Cost control simply put is the practice of managing and/or reducing business expenses. Cost control in the food service department starts by identifying what the costs are and evaluate whether those costs are reasonable and affordable. Then, if necessary, the manager can look for ways to cut costs through methods such as inventory control, vendor review and menu overhaul.

The following tips will aid with identifying areas in the food service department that need tighter controls and/or review.

Develop an efficient purchasing system by taking inventory monthly and review how much is on the shelf. Always inventory prior to ordering so you are aware of all food and supplies in the department

Develop specifications for each food item. Specifications are not meant to be the same for each food item because each one is different. Some specifications will be shorter than others. Make sure you share the developed specifications with the buyer. This increases efficiency in obtaining a price quote. Ensure product specifications are met. Minimum weights accepted for purchases must be stated in specifications.

Maintain well versed knowledge of the menu and recipe requirements. Order food items as specified when using a menu system with an order guide. Establish a policy regarding approved menu substitutions, including when substitutions are acceptable and who approves the substitution.

Over or under purchasing
Do not overbuy because it ties up cash and inflates the inventory. Under buying can also be a problem because it may force you to purchase expensive emergency supplies, can create shortages and cause general resident dissatisfaction. Limit purchasing to only the types, quality, and quantities required for the planned menu or production forecasts.

Vendor relationships
Purchase only from vendors known to maintain approved levels of sanitation and quality control in compliance with regulations and recommended food handling and storage practices. Buy; do not shop because food service purchasing is not the time to shop. “Shopping” will elevate purchasing and cause a budget to fail. Do not allow vendors to determine the order. The manager must be the person placing the order not the vendor.

As purchased vs. edible purchase
Understand the difference between as purchased and edible purchase. Factor this into purchases.

Never neglect inspecting all purchases upon delivery. Do not hesitate to reject a food if it does not meet required expectations.

Keep track of leftovers and reference them with your production sheets. Make sure the cooks are aware of where the leftovers can be utilized in the menu to avoid throwing them out and losing dollars along the way.

Production Meetings
These meetings serve as a communication method with the staff. The meeting should be scheduled prior to the meal service to review the requirements of the meal production and another at the end of the meal to discuss how everything went and what could be done better. Production meetings can assist with better cost control and communication.

Involve your dish washing team to let you know how much waste is coming back to the dish room from the meals. If there is consistently a significant amount of waste coming from a certain meal, then a change in menu maybe what is needed.

Garnishes add a nice touch but the manager must be careful with expensive garnishes that only get thrown away. Focus on functional garnishes which are part of the recipe and will keep costs down. Paprika sprinkled on top of fish is an example of a functional garnish that will not break the food service bank.

In the current health care environment where cost control is crucial, a keen and experienced food service manager is needed to monitor the budget, trim waste and keep the department rolling along. These purchasing and food preparation tips can assist a facility when reviewing the food service department as a whole. The food service manager must develop, implement and maintain comprehensive systems to control costs and maintain strict budget controls.