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?