How to save money through topping portion control

The cost of cheese is at or close to an all-time high right now, according to many consultants at the North American Pizza and Ice Cream Show earlier this week in Columbus, Ohio. That's why it's more important than ever to teach employees to quit "free throwing" pizza toppings.

Dave Ostrander, an industry consultant, said pizzerias started the free-throwing habit — eyeballing topping portions for each pizza — about 20 years ago. Because of this technique, when Ostrander asked audience members in his "Perfect Portion Control" session how many ounces of cheese they use for a 14-ounce pizza, just two out of the packed room knew the answer.

"You can have the best pizza in the world. But you can lose your shirt if you're not careful," he said. "If you ain't weighing it, you are winging it."

While many operators habitually weigh dough balls, nothing provides a pizza operator with more margin/cost control than weighing their cheese portions. Cheese costs exponentially more than dough ingredients, he said, particularly in the winter when cows aren't producing as much.

A case study of portion control

Ostrander said it's important to keep cheat sheets for employees to remind them how much cheese to use, and even have the cheese pre-weighed in cups for them. This allows an operator to ensure consistency and to know the cost of every single pizza. The difference, for example, of 7 ounces and 10 ounces of cheese can be 60 cents per pizza.

He also suggested adding a weighing scale that is easy for employees to use. Training and incentivizing is important for employees, who may free throw either through habit or to save time.

"You have to enforce it or the employee will sabotage you. Make sure everything is there (pre-measured cups, for example) for the employee," Ostrander said.

Ostrander went from free throwing to portion control after a 30-day pilot using cup portions with his employees. He incentivized them to use the pre-measured cups of cheese and promised a bonus of however much money was saved through the experiment.

At the end of those 30 days, the concept saved about 200 pounds of cheese totaling $1,200, which was then split between the four employees as a bonus.

Ostrander now even has pre-measured cups (he uses 3 ounces) for customers who order extra cheese. Not only does such consistency save money on an expensive commodity, it's also "really good for your brand because you want to be consistent," he said.

Micky Wheatley contributed to this story.

Photo provided by Wikipedia.

Read more about food cost control.

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User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • faye kane
    > He incentivized them to use the pre-measured cups of cheese and promised a bonus of however much money was saved. No, you incentivized them to put no cheese at all on your pizzas. Since they couldn't put none, they put a tiny sprinkle—far less than the cheese in your new cups. And why not? You pay them more if they do that. Then you ignored the angry phone calls because you assumed your pizzas had the full cup of cheese you told your employees to use, and that the customers were just complaining because there was less than last month. You probably paid your people a 25-cent bonus per pizza to drive your customers to the restaurant down the street that doesn't try to make money by selling an inferior product on purpose. The stupidest thing you said was, "[using less cheese] is also really good for your brand because you want to be consistent." No. Customers don't judge your product by whether the cheese is the same as a week ago, they judge it by how much cheese is on their pizza. Less cheese = less customers. How obvious does it have to be? When you go out of business, you'll swear that it was the high price of cheese that did you in, when, as with most failed businesses, it was your own mismanagement and greed.
  • Alicia Kelso
    Thanks for your comments. To clarify, Ostrander did not say "using less cheese" is good for your brand, but rather using a measured, consistent amount of cheese on every pizza. Alicia Kelso Senior Editor
  • faye kane
    Thank you, Alissa. But my point was that the trial experiment to measure the impact of portion control was flawed, because it pays employees more for using less cheese, whether this is the premeasured amount or not. It would pay them the most if they used no cheese at all. A proper metric for the experiment would reward employees for using the measured portions, not by paying them more to use less cheese.
  • nana osei
    Then I think the emphasis should be on the measurements, consistency and adequacy because customers are really particular about cheese. ...
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