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10 Tips for More Profitable Portion Control

10 Tips for More Profitable Portion Control

It all starts at the back door
There are many things to look for when checking in deliveries that can save the typical operator a bunch of money. For example: the receiver should keep an eye out for re-taped or re-marked boxes. While that alone doesn't necessarily mean anything, it's a red flag that your receivers should pay special attention. A sample may have been removed for another customer, and the box put back into inventory accidentally. In receiving, every ounce — and every piece — counts.

When a number 10 is not a number 10
While visiting a cafeteria, I noticed a member of the prep staff with a No. 10 can of green beans and 20 small cups. She was portioning the beans into the cups, putting them back in the can, and then doing it over again. When I asked the owner what she was doing, I was told she was being trained on portion control. I suggested it might not be necessary to go to that extreme.

The owner pointed out to me how one one “lost” portion of green beans per can could add up to $3,600 in the course of a year. He said he had to get 20 portions out of every can. “If I miss one portion from every can, that's 60 cents in profit I did not get from the can, or $3.60 I did not get on the case,” he added. “ I use about 1,000 cases in a year. That totals to $3,600 I would not get because my servers gave it away, one green bean at a time, on the serving line.” The moral? It's often worth doing a drained weight testing and comparison of net weights on your canned goods, noting any variances among brands and packs. Portion control isn't just a server's job — it's also a management function.

How much does a half ounce cost?
If you were to put a 4-oz. portion of thinly sliced roast beef in one hand and 4-1/2-oz. portion in the other, most people could not tell the difference. On the other hand, the same 7,500 lbs. of roast beef would give you 30,000 4- oz. portions or 26,250 4-1\2 oz. portions. If it were costed at .75 cents per portion, the The 3,750 portion difference would be a $2,812 difference.

Another moral: Portion scales and weighing procedures pay off!

in your receiving area and watch your costs go down…

Rule #1: If You Buy It By The Piece, Count It!

Rule #2: If You Buy It By The Pound, Weigh It!

  • Left over creativity
    Learning to efficiently “cascade” left-over food assembly components is a key strategy, as long as the components have been stored according to best practice HACCP guidelines. For example…

    What can you do with left over French toast? This is pretty easy for anyone who has been in the food business for a while. It can be rotated into bread pudding.

    What can you do with left over cake? How about those left over pieces of cake and the ones that have broken or crumbled? One thrifty operator I knew had a secret recipe she used to turn them into her signature spice cake. She mixed it, added a little TLC, and presto!

  • Expand your menu without adding inventory
    The use of one meat item to create multiple menu items will give you a sharp edge on controlling your inventory, shrink, waste and food cost.

    Trying to offer too many kinds of foods on a menu unnecessarily increases your food costs and food waste. It also makes it more difficult to use up certain food ingredients while they are still fresh.

    As the costs of operating a business in today's economy increases, the already slim margin for profit narrows. Keeping the ingredients on hand for a larger than necessary menu is very expensive both in dollar outlay and in wastage.

    Consider how many items are needed for the following burger menu, even though each item starts out with a half-pound ground beef patty:

    Basic burger Lettuce and tomato

    Cheese burger Choice of sliced Swiss, American or cheddar cheese

    British burger Choice of cheese and bacon strips

    Mushroom burger Topped with sautéed mushrooms

    Onion burger Smothered with grilled onions

    Hickory burger BBQ flavor with cheddar cheese

    Cajun burger Grilled with spicy seasonings

    Mexican burger Cheese and jalapenos

    Chili burger Chili and cheddar cheese

    It is a common experience when you hire a new chef he or she always want to add some new items to the menu. It is good practice to emphasize the impact new items can have on inventory needs and costs, and the value there is in keeping changes simple!

  • Cooking your profits away
    Overcooking meat is a good way to lose a considerable amount of money through shrinkage. Roast beef should be cooked for a longer period of time at a lower temperature. For example, if you use 150 lbs. of roast beef per week and extended that consumption for a year, usage would total 7,500 lbs.

    7,500 lbs. of roast beef cooked at 425°F would shrink 35%, providing a net weight of 4,875 lbs. If you instead cooked the same 7,500 lbs. at 325°F, it would only shrink 25% and would have a net weight of 5,625 lbs., a gain of 750 lbs.!

    If you are selling the meat for $2.50/lb., that represents $1,875 in lost revenue. (This is one reason “slow cook” ovens can often quickly pay for themselves in high volume operations).

    In a conventional oven, the best way to tell when roast beef is done is to insert a thermometer into the roast's center; when it reaches the desired doneness, take the meat out of the oven. If you are cooking several pieces at a time, place the thermometer in the smallest piece, when that is done, pull it out of the oven and put the thermometer into the next largest piece.

  • Call in a “Belly Buster”
    If the sign over your hot dog says “Quarter Pounder,” it has to be 4 ounces. But you have to really look closely to see the difference between 4-to-the-pound and 5-to-the-pound hot dogs. However, there are 10 more hot dogs in each 10 pound box of the latter. That considerably lowers your portion cost if you extend it to the amount used annually. If you switch from a 4-to-the-pound to a 5-to-the-pound frank, it's the same as buying 10 boxes and getting one free.
  • Money down the drain
    Many meat products have water added to lower the cost. Every time we go to the sink, cut open a bag and pour off the water, it is the same as pouring money down the drain. For example, if a ham, after sitting in the cooler for a few days, develops an excessive amount of water in the bag, it should be tested.

    Water in ham is a good thing, as it lowers the cost. However, if water-injected hams are not properly handled, they will end up costing you money. For example if you take several hams out of a box and stack them on top of one another in a cooler, those on the bottom get the juice squeezed out of them.

    To do a test, take the original weight paid for the ham, drain off the “purge,” and then weigh the product again. Divide the gross weight into the net weight to get your percent of yield. If the yield is 95% and you paid for 15,000 lbs., you only received 14,250 usable pounds and have poured 750 lbs. down the drain. At $3 per pound, that comes to $2,250. Ouch!

  • Bacon is bacon. Or is it?
    The slice count is extremely important when deciding which bacon to use. If you have a 15-lb. box of bacon that costs $2 per lb., the slice count will have a large effect on the portion cost. A 14/18 slice count (meaning 14/18 slices per pound) will have 240 slices per box and the cost of 3 slices will be $ .375. An 18/22 slice count will have 300 slices per box and the portion cost of 3 slices will be $ .30. A 22/26 slice count will have 360 slices in the same 15 pound box and the portion cost will drop to $ .25. A 26/30 slice count will have 420 slices with a portion cost of only $ .21.

    Bacon is often used more as a seasoning than as a meat item. If bacon is used this way on a sandwich, it does not need to be very thick. A 22/26 or even a 26/30 will work.

    Another important point is the desired thickness. Many operators are buying a large belly 14/18 slice count and think that if they use an 18/22 it will be too thin. By using a smaller belly and a higher slice count, the bacon will still be thick, it will just be a little shorter. This one point can save an operator several thousand dollars.

    Just looking at the slice count can make considerable difference. If we were using 75 lbs. of 14/18 bacon per week and paying $2 per lb., the portion cost would be $ .125. If you go to 18/22 bacon, your portion cost would be $ .10. Seventy five pounds per week of the 14/18 means we use 1500 slices per week at a cost of $187.50. One thousand five hundred slices of the 18/22 slice count would cost us $150, a $37.50 per week savings. If we looked at that on annual basis that represents a $1,950 savings for the year.

Consider a breakfast serving line that serves two slices of bacon per person and 400 servings per week, or 40,000 slices per year. Keeping in mind that an 18/22 bacon has 300 slices per box, that represents 133 cases for the year.

A 22/26 slice count has 360 slices per box and would mean 111 cases for the year.

  • Why deal with all that grease?
    The theory behind precooked bacon is, first of all, no grease. This saves on clean up as well as freight, keeping in mind that bacon is 50 to 60 percent fat. For an operator using 75 pounds of bacon per week, that means over one ton of grease that has to be removed per year.

    Another advantage is no broken slices, which saves on waste. Precooked bacon only takes one minute to cook, making it an excellent product for a sandwich shop as it can be put in a microwave. And because it's pre-cooked, there's much less chance of accidentally overcooking a batch, reducing the likelihood of waste. It also has a long shelf life and very seldom will spoil. To compare the price, find the price of a 15 lb box of 18/22 slice count, which will also have 300 slices.

    Taking the squal out of ham prices

    The terms we see on the ham labels all have specific meanings. Cooked means the internal temperature has been brought up to 140 degrees. Fully cooked means the internal temperature has been brought up to 148 degrees; and Baked means both that the internal temperature has been brought up to 170 degrees and that it was cooked in dry heat.

    The term Smoked means it was exposed to smoke generated from hard wood. If the label says “liquid smoke,” it means that smoke flavor has been added. Sugar Cured means the sugar used had to be at least 50% cane or beet sugar.

Country Ham, according to USDA, means the ham had to be produced in a rural area. In other words, you cannot make country ham in New York City (that's a fact).

These various methods of cooking and processing hams have an effect on finished cost, but the largest cost factor is the amount of water that has been added, or which of the four categories the ham is in.

Category one is called a “dry ham” and is the most expensive. This ham actually weighs less than it did when it was a raw fresh ham. Country hams are classified as dry hams. There are also some buffet hams that are considered dry hams.

Category two is ham with natural juice, the second most expensive. This type of ham has the same moisture content as a raw fresh ham. No water has been added.

Category three is ham — water added, the third most expensive. Ham in the water added category has approximately 10 percent water added.

Category four is called a ham and water product. With this type, the weight added by water is more than 10 percent of the original weight and the percent of water added must be stated on the label. There are hams with as much as 45 percent added ingredients. (Added ingredients means water and spices.)

The type of product used should be matched to the application, but significant savings are possible by speccing the right product for the job. For example, using a ham with 10 percent more added ingredients could end up saving you .30 cents per pound, or $3.00 on every 10 lb. ham — and that can add up to big time savings!

Bob Oros is a leading food cost consultant who specializes in center-of-the-plate cost management. For more information on Oros' seminars, books and programs, visit

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