8 tips for controlling food cost

7 February 2024


  • Ensure your product list and food specs are up to date: This is just like the principle of going to the supermarket with a list. If you have a list of exactly what you need, you will most likely walk out with exactly what you need and nothing more. Ensuring your product lists and food specifications are up to date will ensure you don’t have shelves/fridges/freezers stocked with unnecessary items or volume, or incorrect quality.
  • Ensure you are getting what you ordered: Ensuring your delivery is exactly what you ordered is critical. Product substitutions, packaging variations or simply short deliveries can add direct food costs, not forgetting time wastage costs.
  • Buy seasonally: Not only will “in-season” products be cheaper, you should be getting the best quality product available. Depending on your location you may be able to work more directly with local producers and purchase their less than perfect-looking products at a better rate.
  • Fixed price contracts: On your larger price or volume items negotiate a fixed price contract with your supplier based upon your time and volume commitment to purchase from them. For items not on a fixed price contract regularly check other supply or product alternatives to maintain the best quality/price relationship you can achieve.
  • Negotiate rebates/discounts for immediate payment: While cashflow may be tight for you, so it will often be for your suppliers. By negotiating a cashback or discount for immediate or quick payment you create a win-win situation. For suppliers not interested in such an arrangement attempt to extend your credit/payment terms.
  • Ensure no “leakage”: Call it what you want: theft, unauthorised staff meals, excessive wastage/trimmings etc. Either way, it’s adding to your costs and yes, it is most likely happening in one or other format in your establishment daily. Check the waste bins daily (this also allows you to see what is coming back from the customers’ plates), and ask questions about the random dinner plate in the prep area. Your questioning and additional focus/awareness put everybody “on notice”.
  • Re-engineer your menu: This may involve re-sizing portions (based upon your learnings from the previously referenced bin checks), changing to more cost-effective protein cuts/selections and/or a menu re-design.
  • Raise your prices: Let’s face it, inflation affects every business and although aware of the cost increase implications, we should not be ashamed or scared of them. After all, when was the last time you had an apology for price increases from the petrol suppliers? The key always is your approach: if a high-volume location, less increase more regularly may be the answer, if a higher-end location with significant regulars you may be better to make a bigger increase when changing menus and be in front of the situation by notifying your regulars ahead of time.
  • Lastly, a point to remember: you don’t bank percentages. Proper menu engineering and a focus on contribution margins will inevitably yield you better financial results, no matter the inflation pressures.

Actively instilling any or all of these tips into your organisation will certainly assist you in getting ahead of the ongoing challenges that inflation and wage costs will continue to throw at you.



Duncan Craig has an expansive 37 years of hotel and restaurant experience gained throughout the Asia-Pacific Region and USA, across brands such as Four Seasons, Regent, Radisson, Hard Rock and Jamie Oliver. He is a multi-faceted hospitality professional and consultant, who brings a depth of knowledge and perspective to any problem or challenge.