Build a Winning Restaurant Serving Staff: Part 5

Restaurant CustomerThis is the final post in our five part look at creating a top-notch restaurant serving staff. In part one we laid out the basics – menu knowledge and essential tools of the trade. Part two looked at reading tables and anticipation, part three focused on the mechanics and politics of serving, and part four discussed upselling.

We conclude with a look at dealing with difficult guests, as well as a few notes on social media use (or misuse).

First, here’s what every good server needs to remember when confronted with an angry guest:

The Buck Stops with You

Sometimes you’ll make a mistake entering an order. Other times, the kitchen will be at fault. Either way it’s the server that faces the guest’s wrath. It’s a reality that waitstaff have to deal with.

One thing that irks us is seeing front-of-house staff bickering with chefs about who’s at fault for a missing or incorrect order. Meanwhile, the guest is still waiting for a proper plate. The Blame Game serves nobody and it has no place in the restaurant, at least during service. Not only is the customer in question suffering, but the rest of that server’s section is not being attended to while their waiter/waitress engages in pointless arguments with the kitchen.

There’s nothing wrong with sorting out legitimate concerns during staff meetings or after shifts. In fact, we actively encourage these issues to be hashed out during all-hands meetings. During service, however, stay focused on getting the customer’s issue solved as quickly as possible.

Handling Customer Issues

Regardless of how well you perform, you’ll eventually face an angry guest. Here’s a few things to keep in mind when dealing with those difficult patrons.

Don’t take it personally. Do not internalize the situation. You have no idea what’s causing this person to behave angrily. Sometimes there’s more going on under the surface than you realize. This isn’t about you, it’s about the situation. It’s tough sometimes but a good server learns to develop a thick skin.

Assume the best. Customers will lie, there’s no doubt about that. You simply can’t assume that’s the default setting for most people, however. Assume your guests are being honest about their issue(s).

Remain calm. Sounds obvious, right? Yes, and it’s so important we’re still going to list it. The rest of your tables – and everyone else’s tables – are watching. You’ll be silently applauded by many if you keep cool and handle the situation with aplomb.

Watch your body language. Back in part two we noted the importance of reading a guest’s non-verbal cues. Well, guess what? They’re reading yours as well. Avoid the exasperated sigh, the slight roll of the eyes or any otherwise defensive gestures such as crossing your arms over your chest.

Own it. As noted above, regardless of where the mistake/problem originated, it’s your job to deal with it. It’s not your fault, but it’s your problem. That may not be fair but it comes with the territory. Offer a sincere apology for any mistakes and rectify the situation as quickly as possible.

Involve management when needed. While it’s important to show the guest you’re taking responsibility for a situation, it may still be necessary to involve the manager on duty. Sometimes simply involving management can diffuse a tense situation, even if that manager is offering the same solution(s) as the server. It lets guests know their concerns are being taken seriously. And sometimes they simply need to hear a solution from someone they feel has more authority.

The show must go on. This one bad apple can’t ruin your shift. You’ve got other guests to attend to. Vent about the troublesome guest later and stay focused on your other patrons. Many of them will likely be nicer – and tip better – if they’ve just seen you endure bad treatment.

We’ve already discussed the importance of reading a table, anticipating guest needs, developing menu knowledge, the importance of timing, and more. All of this should go a long way towards preventing customer issues from arising in the first place.

To wrap up, we’d like to touch on a few more ways serving staff can avoid guest complaints and bad reviews.

The Exit Experience

Service expert Micah Solomon says the exit experience is every bit as crucial to a guest’s perception of your restaurant. He advises that “even the slightest hint that a server is ‘over’ one party and on to the next toward the end of a meal dampens the entire dining experience.” Are your guests obviously tourists? Perhaps they’d like entertainment recommendations, or even a cab. It’s important to remember that service doesn’t stop when the credit card slip has been signed.

Discretion When Needed

Speaking of credit cards, is there anything more awkward for a server than having to let someone know their card was declined? It will happen to your staff, count on it. Fortunately there are ways to handle the situation that will limit embarrassment for all involved.

1. You could simply inform the guest that there appears to be a problem processing the card. Do so quietly, and diplomatically.


2. We’ve heard of servers choosing to pass this information on to the customer in writing. Discreetly slipping a note inside the billfold as the check is returned. Just a simple note reading “The card does not appear to be working, do you have another we could try?”

This approach allows the guest to quietly grab a new card, slip it into the billfold, and give it back to you as you return. If the conversation is still ongoing at the table, there’s a good chance nobody else even noticed the delay.

Social Media and the Rise of Tip Shaming

So you’ve done everything right, and now that credit card slip is ready to be closed off. Unfortunately, this guest felt a tip wasn’t necessary this time; you’ve been stiffed.

It’s tempting to take to Twitter or Facebook to complain about lousy customers and bad tips. We strongly recommend avoiding this practice.

While we sympathize with our hard-working friends in the serving game, the potential downside of venting about specific customers is simply not worth that brief moment of catharsis one gets from shaming a bad tipper. Take this recent example of a waitress in Ohio who lost her job for this very reason.

Even on those occasions when a customer makes your day with a fantastic tip, exercise a bit of caution before sharing these experiences with your social networks. Even if you’ve hidden names and credit card numbers, we still feel it’s in bad taste to post about generous tips, particularly from people in the public eye such as a sports star or local politician.

Admittedly there’s no hard and fast rule here, but we’re of the mind that a tip is a private transaction. Respect people’s privacy and avoid problems for you and the restaurant. If you’d like to let the world know your day was made by a wonderfully generous tip, keep it vague. “Some customers really make your day!” or “I was reminded today just how generous some people can be. Great shift!” or something to that effect.

We won’t go so far as to suggest every restaurant implement an official set-in-stone social media policy, but it may be worth including some suggestions on how to conduct one’s self on social media as part of employee training materials.

Speaking of social media, be sure to download the free ebook, Social Media for Restaurants, at the button below. In it, you’ll find tips for restaurants looking to get started on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more. 

social media for restaurants


This post originally appeared on’s Restaurant Strategy Blog.


Build a Winning Restaurant Serving Staff: Part 4

restaurant_serving_upsellingThis is part four of a five part look at creating a top-notch restaurant serving staff. In part one we laid out the basics, menu knowledge and the essential tools of the trade. Part two dealt with reading tables and anticipation, and part three focused on the mechanics and politics of the job.

Next up, it’s time to talk about selling. Because let’s face it, both restaurant owners and their servers want to make more money.

The Server as Consultant

We’ve likely all heard a server say “everything is good” when asked for recommendations. Don’t do that. Seriously, just don’t. This is where that extensive knowledge of the menu you’ve developed comes into play. It often only takes a couple of questions to help determine which dishes to recommend. “Do you like seafood?”, or “any dietary restrictions?” for example. You’re not strictly a salesperson when you serve tables, you’re a consultant.

There’s going to be those high-performing dishes you’ll want to guide customers towards when possible, but when asked about favorites just be honest with people. Best to deliver something a guest will enjoy versus simply pushing the items with the biggest profit margins.

You’re the expert in the room, so act like it. New serving staff that have yet to try much of the menu can always fall back on dishes that are known to be popular with other guests.

Keeping with the idea of timing – which we discussed in a previous post – be certain to outline the day’s specials right away in order to get people thinking about them. If you only mention those specials when you return with drinks, then your guests may feel a little pressured to decide on the spot if they’d like to try the special or not. This could lead to them needing even more time to decide, slowing down turnover.

On top of knowing the day’s specials, servers need to be to be up-to-date on dishes/drinks that have been 86’d for that shift. Restaurants should have some type of whiteboard or other means of letting front-of-house staff know that certain items are unavailable. Servers should make that one of their first stops before taking the first order of the day.

If popular dishes are unavailable for some reason, start thinking about your second and third go-to recommendations. Grab the menu and quickly reacquaint yourself with their descriptions in order to tighten up your tableside pitch.

Setting yourself up in the role of consultant helps a guest see you as more than someone who simply jots down an order and drops off a few plates. You’re increasing the likelihood of a good tip, and using all that knowledge you’ve gleaned from learning your menu inside and out to enhance the guest experience.

The Upsell

So with all of the above out of the way, let’s talk about selling.

Knowing your product is crucial for being able to effectively upsell, so if you’re still not a product expert go grab your menu and start studying. Knowledge breeds confidence, and that confidence will be evident with your guests.

Of course there’s a difference between offering helpful suggestions and being pushy and annoying. It’s a delicate balancing act, but servers that have mastered the art of reading their tables should have little trouble spotting appropriate upselling opportunities.

A few ideas to consider:

– Make it a point to recognize the host/ringleader of any large groups. They’ll often help set the tone for the table. If they order an appetizer or alcoholic beverage, others are very likely to follow suit. Seriously, if you can convince the host to try that awesome new draft beer, you’re increasing the likelihood of the whole table indulging.

– Vary your speech a bit. Don’t ask the exact same questions and use the same descriptions at every table. Guests can hear your interactions at the tables around them so try not to sound overly scripted. People hear a script and they’re likely to push back. Think of how often you’ve done just that with telemarketers trying to hard sell you.

– If a guest is ordering something that takes a bit of time to prepare – a well-done steak perhaps – suggest a starter salad or soup.

– Guests splitting an entree between two people? Suggest a second side dish as an add-on.

– Never miss a chance to upsell the little things such as sauces, gravy, toppings for a baked potato (who doesn’t love a twice baked?), chicken as an add-on for salads, etc. If you’re not asking about a side of fried onions and mushrooms with a steak, you’re doing it wrong.

– Alcohol offers several possibilities. Know your wine pairings and make suggestions accordingly. Wine offers the textbook example of a server acting as consultant rather than salesperson.

If you’re carrying a visually enticing drink, be sure the rest of your section gets a good look at it. Take the long way to your table if you have to and let everyone develop a little drink envy.

If management allows it, bring them a small sample of that brand new beer you’ve got on tap. Getting that tiniest of sips could be the difference in a beer sale or fetching a water with lemon.

Know your premium brands and offer the guest options beyond the well brand for their Screwdriver or Gin and Tonic. When you’ve got a moment, pick your bartender’s brains regarding which brands to suggest.

– Don’t blow an upsell opportunity by delivering a bill before you’ve asked about desserts. Profit margins are often high for your dessert offerings, so discuss them with guests as much as possible. Again, make specific suggestions, singling out popular desserts by name whenever possible. If they seem enticed but hesitant, mention the possibility of boxing up a slice of that delicious Carrot Cake to go. And remember that special occasions like birthdays or Mother’s Day are golden opportunities to tout your desserts.

– The role managers play in the upselling process cannot be overlooked. One sure-fire way to get waitstaff selling is to instill in them a sense of pride in both your product and their role. Empower them with proper training, incentivize them with contests and rewards for top sellers, and make sure the product leaving the kitchen is always of top quality so they can proudly stand behind it. Note: We’ve made these points before as it relates to reducing restaurant staff turnover.

Any upselling tactics we’ve left out of this discussion? Share yours in the comments. And be sure to check back for part five of this serving series as we look at dealing with difficult guests and the use, (or rather misuse) of social media.

Looking to cut costs of both food and labor? Download our free ebook at the button below. 

Restaurant Cost-Saving Practices

This post originally appeared on’s Restaurant Strategy Blog.

Build a Winning Restaurant Serving Staff: Part 3

Waiter taking orders from young woman customerThis is part three of a five part look at creating a top-notch restaurant serving staff. In part one we laid out the basics, menu knowledge and the essential tools of the trade. Part two touched on the importance of developing the ability to effectively read tables and anticipate guest needs.

In this installment, we’ll focus more on the mechanics of serving as well as the “politics” of the job for lack of a better term.

(Note: While the post is written as if addressing servers directly, we think managers and owners can get plenty from it as well.)

Timing is Everything

Much like good comedy, the key to great serving is timing. The best servers pay strict attention to the timing of everything. Master the fine art of timing every step of your table’s experience and watch many potential problems disappear.

This involves knowing the average time it takes to prepare a meal, from apps right down to desserts. It means effectively judging how fast the kitchen is currently moving, how fast the bartenders are getting to their drink tickets, how fast guests are finishing each course, and more.

Learning how to time means you won’t be that server immediately going to the bar to wait for the drink you just rang in ten seconds ago, annoying the bartenders in the process. You’ll know how much time you have to let the bar do their thing while you take care of other chores. Improved timing makes life easier for you and your co-workers.

If you offer free soda refills, get that next round on the table before glasses are empty. Everyone loves seeing that fresh glass of cola dropped in front of them just as their current beverage is about to run dry.

Another thing to remember is that good timing also means occasionally communicating to guests how their orders may affect the rhythm of things. The easiest example of this would be politely noting that a well-done steak may take a bit longer to prepare.

Bonus tip: Are you close to a theater, stadium or other notable entertainment venue? It may be worth keeping tabs on what’s happening in town that night, and ask if your guests need to be out the door by a certain time. Pace their experience accordingly.

No Wasted Motion 

You know what they say about idle hands. There is always something a server could be doing to keep service moving efficiently. “Full Hands in, Full Hands Out” is a common philosophy in the restaurant business, and if it’s not part of yours, it should be.

Dropping off food? Clear empty plates and glasses. Bringing dirty plates to the dish pit? Wash those hands, grab clean dishes, and drop them off for the cooks. Bringing glassware to the bar? Ask your bartenders if any drinks need to be run. Spare moment? Grab a colleague’s order and run it out to the dining room (though check with the kitchen to be sure the order is complete).

Make a trip through your entire section and see what every table needs, then drop it all off in one trip. There’s no need for running back and forth for one item.

Keeping up with your table maintenance and it will take less time to clean and reset your tables for the next round. This means quicker turnaround and more money. You like money, right?

Writing it Down vs. Memorization

To write orders down or try to commit them to memory, that is the question. Some servers can remember every order for a table of ten – good for them! Others may need to take a few notes.

The Waitress Confessions blog has a terrific post on this subject outlining the pros and cons of memorization. So rather than dive too deep into it here, we’ll recommend you go check it out (after you’ve finished this post of course) before deciding on what approach to go with. If you do feel the need to write out orders, we strongly recommend developing some type of shorthand.

The Politics of Serving

It sometimes feels like the front-of-house and back-of-house are like two opposing sports teams, constantly bickering with each other. We’re not suggesting that one side is always right; sometimes the kitchen made a mistake, other times the server is at fault.

Here’s the thing though, a smart server picks their battles. The time will come when you need something on the fly, and if you’re the server constantly berating the kitchen for every perceived slight, you’ll become their last priority.

Ask yourself, are you doing anything to make the kitchen’s job easier? Could you use a spare moment to fetch clean plates or pans from the dish pit? Maybe they could use a glass of water or soda; pour one for them. It gets hot back there working around those ovens and stove tops.

Be the server that’s making their life easier and handling disputes diplomatically and you’ll find kitchen staff rushing to fix your mistakes when needed. Managers: One of the most important things to keep an eye on during service is how waitstaff treats the kitchen, and vice versa.

While we’re on this topic, it’s worth noting that these same rules apply to dealing with your fellow front-of-house mates. As noted above, help run food, ask if they need anything, see if the bartenders need supplies, etc. It’s a team effort, don’t be that server standing around looking useless. We can assure you, every other server on the floor can easily pinpoint your team’s weak link.

As always, if we’ve missed anything here be sure to let us know in the comments. In part four of this serving series, we’ll look at upselling. Stay tuned for more.

While we’re on the topic of efficiency in the restaurant, be sure to check out our free ebook, Improving Your Restaurant’s Ordering Practices, at the button below. 


This post originally appeared on’s Restaurant Strategy Blog.

Build a Winning Restaurant Serving Staff: Part 2

restaurant-serving-2This is part two of a five part look at creating a top-notch restaurant serving staff. In part one we laid out the basics, the importance of menu knowledge and essential tools of the serving trade.

Now, let’s take a look at what really sets the best servers apart from the pack. The ability to effectively read a table and anticipate guest needs.

Reading a Table

The ability to read the makeup of a table, anticipate what that table will likely need, and how they’ll prefer their visit to proceed is crucial to mastering the restaurant service game.

We’re talking about being able to channel one’s inner Sherlock and be keenly observant. Front-of-house staff work with the public all day, coming into contact with every personality type under the sun. The ability to pick up on a variety of non-verbal cues will set the best servers apart from the pack.

Servers need to think of their guests not as a “two top” or “four top” but as “family of four”, “business people meeting”, “couple out on a date”, etc. These groups all require different approaches. It’s important to have steps of service, but allow your staff some wiggle room depending on a table’s makeup.

The most important aspect of reading your guests is sensing how welcome you are at the table. That may sound a bit harsh, but no two tables are alike. Some guests like to chat it up, others prefer their server to be relatively unobtrusive. These people aren’t rude, and it’s likely not personal. Some guests simply prefer not to engage much with their server. Respect these preferences.

A business group likely wants straight-forward, almost invisible service. They may be on the clock, don’t take them away from what could be important discussion. The table of young singles may be open to witty banter so charm away. Your style can’t be the same with every group.

Your steps of service should vary with group makeup as well. Do the kids at a table of four seem a tad unruly? Maybe slip the dessert menu to one of the parents nice and quietly rather than get the little ones excited by suggesting desserts out loud. Save Mom having to say no a million times and win her heart in the process.

Of course it won’t always be about simply reading group makeups; individual styles matter. Guests actively asking for a drink menu, or smiling and making good eye contact, are more likely open to conversation and hearing several of your suggestions. Conversely, guests more on the shy and quiet side may be more comfortable with a polite, quick greeting.

And speaking of individuals, look for signs that signal which member of a group (particularly when it’s a large one) is the ringleader or host. Introduce yourself to them first. They’ll often help set the tone for the meal, so remember them when it comes time to try some of your upselling/suggestive selling techniques.

One extra tip here: If your table does appear open to banter, try not to engage in it immediately after dropping off a course. The food is good and hot at that point, let them get started. There’ll be time for your piercing wit to shine through a bit later.

There’s no training manual for this, servers will simply have to pay attention and adjust to each individual. It’s your job to adapt, not the guest’s.

Spotting Trouble

Reading a table also means sensing when something is amiss. Far too many diners don’t speak up when a meal or experience isn’t satisfactory. A mostly untouched dish should be addressed. It could be that the guest is simply not very hungry, but there’s a good chance that something’s amiss. Perhaps you spot people removing items from a dish, maybe there’s been a mistake made somewhere. Don’t let them get to the end of a meal before inquiring.

How about the guest still wearing a heavy jacket? Or worse yet, several guests. It could be a good idea to look at the dining room’s temperature at that point.


Properly reading a table means you’ll be able to anticipate a guest’s needs. Asking a few important questions can save you several trips to a table, greatly improving your efficiency and enhancing the guest experience.

Maybe they ordered no tomato on their Club Sandwich but added a side salad which includes diced tomatoes. Ask if those tomatoes need to be nixed as well. If they ordered the gluten-free bun, make sure to confirm they’d also like to lose the croutons from their salad. These extra questions will save you from running back and forth to the kitchen looking for fixes.

If a guest seems to be overwhelmed by the menu’s options, ask a few questions to narrow down their search.

So the entrees have been served and everything is as requested. Now, instead of simply asking if there’s “anything else”, get specific. Are there any popular condiments you could ask about? How about extra napkins, utensils, or refills? Now is the time to ask. By getting specific you’ll avoid being flagged down later. It’s a win-win scenario; less trips for you, and a happier customer.

People appreciate when you’re able to anticipate these requests; they’ll recognize that you’re genuinely invested in the guest experience. This will almost certainly lead to better tips, good reviews, and repeat business.

Next up in part three of our restaurant serving series, we’ll look at some of the mechanics of serving. Stay tuned to this space!

Looking to improve on food and labor costs? Maybe you can pull some ideas from our free book below. 

Restaurant Cost-Saving Practices


This post originally appeared on’s Restaurant Strategy Blog.


Build a Winning Restaurant Serving Staff: Part 1

restaurant_serving_1When most people discuss restaurant experiences with their friends and co-workers they tend to focus on two things, the food and the service.

Your front-of-house staff are the liaisons between your business and your guests. They’re the ones responsible for ensuring a terrific experience for every single person that enters your door.

With the stakes that high, it’s a good idea to ensure that you’re deploying the most well-trained, well-mannered, customer-centered fleet of servers you possibly can. Wouldn’t you agree?

So, what makes a great restaurant server? And how can you get your staff to that level of greatness? Let’s dive into some basics in part one of a five part look at restaurant serving best practices.

Knowledge is Power

Servers should know your menu like the backs of their hands. Give all new servers a copy of your menu as part of their training documents and have them learn it inside and out. The menu is the most important document in the restaurant so it should be examined, re-examined, and examined again.

Don’t stop there, however. Your training manual should give servers more info than what’s on the menu. Customers can read the menu themselves, your servers need to know more. Ingredients, sauces, garnishes, how the dish is prepared, etc. A key part of a server’s job is to be able to handle those questions that aren’t answered on the page. And remember, food allergies are serious business. If guests note certain allergies it’s best to know which dishes to recommend and which ones to avoid.

Ideally, servers know the menu because they’ve tasted all of its offerings themselves. Allergies or other dietary considerations (e.g. a vegan diet) may sometimes prevent this. In those cases, staff should at least get input on those untasted dishes from their fellow employees.

Keep copies of these documents somewhere easily accessible in the front-of-house for quick reference. There’s no shame in not knowing the answer to a question. Rather than allowing your servers to say “I don’t know”, be sure they’re empowered enough to answer “I’m not sure, but I can find out pretty quickly, one moment.”


Every training path for a new server involves a certain amount of shadowing. When choosing which of your existing servers will act as your teachers, keep personality types in mind. Some servers excel at the mechanics of the job, and are perfectly pleasant with guests. That doesn’t mean they’ll make the best mentors in every case.

Focus on top staff who seem to genuinely enjoy teaching newcomers and won’t be hindered by having to slow down for new trainees.

Learning Beyond Basic Training

It’s also a great idea for servers to learn as much as they can about wine. They don’t need to become Robert Parker, but diners do appreciate a server than can offer recommendations on wines and appropriate food pairings. Don’t have wine pairing info as part of your training docs? Here’s a couple of links to help get you started.  (Wine and Food Pairing Charts)  (Wine Pairing 101)

If you’re a popular tourist spot, it wouldn’t hurt for your serving staff to brush up on nearby attractions, concert venues, theater locations, etc. Not mandatory, but a good idea.

And remember, learning doesn’t need to stop once someone’s off the clock. Servers: when you’re out to eat with friends at other restaurants, watch their waitstaff. Learn from them, both the good ones and the bad ones.

Tools of the Trade

This section addresses servers directly, but managers should feel free to pass these tips along. 

Being prepared to tackle a packed dining room means arriving properly equipped. Here’s a short list of items servers should carry while on the job. 

1. At least three pens. Go with clicky tops whenever possible. Always have a couple of spares to leave with guests. And watch your pens like a hawk. If you leave one laying around, consider it history. If you’ve got room in your apron for more than three, load up.

2. Wine opener. Learn how to use it. Get management or the bartenders to show you how to use it if you don’t know how.

3. Lighter. It doesn’t matter if you smoke or not, have a lighter on you. If customers bring in a birthday cake or your restaurant puts a candle in a guest’s dessert on their special day, you’ll save yourself the time and hassle of running around looking for one.

4. Breath mints or breath spray. If you had a Caesar salad or some other garlic-heavy dish on your break, make sure you’re not approaching tables with foul-smelling breath. Smokers would be wise to keep this tip in mind as well. Pop outside for a puff by all means, but freshen your breath again before approaching tables.

5. Table crumber. Depending on how classy your restaurant is, you may wish to invest in one of these.

6. Float. If you’re required to provide your own float, a good rule of thumb is to start with the same amount every shift and know exactly how much is in there. That way you know exactly how much you made in tips after you’ve finished your cash out.

7. Coin Dispenser. This one is optional depending on how annoyed you are with loose change in your apron. Servers in Canada may find this one useful for keeping their toonies and loonies in order.

8. Hot Cloth/Waiter’s Cloth. Here’s a potential cost-saving opportunity for you operators. We’ve seen napkin supplies run dry as servers grab handfuls of them to help with handling hot plates. That’s a waste of supplies. Consider investing in small cloths for your serving staff. Make it part of the uniform, and make sure they’re carrying it at all times.

9. Tide to Go. We have no brand preference here, so feel free to use a competing stain remover. The point is you should consider carrying something that can remove pesky food stains quickly.

Did we miss anything crucial? Tell us about it below.

This is only part one of our series. In the upcoming installments we’ll look at the mechanics of serving, the importance of reading a table, anticipating guest needs, upselling, dealing with diffucult guests, social media use, and more. Stay tuned!

Looking for ideas to help increase your establishment’s efficiency? Check out our free ebook at the button below for a look at improving your restaurant’s ordering practices. 


The post originally appeared on’s Restaurant Strategy Blog.

Restaurants and Recipe Costing: A Quick Primer

Recipe_costing_restaurantsWhen creating your restaurant’s menu it’s important to determine the true cost of an item before establishing a final price point. That means it’s time to engage in some recipe costing.

Accurate recipe costing is a must to ensure the best profitability from your menu, and for deciding which items will take precedence when developing its layout.

As a bit of a companion piece to our menu engineering post, let’s look at a few important points to consider when costing out recipes.

Are you including everything?

Are you factoring in the cost of any garnishes (e.g. parsley, lemon wedges) that accompany the dish? What about the cost of any oils used for frying the meal? One way to calculate that is to determine the cost of your average monthly oil use and divide that number by your monthly average of dishes sold. Take that number and add it to the cost of your dish as part of your recipe costing.

Determining Yield

Next, let’s define a few important terms we’ll work with.

As Purchased Cost – The price you paid for the product(s).

As Purchased Quantity – Weight or volume of purchased product, before preparation.

Yield Percent – Percentage of the As Purchased Quantity that is considered usable/edible.

Trim – The volume/weight of waste from preparation. (e.g. cutting ends off a vegetable)

For one of the easier examples we’ve found let’s turn to Chef Kelso:

“You purchased 10 pounds of apples. After peeling, coring, and slicing the apples, you end up with 2.4 pounds of trim. What is the yield percent of the apples?

Trim = As Purchased Quantity – Edible Portion Quantity, so
Edible Portion Quantity = As Purchased Quantity – Trim
Edible Portion Quantity = 10 pounds – 2.4 pounds
Edible Portion Quantity = 7.6 pounds

Yield Percent (in decimal form) = Edible Portion Quantity  /  As Purchased Quantity
Yield Percent = 7.6 pounds / 10 pounds
Yield Percent = .76
Yield Percent = 76%

Make Sure to Work With Edible Portion Costs

Edible Portion Cost is generally considered the best figure to work with while costing recipes.

Continuing with Chef Kelso’s apple example, let’s define Edible Portion Cost.

Edible Portion Cost – As Purchased Cost   /   Yield Percent

“You purchase a case of apples for $80.00. There are 100 pounds of apples in a case. What is the edible portion cost per pound of apple given that the yield percent of an apple is 76%?

Edible Portion Cost = As Purchased Cost   /   Yield Percent
Edible Portion Cost = $80.00 / .76
Edible Portion Cost = $105.263
Edible Portion Cost per pound = $105.263 / 100
Edible Portion Cost per pound = $ 1.05263
Edible Portion Cost per pound = $1.06 

Determining Total Costs and Margins

Add up the appropriate Edible Portion Costs to get the total cost of your recipe. Determine the cost of that recipe per portion by dividing that total by the number of portions it serves.

So if your recipe’s cost is $5.35 and it can serve 10 portions, your cost per portion is $.54 (we rounded up). Your margin per portion will equal your menu price  –  cost per portion. So if you’re selling this $.54 portion for $2.50, your margin (or gross profit) per portion is $1.96.

How Much to Charge?

In the above example, $.54 is the total cost per portion. It’s currently selling for $2.50 which means your food cost percentage is 21.6% ($0.54  /  $2.50).

Your ideal selling price (ideal, not mandatory, do what you wish) would be your Cost Per Portion / Desired Food Cost Percentage (the decimal form of it). You’ll have to determine what you want your food cost percentage to be, ideally. Let’s say you want it to be 35%.


Cost Per Portion (0.54)   /   Desired Food Cost Percentage (0.35)

Ideal Selling Price = $1.54  

Be sure to have a look at your competition. Maybe your current price of $2.50 is the going rate, and that 21% food cost is great as is.

While recipe costing is important, always keep in mind that gross profit dollars are still where it’s at. So refer back to the basics of menu engineering to focus your promotional efforts on your highest performing dishes.

For more restaurant best practices, be sure to download the free ebook below. 

Restaurant Cost-Saving Practices


This post originally appeared on’s Restaurant Strategy Blog.

How to Fine-Tune Your Restaurant’s Receiving Process

Capture_d’écran_2013-06-13_à_10.41.21The following is an excerpt from our free ebook, Improve Your Restaurant’s Ordering Practices.

This post is pulled from the section aimed at improving your restaurant’s receiving process. 

An improved receiving process will go a long way towards your restaurant controlling its food costs. Poor receiving habits could be costing you more than you realize. It’s time to cut out the excuses (e.g. not enough time) and really tighten up your restaurant’s receiving process.

The next time you receive an order keep the below best practices in mind.

No Receiving During Peak Times

We’ll start with the most obvious tip; not accepting deliveries during lunch and dinner rushes. If you cater to the breakfast crowd, let your suppliers know that early morning may not be an ideal time to receive orders either.

Some restaurants even post a sign on the back door reminding drivers that deliveries are not to be received during those peak restaurant operating periods.

Carefully Choose Your Receivers

If possible, it’s recommended that someone other than the person in charge of ordering be tasked with receiving. This helps keep everyone honest.

Restaurant Report says the two worst staff members to make responsible for receiving orders are your chef, and your manager:

Although the chef or manager may be the most knowledgeable about what was ordered, they are also the two individuals with the least amount of time to devote to the process. There are far too many interruptions for them to do an accurate receiving job.

Since the receiving function is largely clerical in nature, it is a misallocation of human resource to have managers perform clerical functions.

Consider selecting another one of your other senior staffers to look after receiving.

Do Your Part to Make it Easy

You’ve set your preferred delivery times, so there’s no good excuse for not being ready when deliveries arrive.

Provide adequate space for receiving orders. Don’t be stuck running around at the last minute trying to clean up the back door area, walk-ins, or stock rooms. And make certain that you’ve got all the necessary equipment ready to roll. That means dollies, hand carts, and anything else you use to get things from point A to point B.

Whomever you’ve chosen to receive needs to be ready with receipts, knowing exactly what to expect and from which supplier(s).

Remember, your suppliers are in this to make money too. Do your part to ensure the receiving process goes quickly so both of you can move on to the next order of business.

Guarding Against Theft

It’s never fun to discuss, but theft can and does occur. To help protect your establishment against this potential problem a few things need to be incorporated into the receiving process.

  • Ensure the same staff member(s) are consistently in charge of receiving orders. This makes people accountable.
  • When received products are moved to storage areas, it’s typically advised to have that done by your staff, and not delivery drivers.
  • If you use security cameras, be sure you have one for your delivery area, as well as your main storage areas. Liquor in particular needs to be under surveillance.

Inspecting the Goods

Count the received items to be sure that all quantities are in line with your order. Have your receiving employee(s) count up received items before looking at your order sheets. Knowing what should be there beforehand could bias their counting.

As well, be sure to inspect your orders for quality. If quality is unacceptable either straight up reject the items or negotiate a lower price point. If bottles are broken or if packages are ripped open, it will be much harder for suppliers to sell those cases elsewhere; offer to take that stock off their hands at a nice reduced price.

If frozen meats and/or fish arrive already thawed, you accept those items at your own risk and could be creating a food safety problem. To that end, be sure that these frozen items are always the first things to be stored.

For a more complete look at improving your restaurant’s ordering game, download our free ebook by clicking the image below.                         


NOTE: This post originally appeared on’s Restaurant Strategy Blog.