A creative approach to menu planning offers countless benefits, including an enhanced client experience and a reputation for innovative dishes. It also trains your team to be agile and adaptable, allowing you to tweak recipes for better cost savings without sacrificing the integrity of your meals.
But that’s not all! By now, most catering professionals are quite familiar with the challenges our industry has faced with shortages and supply chain delays. Knowing your recipes aren’t set in stone allows for smart contingency planning in case one of your go-to ingredients is unavailable.
So if you’re ready to take a stab at reimagining your menus and saving money in the process, follow these tips to think outside of the box and find creative solutions that meet your customers’ expectations.
Experiment with brands
It’s hard to look at new brands when you have your “old reliables,” but sticking to what you know could mean you’re paying more for familiarity. In many cases, you can find cost-effective alternatives to your go-to ingredients that don’t sacrifice flavor or composition! With new brands entering the market all the time, it’s always worth trying other brands to see if you can land a high-quality product for a lower price.
Look to your food supplier for recommendations and ask them to keep you updated when new products are available. And of course, avoid purchasing in bulk the first time—buy a small amount and give it a test drive before making the change!
Switch up secondary ingredients
Opting for generic store brands and other budget-friendly alternatives is an excellent way to increase profit margins, but it can be detrimental to swap a lower-quality product for one of your show-stopping ingredients. Nobody wants low-rate halibut or steak!
While you don’t want to scrimp on your menu’s main characters, there are plenty of opportunities to save on less significant ingredients. Think grains, dried herbs, broths, and other supporting roles. Replacing these elements with lower-cost ingredients trims the cost of goods sold, while still letting your key ingredients shine in the spotlight.
Cut down on food waste
Food waste is an unfortunately common way to lose money, and it often goes under the radar when the kitchen is full. Here are a few best practices to reduce food waste:
Avoid buying more than you need.
A lot of food waste is due to over-purchasing ingredients that end up wilting or spoiling when left over. Determine exactly how much of each item you need for a dish and multiply by headcount and number of events. Knowing your numbers is essential for shopping smartly!
Keep your equipment well-maintained and up-to-date.
If your refrigerator isn’t doing its job, your food will spoil faster! Extend your ingredients’ shelf life by regularly servicing your appliances and investing in effective storage solutions, like airtight containers and vacuum sealers.
Make the most out of everything.
Don’t let those so-called scraps go to waste! Get creative to maximize all of your ingredients. For instance, instead of letting leftover herbs wilt, toss them in a dehydrator and refill your spice rack. With produce, consider pickling scraps or blending them into a sauce, pesto, stock, or dressing. Bones, organs, and other meat scraps can make a rich gravy or stock, too!
Eliminating food waste requires a company-wide approach to see cost savings. Meet with your team to discuss ideas and implement new standard operating procedures that keep everyone focused on the shared goal.
Become a GPO member
Further cost savings can be found outside of the kitchen— before you’ve even stocked the pantry! When you join a group purchasing organization (GPO), you get to leverage the power of collective purchasing. For example, you may not need red wine vinegar in bulk, but using a GPO will still secure bulk pricing by matching your order with others who also need red wine vinegar. Think of it like a mutual fund for caterers buying food!
GPOs handle everything from negotiation to delivery, so you don’t have to worry about whether you’re getting the right price. And since they work with multiple food distributors, your dollar goes further and you’ll gain access to more products than with a single supplier.
Catering companies must be lean and flexible to navigate market fluctuations and remain sustainable for the long haul. Tune into your numbers and keep an open mind to find more opportunities for savings—and, when in doubt, ask for help!
Lead photo courtesy Food, Fire & Knives