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Silver Bullets vs. Silver Buckshot

As operatorsstruggle withrising foodcosts, they’ddo well toconsider“silverbuckshot”solutions.

Back in the thrilling days of yesteryear, when the 1950's TV series The Lone Ranger was a popular Saturday morning staple, the hero often left a trademark silver bullet behind after anonymously “saving the day” for a deserving community or individual.

Radio and TV afficionados will tell you the masked Ranger loaded his pistol with silver bullets as a reminder that life was precious and valuable. But in the decades since (and perhaps with a nod to silver's legendary use in slaying werewolves and vampires), the term has become a widely-used metaphor for “one shot solutions” to address major business challenges.

The problem is that there are few serious problems that lend themselves to one-shot solutions. Hence the frequent observation that “There's just no silver bullet to address this one.”

In contrast, I recently heard a speaker suggest that many business issues, while not lending themselves to “silver bullet” solutions, are much more appropriately addressed with “silver buckshot.” It seems to me the struggle virtually all of FM's readers are having today with increasing food costs fits well into this category.

The point being, single solutions almost never work well for complex problems with many “moving parts.” Rather, effective management teams focus on the hard work of identifying and addressing many small aspects of a problem in a coordinated way. This, rather than a single solution, is what ultimately can have the most profound and lasting impact.

On the food cost front, that means reconsidering procurement policy, menus and menu mixes, portion sizes and pricing. It also means thinking long and hard about effective ways to communicate the nature of the food cost problem and what you are doing about it to both your customers and your administration.

Consider, or re-consider, the following areas:

Management of pre-consumer food waste. Many experts say that implementing a sound food waste management program can save you four to eight percent of your food costs with a payback in under six months. It will help you avoid over production, encourage full utilization and improve your forecasting.

Keep an eye on “shrink” in all its forms. Good storeroom and cooler security in the back of the house. Keeping café impulse purchase items near registers and in full view. Register and cashier procedure audits to eliminate undercharging. You don't want to have a police state, but when personal budgets get tight, temptation is always greater.

Careful portion control. Traditionally, that's a serving line function, so start there. Are there opportunities to efficiently pre-portion servings or ingredients? Are servers committed to food cost control? Do you have clear portion control standards in place?

There are opportunities in your kitchen as well. On salads, cherry tomatoes may be more cost effective than sliced tomatoes. Bacon strips can be specced thinner for sandwiches. For more ideas, refer to

Review procurement strategies. If you participate in a group purchasing organization, ask for a review of your purchasing history and suggestions on how you can maximize the program. Your primary distributor may be able to offer additional ideas.

Look into local sourcing of seasonal ingredients or produce that is nearing the end of its shelf life but can be used up quickly. In some cases, you may want to take selective advantage of promotional opportunities with secondary distributors. This is always a fine line — especially in difficult times, make sure you and your purchasing manager are walking it carefully.

Keep your menu flexible. A good chef can help you cut food waste, add value and get the most out of raw ingredients. Make sure your chef is on your silver buckshot team.

Finally, work with your administration to take a hard look at budget and pricing processes. In today's environment, the idea that food costs can be accurately forecast 18 months out is unrealistic and counter productive. So are systems that entail bureaucratic approval processes for even modest menu price increases.

Manufacturers and distributors increasingly are requiring more frequent price adjustment options in their contracts, and your internal systems need to give you the same flexibility. Managing costs is a team effort from top to bottom, so make sure your boss is on board.

In the end, silver buckshot can most effectively help you slay the food cost monster. Leave the silver bullets behind.

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