Portion Control

“The first thing I learned in the restaurant business was to get portion control in order to get a decent food cost. I don’t mean, by portion control, that we should cut down below what a customer should get, but in many instances we either give less or a lot too much.” J. Willard Marriot – Marriot Hotels

These few words encapsulate the true virtues of portion control: to control costs, reduce food waste and satisfy your customers’ reasonable expectations.

A consistent amount of food served to each and every one of your customers (portion control) is absolutely vital if you want to achieve your target profit margins. Sound portion control can mean hundreds, or even thousands of pounds added to your bottom line every year. Your cook not putting an extra 5p worth of chips on each meal could mean an extra £260 annual profit on 100 meals a day. It doesn’t take many chips to lose 5p.

You will have gone to a lot of effort to determine the amount of food allowed per portion and this will have depended on your food offering: casual dining, pub restaurant, gastro pub, or value dining. The quality of food you buy in will dictate portion yields (false economies in buying inferior quality food such as low quality stewing beef that has to be trimmed before use will push down the yield sometimes by up to 25%).

Where, in your menu, you are using certain foods will dictate portion yield, for instance using farm assured chicken on your Sunday Roasts selling at £7.50 is sensible, but using the same meat in a chicken and ham pie that sells for £3.75 is not.

Portion control is inextricably linked to the price you pay for your foodstuffs.  My advice for buying food (or any other goods you buy for your pub) are:

  • Check prices continually to ensure you buy at the best prices. Whilst you might not do this every day (unless you are buying huge amounts) you should make this a monthly task as part of your monthly review of profit and loss.
  • Be aware of different types and qualities of each item, if you don’t know the cuts of meat from beef, pork or lamb then get along to your local butcher, who will be more than happy to educate you on the best cuts to use for the dishes you want to prepare.
  • You can save on kitchen labour and waste by buying in diced chicken, for instance, especially if your cook’s butchery skills are minimal. The cost may seem more per kilo but when you factor in waste and labour costs you will be surprised how much cheaper some items can be.
  • Try and follow the seasons, the cost of many food stuffs are lowest during their high season.
  • If possible order by number and weight to ensure efficient portion control. For instance 10 x 4oz Pork Bellies as opposed to a 2½ lb Belly that you then need to cut and potentially lose yield by inaccurate portion control.
  • Unless you are providing high-end dining buy pre-portioned items, such as individual butter packs, sugar sticks and cartons of milk

Get Equipped

Portion control equipment isn’t expensive and their outlay can easily be recouped in a short period of time. An essential kit list for your kitchen should include:

Portions and Yields

Your catering supplier, butcher, fish-monger and greengrocer will be able to help you with portion yields, but in the meantime here are some yields I have worked with for many years:

Plaice/cod/haddock fillet, stewing steak, legs of pork & lamb, topside of beef, new potatoes, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, French beans will all give you 8 portions per kilo (or 125 gram). Whilst old potatoes and peas will only give you 6 portions per kilo (166 gram). When I have used duck or chicken I allow 360 gram per portion or roughly 3 portions per kilo. Some foods will only give you 4 portions per kilo as anyone who has cooked spinach will tell you!

Whichever method you use (portion per kilo or actual weight per portion) your portion control will only be as good as the person(s) doing the portioning. It is vital you train your staff on the correct portion and the correct plate/dish to serve meals on.

In the average pub environment, I have always thought it better to have more food on a smaller plate than vice versa (yes you guessed it – Nouvelle Cuisine – what a rip off that was!).

Be Consistent

By being consistent in the portions you serve not only will you maximise your margin and profit but you will also keep your customers happy with meals that reflect the price they are paying and more importantly do not vary every time they dine with you. Frank and Aldo Berni knew this when they established and built Berni Inns into one of the largest restaurant chains in the country, their proud boast was that you could buy one of their steak meals in Aberdeen or Plymouth and it would be the same quality, the same price, presented the same way and you would get the same quantity of food. What that pair didn’t know about portion control and maximising the profit from their business could be written on the back of a postage stamp!

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