Smaller Portions, Smaller Plates and Other Ways the Restaurant Biz Is Dealing With Food Costs

Apr 14, 2008 at 11:44 am

A very good article in today's Washington Post on how restaurants are handling the rise in food costs and the money worries of diners. It might not surprise you that the real winners here are the restaurant consultants. A few choice excerpts after the jump.

On getting more money out of shrimp cocktail:

"What you do is skewer the shrimp before you boil them," [consultant John] Roehm says. "It straightens them out so that when you serve them, they look bigger. Now you can buy a smaller, less expensive shrimp."

On why every penny counts:

[Consultant Chris Mentzer]: "The first thing I tell them is to round up every price that ends with 95 cents to 99 cents. You've got an item $10.95, raise it to $10.99. If it's $7.75, make it $7.79. All the chains have done it -- Applebee's, Chili's, all of them. It's just four cents and your customers won't notice, but that could easily mean $5,000 to $15,000 a year for the restaurant."

On how to arrange your menu:

Mentzer has studies that track where the eye travels when it reads a menu, and part of his presentation to clients is a menu divided into sections: the starlets (top right, the place for items that net the most money), the plow horses (top left, ideal for dishes that are higher than average in popularity and lower than average contributors to the bottom line), the dogs (bottom left, lower than average popularity, lower than average profits) and so on.

"The eye goes first to the starlets and it doesn't like to spend a lot of time with the dogs," he says. "I told a guy recently to move his pastas -- which are really high-margin -- from the dogs to the all-stars, and there was a 30 percent jump in sales."

Good stuff. Well worth the reading the entire (lengthy) piece.

-Ian Froeb