• FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT: Proper portion controls boost pizza profits

A 25-year veteran of the restaurant industry, Jim is the owner and operator of RestaurantOwner.com, and a sought-after industry speaker.

Portioning food products accurately may seem like elementary, lowbrow stuff, but it's one of the most important activities in any restaurant. It affects food cost (money out of your pocket), food quality and more crucial than anything, your customers' dining experience.

When one customer's steak is smaller than his friend's across the table, or a downsized portion of pasta arrives on the plate when generous portions are the norm, customers usually notice, and it's easy for them feel shortchanged.

The situation is particularly touchy when customers return for favorite dishes. When someone returns to your restaurant to get your signature shrimp scampi, a smaller portion coming to the table will lower his mood and lead to some level of disappointment. Customers, and especially regulars, aren't easily fooled. If the shrimp are smaller or if you switched capellini for fettuccini, they'll notice, and they'll probably not like the change.

During the preparation process, inaccurate quantities of ingredients in recipes also alter the food's

Jim Laube

flavor and texture, leading regulars to ask such questions as, "What have you done to the pomodoro sauce?"

Then there's the issue of food cost. Over-portioning a $6-per-pound cut of meat by just half an ounce adds almost 19 cents to the serving cost. Do that 100 times a day and it costs you $133 lost per week and almost $7,000 in a year. And that's with just one product.

And in case you're thinking, "I'm serving pizza, not shrimp or steak, so I'm not that worried about portion control," forget about it. You're not serving shrimp or steak, but you're not getting $20 a portion for pizza either.

If anything, pizza operators need to be even more careful about portion controls because margins in this business are so narrow.

The good news is it's simple to portion pizza ingredients both quickly and profitably (for excellent and detailed tips on how to portion quickly, accurately and profitably, see PizzaMarketplace's guide to "Choosing the Right Toppings for Your Pizza").

Tool time

Anything you can do to help your staff do a better job of portioning is a smart business move. Notice I said you, meaning the person in charge. Not only do you have to set the example for proper portion control, you have to give your staff the means to achieve those marks.

So, does your staff have the appropriate sized cups, scoops, ladles, pre-portion bags and other tools at their disposal? And if they have them, are they actually "using" them? Not only should you conduct regular portion audits, it's also a good idea to conduct portion tool audits regularly. That will ensure the right tools are being used for the right jobs, i.e. only for the appropriate products and recipes.

Technological advances in scales and slicing equipment keep make it easier for employees to portion products faster and with much greater accuracy. The newest digital scales are portable, easy to read, have automatic counting functions and can be equipped with push-button or hands-free tare capabilities (taring zeroes out the weight of containers or individual ingredients in which portions are measured).

How good a job is your restaurant doing in the area of food portioning? Chances are, any portioning improvements you make will result in better food quality, lower food cost and happier customers.

Additional articles by Jim Laube:

* FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT: Making menu pricing easier and more profitable
* FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT: How much money should your restaurant be making?
* FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT: Educate your staff about the cost of your business
FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT: Know your numbers
*FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT: Preparing a monthly P&L won't give you the best numbers

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