The costs of ingredients are high and only becoming higher, but with the demands of today’s customers, you can’t pass them up. It takes some creative thinking to balance the cost of ingredients with the amount of money in your budget, so here are some tips to help you stay profitable.

1. Buy what’s in season. By purchasing items that are in season, you’re showing customers that you’re relevant and have the freshest, best-flavored, and lowest-cost foods. Follow a chart that shows the time of year that various foods are at their peak. Having species-specific recipes ready for the latest catch can help net great prices and top quality.

2. Follow the rule of thirds. Divide the recipes on your menu into thirds. A third of the items should be unique signature dishes. The second third comes from all the ingredients and the byproducts from those signature dishes. The last third is popular or traditional items that the traditional diner would enjoy. Ideally, the recipes from the last third of the menu would include ingredients from inventory or byproducts from the dishes in the first two categories. By doing this, you are reducing waste, and lowering overall food costs.

3. Buy lesser-known and value-added products. Trendy items cost more. Consider looking beyond those products to boost your margins. Aaron Allen, CEO of Quantified Marketing Group, managed a restaurant that stored discounted cases of a new liquor that wasn’t well-known and ended up creating drinks that became popular. Before that time, total bar costs ran about 28 percent; eventually the little-known liquor became a top seller and brought bar costs down to 16 percent.

4. Low cost doesn’t mean low taste. It’s important to understand the value of less-expensive cuts of meat or offal, but these cheaper products are not always best for a menu. Items like sausage, sweetbreads, and tripe may require a little creativity from the kitchen staff, but they have great flavor at a low price.

5. Mix things up. It can be difficult to hide price increases if your menu always remains the same, but switching out old dishes for new ones gives you a chance to increase prices without anyone noticing. Plus, adding new signature items will give you the upper hand against your competition. Innovation is key when it comes to restaurant success, not just price increases.

6. Look at the big picture. It may be worth it to have one expensive ingredient in a recipe. Don’t be discouraged by the cost of one raw material, but instead look at the overall yield of the recipe as a whole. Pasta is a perfect canvas for luxury ingredients. Flavor is the key. Don’t feel the need to purchase all; high-end materials. You can deliver flavor with inexpensive, yet high quality ingredients.

The Source1 Purchasing Program can help you reduce your food and beverage expenses. To learn more about the Source1 Program and how it can benefit your business, visit our website at

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