Sunday, July 10, 2005

Valerie's Food Cost


When running a corporate restaurant, there are only a few quantifiable ways to chart a GM's progress. You can check sales for any given month vs. the sales for the same month last year or the year before. You can check secret shopper scores. (I will describe, in detail, my loathing for shoppers in an upcoming post.) However, the main number that the corporate G-men watch are costs. Food costs and liquor costs, to be specific.

It's a bit complicated to explain, but measuring food or liquor cost involves checking the amount of product sold vs. the amount of product used. These are twisted around mathematically until you reach a number. This number is referred to as your "food cost". It's measured in percentage points. The way The Restaurant calculates food cost means that each point equates to about $500 of waste.

After inventory, you can check food cost for any number of items, from checking the entire restaurant's stock of food used in the last year down to the number of croutons used in the last week.

The corporate office sets goals for every store. If your store doesn't meet those goals, the RM will come down hard on the GM, who will come down hard on the servers. It must be our fault that food cost is so high...

-A Description of Valerie-

See Valerie, Ranch Dressing, and a Birthday

-Valerie's Food Cost-

It's a Saturday morning in the middle of winter. It's freezing outside. It's also snowing. I don't mind a little snow. However, after the first two or three snowfalls, I'm sick of the gray sludge that builds up on the side of the road. The grayness is depressing. I'm ready for summer.

Walking through the front doors, I see Valerie speaking to the servers during our shift meeting. She's wearing a beige peacoat over a gray sweatshirt. Classy. She's also incredibly animated. She keeps thrusting her arm towards the kitchen. For some reason, I think of the old black and white news reels of Hitler addressing Germany.

Shaking my head in an attempt to clear the image from my mind, I sit down in one of the bar booths next to Soldato. His eyes are closed. I prod him and ask what Valerie is yapping about.

He opens one eye. "Cheese," is his simple, hushed answer. I give him a strange look. He smiles and shrugs. His eye closes again. He doesn't even bother to listen to Valerie any more. She's still droning away.

"What the hell do you mean, cheese?" I'm talking out of the side of my mouth in a whisper. Not quietly enough, apparently.

"What you two talking about? I'm glad you decide to show up (I'm five minutes early, actually). Food cost is too high. You need to stop putting so much cheese on the salads. Food cost up 2 points." Valerie manages to be accusatory, demeaning, and stupid all in one breath.

I feel like I'm in 8th grade and I just got caught passing a "check yes or no if you like so-and-so" note. I'm too old for this crap. I'm hungover, the weather is crappy, and I'm in a foul mood. Plus, I don't see how we could have wasted $1,000 worth of cheese in one month by overportioning cheese on salads.

"Valerie, that's ridiculous! Do you know how much cheese we'd need to mound on every salad to screw up the cost so badly?"

I take pride in my work. Since I'm hungover, all mole hills quickly become mountains. Add these two factors together, and I'm steaming.

Valerie must sense my anger. She doesn't yell back at me, nor does she have me lashed for speaking out of turn or insubordination. Instead she answers calmly.

"If you add a little cheese onto each salad, it soon become a lot of cheese. Cheese expensive. Food cost up, Jon (our RM) pissed. Put only a little cheese on salad."

While I agree with this assessment, I still think it's impossible to increase food cost by two points for over portioning cheese. For some reason, I can't let this go. Fortunately, a customer walks in and the shift meeting has to break up.

Soon all the servers are flying around. Dishes are clattering, people are chatting, and The Restaurant is hopping.

I see Soldato coming out of the kitchen. He's got two salads. Each one has five pieces of shredded cheese. The correct portion is one ounce per salad. This is about 25 shreds of cheese. The way these salads were made, it looks as though we're trying to skimp.

"What the hell is that?" I ask Soldato.

"The, uh, Cheese Nazi back there thinks that this is how a salad should look." He holds the bowl up for my inspection. He continues on and places the bowls in front of the customers.

I head to the back. Sure enough, Valerie is watching over the expo line like a prison warden watching inmates on work detail.

"That too much! Take some off! Take off more! Good, now go!" I shake my head and start getting together my food.

Soldato walks back through the door. He's holding a salad.

"Valerie, my customer wants more cheese on his salad." He goes to grab the tongs. Valerie slaps his hand.

"They want more, they pay extra. Ring in 25 cents, open food." Leave it to Valerie. She doesn't care that the customers won't come back. She doesn't mind saving nickels to lose dollars.

The whole shift continues in this fashion. Valerie never leaves her post by the expo line. Finally, I get to cash out and go home for a break before I come back for my night shift.

A quick nap and a short car drive later and I'm back at the doors of The Restaurant. As I'm going in, I see Soldato at the entrance to the kitchen. His jaw is agape. I run up to see what's going on.

"Can you believe this shit?" Now Soldato is talking out of the side of his mouth.

"What is it?" I stop next to him. For the first time, I can see what he's looking at.

Valerie has her hands full with a package of tortillas, a one-pound box of ground beef, a gallon of sour cream, and a gallon of guacamole. She's wearing her coat, scarf, and gloves. She's leaving.

She walks by Soldato and me.

"Valerie, what's wrong with all that stuff?" She stops and looks at me. She has to crane her neck around the gallon jug of sour cream.

"Nothing. It's Taco Night." She turns and walks out the door. With about half a point of food cost in her arms.

I wonder if Taco Night is a weekly event?


Laynie said...

So THAT'S why they wouldn't give me my appetizer for free when it arrived AFTER my entree the other night! It was taco night!

Laughing helplessly. Poor servers, y'all really do catch it from all corners.

Worth the wait, Server.

bbsgirl said...

As I have been in food service for 17 yrs and 16 of those years as a manager in charge...I can well sympathize with you on this one. When the big-wigs start yelling about food cost percent being up .5 of a % over 27 or 28% heads roll and it does trickle down. I have seen many a server and or cook and even prep person over due it a bit on portioning because in their eyes it doesn't look like enough for what the customer pays (and they probably are right). It's tough to maintain 100% accuracy 100% of the time when you are working with food cost. It's not only just once or twice over's if it happens all the time. She sounded way over board in her correcting technique and for the life of me I can't see how she justified taking all that food home...sheesh.

I enjoy your posts and this was worth the wait. I look forward to reading more.

christopher said...

i love reading about the other side of the restraunt that i never see. it never ceases to amaze me. :)

curious servant said...

Nice post server.

(I put a link to you from my Willzilla blog)

The Server said...

Thank you, curious. If any of you want to link to my blog, feel free. If you leave me a post with your link, I'll try to put one up on serverstories for you.

JavaElemental said...

Yeah, we just had that crap happen at my place, too. The owner comes in, throws a conniption fit over food cost, everyone gets chewed out. The next day, he comes back in, and takes two gallons of BBQ sauce, two big boxes of ribs, and a bunch of bread and other crap, without paying for it, for a BBQ for his freinds at his house. Gee, I wonder why our food cost is so high? Grrr . . .

Ally said...

Isn't that stealing?