February 1, 2016 |

Portion Control: Size Matters

By Jeffrey Freehof

Proper portioning extends beyond pizza

portioning sausage on pizza at prep tableAre you measuring up to your food cost goals? Profitability is just one factor in the key to success. Profits are how we keep going and growing in a multitude of ways.

Don’t be fooled by focusing on maximum profit as the best way to run your business, because that is not necessarily sustainable.

Focusing on excellent food, great service with a friendly and knowledgeable staff in a clean and attractive environment is where our focus should start, followed by a well-planned menu that is costed out properly and designed to bring us a profit through maintaining acceptable food costs. I’ve seen many operators focus on profit so much so that they have poor relationships with their vendors by lining up three or four suppliers and cherry picking the very least-expensive products from each.

I’ve also seen operators focus solely on maximum profit where they are trying to run labor tighter than they need to or not giving a well-deserved raise to someone who is constantly exceeding the expectations, leaving staff overworked and underappreciated. Over time, this will absolutely be apparent to your customers through lackadaisical staff performance. Profit may have been good at the beginning, but when employees are making too many mistakes and/or have bad attitudes for being overworked and underappreciated, it is without a doubt going to cost you customers. What comes next in that progression of things is that profit will shrink if not disappear altogether. It’s one of the most common mistakes that are made in our industry.

Another top mistake that I see from operators is not having some kind of portion control in place when it comes to our sandwiches and pizza. There are a variety of downfalls to simply “eyeballing” your portions. Consider the leading hamburger franchise in America. Do you think they are successful? Your answer is yes, of course.

Then I ask if you think the quality of their food is very high, and the answer is a resounding “No!”  We then come to understand the reason for their success boils down to one word –– consistency. Folks like to know what they are going to get and they are willing to go back again and again because it is predictable.

Creativity is an asset; however, the portions, flavors and textures for each of your menu items MUST be consistent if you are going to be successful.

Over-portioning, although horrible for food cost, is fantastic for the customer. I’d be thinking: “Wow, that hot pastrami sandwich was enormous, the best I’ve ever had!” I’d be pretty excited and I’d be back for another one probably before the week is out. What do you think is going to happen in my mind when I get my next hot pastrami from you and it is the proper portion? I promise you one thing –– I’m not going to think, “Wow, they must have over-portioned it last time.” Instead, I’ll be thinking that this place is starting to skimp. I’m not going to be nearly as excited to come back anytime soon.

topping a pizza with pepperoniAll of that is what happens when you are inconsistent with portion size. When it comes to weighing meat for sandwiches, a scale will be your restaurant’s best friend. If you are too busy at peak time and weighing the meat for every sandwich will hinder your throughput, then create a system where you pre-portion your meats in off-peak times so you can serve a consistent product at all times.

Let’s talk pizza. Unless you have a scale on your make line, it’s hard to be exact. There are still, however, portion control techniques that I want to teach you that will give your customers that perfect consistency that they are looking for while keeping your costs in line.

I use portioning cups for my pizza cheese. My staff knows that our pizza cheese goes into the cup and it should be level and not heaping. They know that on a 16-inch pizza there should be exactly 32 slices of pepperoni. You’ve got to know your costs for your toppings and you should have a goal for what you want your food cost to be.

Ladles, spoodles and portioning cups are all tools that will help you train your staff to provide a consistent product to your customers so they will always know what they can expect. At the same time, they will meet your food cost goals. If food cost continues to be an issue, then your focus can shift to eliminating waste and to watching for any potential theft.

Remember to reward those who meet and exceed your company goals and you will continue to reap the benefits of success in many dimensions!

Jeff Freehof owns The Garlic Clove in Evans, Georgia. He is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today and a speaker at International Pizza Expo.