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Why costing a plate of food is as critical as basic knife skills | Zupa

  • Asset Type: Blog Post
  • Publication Date: 09 May 2022

As headlines around inflation and the impats on the food sector continue to dominate, it has become clear that many of us are wracking our brains on how to circumnavigate the business challenges this represents. But, with inflation unlikely to go away any time soon, businesses must take steps to better understand how to manage costs and prices if they are to survive long term.

For anyone working in food service, it starts with an important question: how much does a plate of food really cost?

Every single item purchased, used or wasted in a kitchen has a cost implication and, if you don’t have complete visibility of true costs and can accurately account for everything that goes in and out of your business, your spending can quickly and easily spiral. Understanding the true cost of a plate of food can therefore make a big difference to your business over time. At Zupa, when we refer to ‘true’ costs, we mean everything down to the very last ingredient, from a sprinkle of parsley to a squeeze of lemon juice.

Most training for chefs in this country focuses on the development of technique and culinary skills. There is, however, a strong case for education to include business finance and cost control. Without this it can be easy to overlook the obvious: that food is money.

Few would argue that the key focus for any chef should be to prepare food to a high standard and develop innovative dishes professionally, but right now inflation has thrown a wrench into the works for those operating in the food sector. Recognising the value of a plate of food from a monetary perspective has become more crucial than ever.

Whilst most chefs will be able to guess the approximate cost of a plate of food, it will rarely be accurate. For example, you could make assumptions about the price of a piece of cod and some new potatoes, but what about the garnish or the sauce? To ensure you remain in budget everything – from a dusting of paprika to a drizzle of oil - needs to be accounted for. Even the slightest of oversights will add up over a period of time and can risk sending you over budget.

There are three vital strategies businesses need to consider to ensure more effective ways of working and longer term cost control:

  1. In-placement training & development provision for chefs around financially driven decision making;
  2. Stronger communication and a greater alignment between chefs and finance managers to enable shared goals, agile problem solving and speedy identification of any issues;
  3. Investment in technology to ensure there is a single source of truth giving everyone real-time visibility of cost control.

Implementing the right eProcurement technology can help you transform your entire business operation, giving you the ability to plan recipes, cost your dishes accurately, compare live prices, as well as purchase competitively from a wider network of suppliers. It can also help you dramatically reduce wastage through reliable stock rotation, inventory management and real-time reporting.

The challenge for the hospitality industry right now is learning how to best deal with all of the overlapping factors that are leading to rising food costs across the sector. As prices soar, consumers will naturally tighten their belts again as the cost of living continue to threaten household incomes. Recent research from Retail Insight, showed that two thirds of consumers have become more price conscious since the start of the pandemic when shopping and eating out. Rising inflation has caused a further 69% of us to become more budget conscious. This heightened sensitivity to costs will come at a price for the food sector, so controlling costs and costing food quickly and accurately are the new basic knife skills.