3 ways to balance high craft and low labor

As labor costs continue to rise, restaurant and retail foodservice operators are seeking ways to trim the work to produce a menu, but maintain a unique, handcrafted approach that will keep customers coming back.

Three ways to accomplish both goals are relying on versatile ingredients, leaning on speed-scratch options and adding finishing touches with impact.

Ingredients that can do double or triple duty are lifesavers for many restaurants and retailers. It starts with a well-engineered menu that finds ways to maximize a smaller inventory of basic ingredients. Items like housemade gravies, sauces and dressings can make multiple appearances across the right menu mix. Even more complex dishes like chili or mac and cheese can stand on their own and be worked into burgers, hot dogs, appetizer bites and other options. A popular and easily prepped item like queso can boost the flavor profile of nachos, sandwiches, Mexican-style pizza and more. Marinara works in pizza, pasta, on sandwiches and as a dip with breadsticks.

Relying on speed scratch goes a step further, removing sometimes demanding and time-consuming prep work and allowing kitchens to operate efficiently with fewer highly skilled team members. Portion-controlled proteins—both cooked and raw—eliminate the need for butchery skills. Sauce, soup and gravy bases can boost the flavor of braises and vegetables, inspire signature dips for appetizers and fries, enhance sandwiches, bind casseroles and lasagnas and more. Precut vegetables and fruits add a fresh element while reducing not only labor but also waste. Specialized items like desserts and breads are often better sourced parbaked from specialty producers than handled in-house; baking them on the premises reinforces the handcrafted image.

The sensory impact of flourishes added to meals, either on the plate or in takeout containers, arguably have the most impact on the handcrafted perception. The possibilities are endless:

  • Burgers and sandwich or wrap halves stacked creatively using craft bamboo picks or signature wooden picks.
  • Displays and vessels that add height and drama to fries and appetizers.
  • A shower of fresh herbs or fleur de sel over appetizers or desserts.
  • Seasonal or holiday-themed touches: dessert portions dusted with pumpkin spice in the fall, holiday-shaped cookies at Christmas, heart-themed garnishes for Valentine’s Day.
  • A pop of color—fruit and vegetable garnishes, fresh herbs—to reinforce the fresh, made-here message.
  • An unexpected touch: fried multicolored tortilla strips on the salad that provide crunch and visual appeal, fresh-made croutons atop or alongside soups, cheese grated over the pasta at service.

This post is sponsored by Blount Fine Foods


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