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plate cost ANALYSIS

All restaurateurs would agree that controlling food costs is a primary constituent of any winning operating formula. Culinary schools cover the subject in detail, and self-taught chef/owners develop a working system or quickly go out of business. At Toulouse and Portofino, my restaurants in Atlanta, we’ve developed a method of costing out each menu item plate we serve. This technique has become an indispensable tool, and all you need is a good computer spreadsheet program and a resolute commitment to facing the reality of the numbers it generates.

We start by creating costing spreadsheets for every sauce, garnish, and component ingredient that ends up on a menu-item plate. Each number is entered in a spreadsheet field that is linked by a formula to a field in the menu item plate spreadsheet.


Whenever the price of potatoes changes, for example, any menu item utilizing potatoes is updated. This could be potatoes as an item on a plate or potatoes as an ingredient in a dish (e.g., potato soup).


The spreadsheet for cucumber vinaigrette, is one of the components for our Soy Tuna plate.


The Soy Tuna menu item spreadsheet lists the current costs of all its component parts (including the costs transferred from the cucumber vinaigrette spreadsheet) in column B. These costs, when multiplied by the amount of the component unit used in the menu item (column C), are used to determine the total cost of the menu item (column D). Spoilage, an important consideration in determining true cost, is factored into the total cost (column E).

I can decide to raise the menu price (column F) if the percentage of cost of goods sold (column G = column E ÷ column F) or the multiple (column H = column F ÷ column E) begins to spiral out of desirable parameters. By inputting different menu prices, I can see exactly what dollar profit contribution (columns J and K) the proposed change will make based on real units sold per four-week period (column I).



We always had pieces of the food-costing puzzle in place, but when we extended it to cover every food item and linked it to constantly changing costs using this spreadsheet method, the results were a revelation to both me and the chef. We now know exactly what profits we are generating as food costs change and whether we must change menu prices - and by how much - to maintain margins. By adopting this system, so can you.

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