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Trimming the Fat: Tips & Tricks to Lower Food Purchasing Costs

by Jeremiah Higgins

From renovations to computer systems, equipment to uniforms, restaurant costs have a tendency to add up. When my company, HJL Group Restaurant Advisors, sits down to discuss the operational standards for our new clients, one of the most important line items we cover is how to maintain a kitchen with the freshest, most delicious, and most sustainable ingredients at a low cost.

Over the years, we have used a variety of tips and tricks to keep costs low, yet menu standards high. A few simple things can be done to streamline and reduce purchasing costs for any restaurant.

First, start with your delivery area. Begin by meeting with each of your vendors and asking that they build current order guides listing only the product that you purchase from them. Create a spreadsheet of these items and give to your ordering manager. Include a par for each item, or an amount that should be on the shelf in the kitchen or in the front of the house. After taking inventory, he or she will know the exact amount of product to order, thus preventing over ordering.

Keep your inventory tight. These inventory sheets should hang on a clipboard in a specified area. When the delivery person brings in the product, your manager can take this clipboard and check the inventory order sheet against the invoice, insuring all correct product has been delivered, prices are accurate, and that you are getting ounce for ounce, product for product what you are paying for.

Purchase an industrial food service floor scale. Chose one that can be kept in your kitchen prep area to weigh in any product that you buy by the pound. Nearly all delivery people are honest, but I have caught some dropping light product more times than I care to recall, whether on purpose or by mistake, and as a result I saved thousands on lost product by weighing my deliveries. 

Take deliveries early in the morning. I recommend that meats, seafood and all of your most expensive products be delivered as early as possible, so they can be checked properly. This also prevents a manager from any “I-was-too-busy-to-check” excuses. Deliveries should only be checked in by your general manager or kitchen manager.

 Set standard delivery times with your sales people. All deliveries should arrive between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. Be sure to stress to all your salespeople that failure to drop within your specified delivery times will result in a loss of business for them. 

You must be very strict with your drop times, and here’s why: Setting specified delivery times stresses the importance of receiving product to both your delivery person and to your management staff. You are paying good money for their product and, therefore, you want to insure that you are only accepting the very best quality and only the amount that you ordered.

Recently I hired a director of purchasing to follow these guidelines for our seafood restaurant, Arch Rock Fish, in Santa Barbara, California. In one year, we reduced our food cost by nearly three points, resulting in an extra savings to our restaurant of $45,000.

It’s all about making small changes to create big, lasting results. A major reason that a restaurant’s costs flair is overlooking simple procedures and tests. It’s important to utilize restaurant-wide, cost-insurable standards across each platform of the business. If owners and operators start with these procedures, I can assure that they will see costs drop and profits bump immediately.

Jeremiah Higgins is a partner and senior operations advisor with HJL Group Restaurant Advisors. Higgins has over twenty years of experience in analyzing business drivers, designing operational systems, building staff, and developing cost-cutting and profit-building initiatives to grow the bottom-line. For more information, please visit

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