When costing recipes, do I even need to cost things like salt and spices? There has to be an easier way around that.
– Chef, Philadelphia, PA
Yes. If you are going to the necessary trouble of costing recipes, you should know the total cost. To leave out some ingredients after going to the painstaking trouble of costing the others defeats the purpose of the project.
It is important to know the cost of ingredients like spices for a few reasons:
- Costs magnify when multiplied. Cooking on a line you may add a pinch of something that costs less than a cent. But when you scale up the same recipe for a banquet or event, those costs you ignored may now be measured in dollars.
- Some spices are expensive. You may be tempted to stop costing after your main ingredients on a low-cost ingredient like turmeric but what if you are using saffron, which in something like a soup or risotto, may be one of your higher-cost ingredients?
- Amounts aren’t always “trace.” While some dishes may have a faint incalculable pinch of chile or salt to taste, others may use sizable quantities. For example, a house-made chili or a cured salmon might use these ingredients by the cup rather than by the pinch.
- It is better to be conservative. The purpose of costing is to have a benchmark for controlling food and beverage costs and to make certain you are pricing items appropriately to cover costs (we all know the one about the restaurant losing five cents on every hamburger and “making it up in volume”). If anything, it is better to over-estimate a bit.
The good news is there are two easy shortcuts to handle costing spices. First, recipe costing software can make quick work of costing each ingredient and can even calculate fractions of a cent. For manual costing, you can use a modified version of a Q factor. Q factors are generally used for the cost per cover—things like ketchup, salt and pepper, butter and rolls that are provided gratis and do not appear on the menu. For our purposes, a Q factor could also be used within a recipe. Even if you assign a five-cent per serving Q factor for salt, pepper, and other spices in a dish, you will be better able to account for the five, ten or twenty dollars of those items leaving your kitchen over the course of a week.