How to reduce operating costs while adding value to your menu

Mar 30, 2022

There are a few things that make your independent restaurant appealing to customers—the ambiance, the service and of course, the food. However, we know that these elements sometimes compete with one another, and owners have to find creative solutions that allow them to offer consistent, high quality dishes with the level of efficiency customers have come to expect. This is where prepared foods and convenience products often come into play—they’re reliable, easy to prepare and taste great.

Unfortunately, recent inflation has caused most independent restaurants to reassess their operating costs and look for ways to reduce their expenditures. Today, we’d like to review some of the ways your foodservice business can decrease spending while avoiding delays and maximizing both the quality and perceived value of your menu items.

Let’s talk about chicken

Poultry is just one of many opportunities to increase value while cutting costs, so we’ll use it as an example throughout this post. Chicken tenders are found on many restaurant menus regardless of the style and formality of the space. They may be a kids meal item or perhaps a pub-style feature on your standard menu. And while chicken tenders (or chicken strips/fingers) are relatively easy and inexpensive to prepare, they’re often purchased prepped and/or cooked to save time in the kitchen. This means that you’re paying for product plus convenience and supply chain costs—particularly when an item isn’t made locally. These products are consistent and convenient, but the costs add up fast.

When operating costs rise, chicken tenders are the perfect example of an area you can cut down on expenses while actually increasing value on your menu. Start by buying chicken breasts in bulk instead of prepared strips or tenders. Prepare your chicken tenders or strips in house and be sure to note this on your menu. Make them your own by marinating them in buttermilk or creating a spice blend for your breading. Not only will this cost less than prepared chicken tenders, it will taste incredible and add to the appeal of this item on your menu—even better if you can identify the local farm or even the region your poultry is from.

We acknowledge that this adds time and subsequent labour costs, but if you make these items in bulk and prepare them to order, you should still be able to reduce operating costs overall using this strategy (and, you can justify a price increase as needed due to the value of scratch preparation). And when you’ve bought raw chicken breast in bulk to make those tenders, you can use the rest to prepare marinated pieces for grilling (for sandwiches, salads, wraps, etc) or explore different recipes with special preparations and world spices. Again, this adds to the perceived value of your menu item while reducing expenditures. Be sure to utilize the offset from these dishes by making broths, gravies, chicken salad for sandwiches or other preparations. It’s time to approach things differently, and that’s not inherently a bad thing.

Change can be good

Let’s keep talking about chicken for a moment. How many prepared variations does your independent restaurant currently purchase? We’re confident that whatever the number is, you can reduce it and save money (and avoid supply chain-related delays in the meantime). Instead of ordering raw chicken breasts, shredded chicken, grilled chicken, chicken tenders and other preparations, including stocks and gravies, look at what can be done in house and how that offering can enhance your menu. 

Consistency is important, but it’s also the hallmark of chain restaurants. Your independent restaurant menu should focus on quality, in-house preparations, local food and unique offerings that set you apart from the competition (even if your menu changes once in a while). Focus on how many dishes can come out of one cost-effective raw product (chicken breasts, a beef roast, salmon steaks or even bacon) and build from there. 

Right now is the perfect time for operators to get back in the kitchen and look for opportunities to improve both quality and menu appeal. Your team should understand how to work with raw product and make the most of it. This means having a number of different flavour profiles as well as preparations, and knowing how to prep raw product to maintain efficiency and consistency in your kitchen. Marinate your fried chicken in some leftover pickle juice, or make your own pickles to serve with a Nashville hot chicken sandwich made by your staff. 

Homemade tastes and sells better than any frozen food ever will. And if you can attract business while lowering your operating costs? That’s a massive win that will help your business grow and thrive in the months and years ahead. This is possible, and it can be incredibly helpful to your business. 

We can help your restaurant thrive

Morton Food Service is comprised of foodservice experts who know the business and care about your success. We’re here to coach owners and kitchen staff on how to do more with their menus, enabling them to take ownership of what they’re preparing and feel pride in their work. This helps put better food on your customers’ table, and may also help attract and retain talent for your business. 

Customers are looking for something special as they get back into restaurant dining rooms, and it’s your job to offer it to them. We’d like to end this post with a quick summary of our recommendations and a few tips. 

  • Buy raw and get as many preparations as possible out of each product
  • Use world flavours and unique preparations to create signature dishes that attract and retain business in your community
  • Convenience is great, but look at cost and supply first—you can create amazing quality from affordable, local, readily available raw products
  • Take raw food products back to your own kitchen and make your menu completely your own
  • Consider less expensive cuts as needed (for example, use chicken thigh in a sandwich instead of chicken breast—it’s cheaper and will offer great results) and butcher or slice in house if your team has the right skills
  • Be extremely clear about which products are made in house and/or from local ingredients as this increases appeal and perceived value
  • Standardize your menu and processes based on these items/value-adds—once that happens, things will run smoothly while costing less
  • Promote these items on social, on features menus and through your staff
  • Get creative and inspired, motivate your team and let your community know that they’re in for an incredible meal every time.

Thanks for reading and as always, please contact us with any questions or feedback. We’re here to offer personalized recommendations and support.