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Perhaps the most dreaded two words in the industry, Food Cost. The sound of those words is enough to send a chill up the spines of the most seasoned chefs. This most sensitive of topic in any hospitality establishment is capable of raising blood pressures, causing temper outbursts akin to seizures and wiping out careers like an avalanche.

Needless to say, stress levels are at quite another level in our industry. And let's be fair to food cost here, for, more often than not, the source of the stress isn't the food costs themselves, but the never-ending battle between managers and chefs regarding what the magical "ideal" or "theoretical" food cost should be. Depending on which side of the serving line they are on, each member of the management team uses their own "gut feel" to attack or defend the monthly food cost figure, a feeling that is influenced by industry averages, experience or bonus desperation.

But feelings cannot always be relied upon. They meddle with facts even in the best of cases. By monitoring food costs based upon some arbitrary number instead of investing the time to calculate the true ideal food cost, management can be guilty of criticizing a kitchen staff's performance when the costs are in line or, worse, be lulled into food cost complacency when the costs are running two to three percentage points off the mark. The best gauge of a restaurant's food cost is an internally developed standard based upon an analysis of inventory, recipes, sales mix and price structure.

Simply put, an ideal food cost is the number that will end up in the monthly food cost bucket if everything goes as planned. It is the aggregate cost of all ingredients that should have been used, based upon your recipe costs and sales mix. There is no debate in the matter, no room for error when all this is firmly established .

The trick is identifying all of the menu items and condiments that go out to your customers, listing each item's recipe ingredients, calculating the cost of preparing each recipe based on current inventory prices and ensuring that you have a system in place for tracking the menu sales mix. Depending on the size and complexity of your menu, that can be about as much fun as a visit from the health inspector.

But don't lose heart. There are currently numerous software programs in the market that have streamlined the arduous task of menu costing, replacing the challenging and arduous manual recipe cost sheets with "electronic" cost sheets that can update your recipes "on the fly" for changes in ingredients, portion sizes, inventory costs, or menu prices. These programs are designed to be "manager friendly," so you don't have to be an engineer to operate one.

So stop making excuses. If you want to replace the monthly food cost rationalization game with food cost accountability, then get serious about getting a handle on your food costs. The bonus you save may be your own.

Author Chef Raminder Bakshi is Hospitality expert , entrepreneur and the founder, leading advisor, developer and deft-risk mitigator at The Art Culinnaire. Raminder Bakshi, has more than 23 years of experience in the Hospitality and F&B industry. His decisive leadership qualities, expertise and passion for his art have helped him in setting up many a Food Court, Multinational QSR, Hotels, Restaurants & Resorts. THE ART CULINNAIRE which specializes in conceptualization and execution of restaurants / hotels / base kitchens / banquets / outdoor catering / air catering services / institutional catering / quick service restaurants and much more.

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