Prices are rising and staff are scarce, yet clients and diners are still demanding their food at functions to be exceptional. Before we head into the warmer weather and the busy festive season, perhaps it’s time to take a financial health check to determine if what you’re serving is making you a profit.
They say behind every great man is a great woman, and behind every successful chef is a well-used spreadsheet. Getting food costs under control is a big priority. If you don’t know what you’re spending on every ingredient on every dish, it’s hard to work out those costs and therefore the profit margin. A column in a spreadsheet for every ingredient gives a snapshot of exact costs. For example, take a fish entrée with a 150g piece of fish. Reducing that to a 120g portion doesn’t sound like much, but across 300 pax at a function that is a saving of 9kg. Multiply that across the months and that is a big saving. Excel spreadsheets and myBidfood’s menu planning and costing reports are essential kitchen tools.
Working out how much labour goes into producing food for events is another cost that can be analysed. If a chef can make 100 tarts an hour and earns $40 an hour, that is a 40-cent labour cost per unit before you start counting the costs of butter, flour, gas and rent. Sometimes it can be more cost-effective to buy some pre-made items such as tart shells. But you will never know until you have done the numbers.
It is an old adage, but a good chef watches the plates come back from the dining room to see which items hit the bin. The trash can is where the diner speaks loudest. If there is a lot of mash potato making its way to waste, then perhaps pull back on the pommes purée. If they are leaving some protein then perhaps the serving is too big. If they are not eating a lot of one item perhaps that part of the dish needs to be reviewed. Anything that hits the bin is money you did not have to spend in the first place and it’s time to review the menu before you sell it to the next client.
When it comes to finger food, Adam Moore has catered for hundreds of thousands of guests on land and sea with his work in the cruise industry. The freelance chef is also a regular on Network Ten’s Studio 10. Adam suggests using protein judiciously and to have strict portion control on every piece of pricey flesh. “Start with protein with wow factor but mix it with less expensive ingredients.” He gives the example of using a prawn, but chopping it with celery, onion and herbs, dressing it in a Marie Rose sauce and using that mix to fill a small milk bun. Another suggestion is making salami shooters with stoned olives and pesto dressing. “You can do simple things but do them well,” says Adam. “Take a Yorkshire pudding and fill it with fine slices of rare beef but bulk it out with a bitter green salad and an outstanding horseradish mayo.”
Adam also suggests starting canapés with carbs and building in flavour towards protein. “You could start with a beautiful demitasse or a little bowl of the most sensational pasta, perhaps with flecks of truffle and truffle oil. There is a lot of theatre. A little dish with big impact and low cost,” he says. “But it is essential the front-of-house team is educated on how to sell the magic and the story of the dish to the punters.” He says that a fun event could start with popcorn dressed in your own secret blend of herbs and spices (and nutritional yeast).
“The integration of the canapés into the seated part of the meal relies on communicating what the offer is on the night,” says Adam. “Letting the customers know how much they are going to eat lets them understand that perhaps more of the meal will be served as canapés and will encourage them to eat well at the beginning and take the pressure off the costings on the mains.”
Adam also suggests making the most of rich sauces to bulk out protein, such as pulled lamb shoulder in a rich gravy, or jus, served in a tartlet, as opposed to stuffing it into a larger format casing. He says to pimp mayonnaise to make it super tasty so more of the flavour comes from the dressing and not the protein. He is a big fan of bacon jam, made from bacon offcuts.
Adam says to make sure every part of the menu pays for itself. “You have to have every member of staff on board when it comes to keeping margins in hand,” he says. From the prep team to the back-of-house to the front-of-house. They all need to be aware of what you as the team leader are thinking, planning and serving as part of a profitable menu.”
As seen in Spring 2022