FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT: Every restaurant needs a "no nibbling" policy

Dec. 8, 2003

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

Many operators underestimate the cost of employees casually "snacking" on food while working. If all your employees help themselves to a chicken wing, dessert or piece of shrimp once or twice during every shift, that adds up to more than many restaurants make in a year.

If you have a bar and it's slow, where do your servers and bartenders usually congregate? At the bar around the garnish tray. And when they're talking about their social lives, what are they methodically plopping into their mouths? Olives, cherries and orange wedges. The last time I checked, the cost of a large green olive was nearly a dime. So in a fairly short conversation, a group of your people can easily cost you not just their wages, but several dollars worth of food.

A couple

Jim Laube

of suggestions for reducing the amount of unauthorized employee grazing:

Have a policy, "no nibbling." This means, simply, no snacking, period. Obviously there are exceptions for certain people who must taste-test products, but as a general rule, the policy is no nibbling. Period.

Not only does this make good business sense, health inspectors will write you up if they see employees eating while they work. So it's not just your rule, but a civic sanitation and health policy as well.

Offer employee meal options

Since restaurant employees work around food, it's tough to keep them from nibbling. So for your no-nibbling policy to work, you've got to have a good employee meal program that gives them something that's good and filling. Hungry employees will find a way to eat, so make it filling.

An employee meal program should be a good staff benefit rather than an owner's burden. At some restaurants, the free employee meal comes from a collection of leftovers served carelessly to employees, while at others the meals are genuinely worth showing up on time to eat. My point is that a free employee meal is of no benefit unless the food is good. Remember, if your people don't eat it, that means they go back to work hungry ... for a few minutes anyway.

Many restaurateurs let employees order meals off the menu, and often at discounts of 50 percent to even 70 percent. Not only is this a good benefit for the employees, it keeps them familiar with what's on the menu. As you know, you want your staff, the servers in particular, to be able to talk from experience about the food they're selling and serving.

Help them count the cost

Another way to enforce the need for a no-nibbling policy is to let your employees know the damage nibbling does to the bottom line. Most foodservice workers have no concept of how much the food they handle actually costs. Let them know during training and staff meetings that just one 16-20 shrimp costs 53 cents, that a single green olive costs a dime, and that every tiny slice of pepperoni costs 1 to 2 cents.

Show them the gross profit margin on several menu items, and then show them which costs devour that margin. Once they know the net profit on a few items, they'll see the impact of nibbling more clearly.

There are lots of advantages of having a policy that addresses the issue of snacking on the job. With a good employee meal policy and some effective communication, you'll probably get a lot more voluntary compliance than you ever thought possible. If done right, it's an opportunity to create a good deal for you and your people.

Other articles by Jim Laube ...

* FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT: To skim or not to skim?
* 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: Preparing a monthly P&L won't give you the best numbers

Topics: Financial Management

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