Food and beverage control systems can help you introduce the same financial rigour to your dining establishment or catering company that you’ll find in manufacturing operations. This article tells you what to look for.
What is a food and beverage control system?
A food and beverage control system is a means of computerising best practice within a restaurant or catering operation. It gives managers a better idea of the flow of food through the restaurant, enabling them to plan cash flow and stock control more effectively. At the sharp end, it provides chefs with a more structured way of planning menus, taking into account nutritional and financial considerations.
Why do I need one?
In areas like manufacturing, companies keep close tabs on the manufacturing cost and value of their products. And yet in dining establishments, the core product — the food — is often not subject to the same scrutiny.
Matt Tough, sales and marketing director for PSL, a consultancy that helps restaurant and caterers refine their food control techniques, says that food control in many establishments is chaotic and unstructured.
Restaurant budgets are often based on what was achieved last year, Tough says. Ideally, chefs should be able to cost out each item on a menu, creating a clear picture of the cost of each sale to measure against its revenue. This helps you to understand which are the most profitable items, and whether you are keeping food wastage low enough to hit the profitability targets that you have set yourself.
Putting in place a proper food and beverage control system will help you to make more intelligent decisions that help to cut the overall cost of sale for an establishment while maintaining profits. For example, if you find that your overheads are too high, you may be able to cut items from the menu that have a higher cost-to-revenue ratio.
What sort of features should it have?
There are several key features that dining establishments should consider when purchasing a food and beverage control system. You may find that these features fall under different products or modules within a single company’s offering:
- Market lists
One common mistake made by restaurants is to purchase ingredients from suppliers without any clear rules. Creating a database of suppliers and ingredients will enable you to manage ingredient pricing more effectively.
More applicable for specialist dining establishments (such as those in hospitals) or catering companies, the ability to provide nutritional information on the food you serve can offer you a competitive edge, and reassure customers particularly in areas such as school dinners, for example.
- Recipe management
According to Max Mueller, head of the European team at food and beverage control system company Hospitality Control Systems and a chef for eleven years, many chefs either work from memory without any clear recipe, or have incomplete recipes that they do not follow.
Codifying recipes helps you to manage your ingredients more effectively, while building in standard estimates for wastage (such as the yield after peeling and chopping vegetables, or the wastage caused by evaporation and transfer of a cream sauce from bowl to bowl). This will help you to price your food more accurately. If you know exactly what a meal costs to make, you can price it more accurately to undercut the competition while still making a quantifiable profit.
When looking at recipe management, consider the ability to nest recipes, because most recipes are made up of multiple others. And a function to scale recipes easily for different quantities will be invaluable for busy chefs.
- Stock control and purchasing
Some food and beverage control systems give you the chance to inventory your food and create purchase orders for more so you can maintain a minimum level of perishable stock and free up your capital. Such systems can also be used to create work lists, so that staff taking delivery of orders know exactly what to expect on any given day.
Reporting is a key asset in any food control system software. In addition to providing preconfigured reports, the best systems will let you customise reports to suit your own particular requirements. Reporting can be used to analyse a vendor’s history, or to find out how volatile an ingredient’s price has been over the past few months. Other good uses for reporting modules include finding your best-performance, highest margin menu items, and using “what if” analyses to assess the impact of a cost change to a particular menu item.
Intelligent reporting can help you to forecast your requirements, which can be useful for seasonal items, for example, or for ingredients with volatile pricing. Baselining your usage of butter over the course of a year might show that you use more butter in the autumn — this can be a useful piece of market intelligence if you see that butter prices have been steadily increasing for the past few weeks.
Does it need to connect with anything else?
If your food and beverage control system can connect with your point of sale (POS) system, then you can automate the updating of inventory as menu items are sold. You will find a variety of different interfaces in food and beverage control software products to connect with POS systems including Micros, Squirrel and Aloha.
If your software can also export data to an accounting system, then you can make financial reporting much easier. Data can be exported from some food and beverage control systems to popular accounting software such as QuickBooks, letting you transfer invoice and purchase order details. Look for the ability to create specific account codes for each product category to make the transfer easier.
Is technology enough?
No amount of technology will save you money or provide you with insights into your food control unless you train your staff to use it properly. Make sure that your chefs understand the importance of working with structured business tools so that they can tie margin estimates and wastage control to the end product on the menu.
Unless you encourage this accountability as part of your dining establishment’s culture, such software could end up sitting in a corner unused. But if done right, food control systems will enable you to steer your restaurant or catering business towards long-term goals, rather than reacting to short-term conditions.