I mean this literally. Go in the kitchen. Look in the garbage cans. I guarantee you'll find real money in your 50 gallon garbage cans—also known as the "black hole" of food cost.
You've probably suspected as much. Theft, waste, "mistakes," poor prep techniques, inadequate training, mediocre knife skills—they all contribute to higher food cost at your restaurant.
You can stop throwing money away today. Follow this simple recommendation and reduce your food cost by at least 1%—if not more—in the very first week.
Take the garbage cans out of the kitchen.
A restaurant is just like a manufacturing plant. Raw materials are purchased, broken down, processed and fabricated into a variety of items. You sell these items at retail in the front of the house to your customers.
And what do all good manufacturers do? They inspect waste. You could be throwing away a credit for damaged or unacceptable produce. You could be throwing away good product due to sloppy prep techniques. You could be throwing away usable product.
But how would you know?
Substitute plastic bus tubs for your garbage cans.
Instruct your kitchen staff to put all trimmings and waste into the tubs. When a tub is full, have them put their name on it and stack the tub in a baker's rack. At the end of the shift, personally inspect the contents of the tubs with your staff. Once the inspection has been made, transfer the waste to trash bags for disposal.
Prep cooks can no longer throw food waste into the "black hole," never to be seen again. Your kitchen staff becomes accountable for their work. Calling attention to an improperly trimmed steak that has been pulled from the bus tub has a dramatic and unforgettable impact.
On the positive side, creating something from "nothing" can be inspiring. I'll give you an example. A prep cook in my seafood restaurant, created a fantastic seafood canneloni from the trim of fresh fish and broken pieces of shellfish that we had formerly thrown out. It was one of our most popular menu items. Imagine the favorable food cost on an item like this.
This direct feedback on performance positively affects behavior, work attitude and morale. And an added benefit: you can lower your food cost by 1 - 2 percentage points almost immediately. So, stop throwing money away.