Key tips for controlling food costs

October 26, 2021
Paul Rifkin

The catering operation in a club is the same as any other business: it should make a profit.

Or should it?

That depends on the brief from the board, but for many clubs in past years it was always about providing a service to members, and profit was rarely on the agenda. More focus was placed on providing a meal at an attractive price to draw members into the club.

Alcohol and gaming machines were the real profit drivers, meaning a loss in the catering department was acceptable. Times have changed over the last 10 years, with most clubs keen to make catering cost neutral or profitable.

The quality of food demanded by customers has also evolved to be more contemporary – and yet still appeal to the member base, with the club favourites. The reality is that regular clientele rarely change their pattern of choice. This is why the chicken schnitzel is still a best-seller for most clubs, and probably always will be.

With an evolving menu comes more complexity in the preparation and ingredients. Add to that a move towards freshly prepared ‘in-house’ dishes and the costs become even more challenging. How to manage this is what will determine your ability to be profitable.

Every club can – and should – have a profitable catering operation. It’s good business and highly necessary as alcohol sales plummet to less than food sales in many clubs. To achieve this, a savvy head chef is a must, but with the exodus of many chefs from the industry over the past 18 months, this is often not a feasible option.

Many clubs have head chefs with little experience in running an operation and less ability to control costs.

So how can it be achieved?

Accurately costed recipes. I’ll say it again: accurately costed recipes!

Over many years of consulting with clubs, I have rarely seen true costed recipes. I often see recipes in old, tattered folders, on pieces of paper, or on a computer, mostly with costings that are years out-of-date. Few have costings that are linked to current pricing, or simply have quantities that are fanciful or inaccurate, rendering the final figure unhelpful in achieving cost control.

Chef Paul Rifkin
Club favourites keep members happy.

What is the answer?

A complete system that links Recipes to Current Cost of Goods, and updates as prices change automatically.

Link this to an Ordering System with Stock Control and budgeted restrictions to ensure compliance to the budget, add in an automated invoice entry and time management procedure to reduce inaccuracies.

There are a variety of options on the market. I have seen some very good ones, and some very clunky ones.

Key things to look for are: Will the chefs use it? Is it simple? Is it accurate? Ask around with other businesses such as yours, to ensure it will suit.

If you would like to know my recommendations, please contact me to discuss your requirements and I can point you in the right direction, or visit your club and analyse the operation for a clear picture.

chefpaulrifkin consulting / Club Mentoring and Fine Tuning Specialist /


Paul Rifkin

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