The starving restaurateur: ten tips on cutting costs and staying within budgetary guidelines

Budgets — the word is frightening. I have known restaurateurs who crawl into corners, spend the day in the fetal position and seldom straighten out by the dinner rush because of something called a budget-planning meeting. And although restaurant owners try to stay within budgetary guidelines, it is a struggle. Especially when everyone has their hands in the pot.

However, it shouldn’t be that way. I had a discussion with a brilliant restaurateur over the weekend that was grappling with the budget process. She was the creative side. Her partner, the numbers side. Two twains meeting? Seldom does it happen with any semblance of normalcy.

One side wants less, the other side more. But what about the Truffle oil?

“We cannot serve that meatloaf without Truffle Oil. The customers will know immediately.”

“If we continue to serve that meatloaf with Truffle Oil the customers will eventually miss us.”

Ah, the two sides meet.

Here are ten tips on cutting costs and staying within budgetary guidelines.

Linen- Are your chefs going through kitchen towels like they work at the corner car wash? Check your linen bill. Towels, aprons, and napkins all add up and increase costs. Linen should be a percentage of your total volume. Check it regularly. Linen companies have been known to make a mistake here and there. Also, your linen will fluctuate with the season. Adjust it.

Presentation- An inviting plate presentation costs little and commands a lot. The burger topped with onion rings with Truffle Oil as an upsell adds revenue to the bottom line.

Sonoma's Red Grape is the perfect example of Truffle Oil usage. Lightly sprinkled on the onion rings and added to a burger, worth every nickel...
Sonoma’s Red Grape is the perfect example of Truffle Oil usage. Lightly sprinkled on the onion rings and added to a burger, worth every nickel…

Portion Control- Is there a lot of waste in the bucket by the dishwasher? Are your portions too large? Check your food costs. And that bucket.

Payroll-Is the manager cutting staff according to business? How about the manager – any overtime?

Waste- How much of your inventory is going to waste? Your ordering and menu should reflect the seasonality of the business. Make sure it does.

Electric- When you walk into your restaurant in the morning, in the middle of winter, is it as warm as it was in the middle of June? Thermostat control. The heat from the kitchen can help heat your restaurant. Open the kitchen doors in the morning. How about the air conditioning for our friends in Florida in the middle of winter? Keep an eye on the thermostat.

Bathroom Supplies- Paper towels, toilet paper. Everyone uses them — especially at home. Is your inventory being flushed down your toilet or someone else’s?

Milk- Check your milk inventory. Espresso machines have done more for the commercial milk industry than anything has since Bosco. Steamed milk increases usage. Check it.

Fresh Flowers- I was always an advocate of the fresh flower syndrome. I had an accountant who hated them — at least the monthly bill. I switched to herbs — large bouquets that I could use in the kitchen. I saved a lot of money and continued to impress guests.

Grocery Store Runs- nothing is more convenient that going to the grocery store when you run out of a product. But what does that cost? Not only in product, but also in employee wages and time lost. Look at it. You’ll be surprised. The convenience is very costly.

Yes budgets can be horrendous to develop, implement and adhere to. But the success of your business depends on it.

John Foley

John Foley is Publisher of

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