace them with newly in-season items. Advertising new seasonal menus and dishes is also a great way to bring back customers who haven’t visited in a while.

Another issue to consider is staffing. Staffing choices won’t change food costs, but they can make a big difference in your sales. Check Square Analytics to determine your highest-earning servers and make sure to staff them during your busiest times, perhaps even incentivizing them for upselling.

By the same token, staff your lower-selling servers during slower times, and engage in training programs to help them improve their performance. The right staffing combined with smart food cost choices could translate into a significant financial boost for your restaurant.

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