A key difference between food businesses that scrape by and those that thrive is the ability to look forward when they’re planning, rather than backward.
Costing food, for example, is an essential part of running an efficient food business, and yet, for most operations, it’s not very helpful because it happens after the food is purchased, prepared, and sold. You have to look backwards to see if you hit the right numbers (fingers crossed!), rather than being able to see today’s numbers and use that to better plan for tomorrow.
This creates a delay, leaving you powerless to make important changes when they’re needed.
When you’re always a step behind the day-to-day of your business, you’ll never be able to steer the ship in the way you want—and the problem goes far beyond food costing.
The data and insights that enables you to plan forward are already available. It’s just a matter of implementing the systems that grant you access to it. We’ll show you how.
The First Two Pillars Of Efficient Food Systems
Bad systems cause food businesses to shut their doors every single day. They hold you back, keep you in the dark about what’s really going on in your kitchen, and leave you powerless to change—this chaos is the default of the food industry.
Thankfully, there’s another way: building food systems that interconnect, give you practical data on your business, and help you find the way forward.
If you haven’t already, make sure to read An Introduction To Efficient Food Systems: Rethinking Operational Chaos In The Food Industry.
Let’s talk about the first two systems every food business needs to build—the primary input pillars that enable you to build a highly efficient business: (#1) your recipe catalog and (#2) your planning methodology.
Pillar #1: Your Recipe Catalog
The very core of your business—beneath the marketing and foot traffic and labor costs—is your food. Your ingredients. How you pair ingredients to make recipes. The techniques you use to make those recipes. The costs of those ingredients. Your food drives everything.
And yet, most food businesses keep all this data stored in hard-to-understand spreadsheets (or worse, physical binders) that they rarely touch. It’s no wonder why they struggle to know their food costs, let alone keep their entire team on the same page about how to make dishes.
An effective recipe catalog manages all the info you could ever need to know about your ingredients, then organizes it in an easy-to-understand way so that you always have rapid access to all your core food data.
- Instructions / Procedures
- Yield / Trim
- Costs / Margins
Most food businesses operate a Level 1 system, where recipes and procedures are scattered across various papers, spreadsheets, and sticky notes. Everything is disjointed, so it’s hard to find the right information you need quickly and updating recipes sometimes requires changing multiple documents.
Some operate a Level 5 recipe catalog, where all recipes are organized in a nicer spreadsheet and food costs can be calculated—only after you’ve added in the costs manually by going to each vendor website and typing in this month’s changes.
Level 10, however, is where the whole thing gets dramatically easier.
Imagine all your recipes and ingredients stored in a single, cloud-based hub. Your vendors are connected too, with prices for each ingredient updated in real-time. You can see precise food costs for each recipe, at any scale. And because all your data is interconnected to the rest of your food systems, you can quickly import recipes into your menu planning, create purchase orders based on upcoming menus, track the inventory you need, and beyond.
Five Reasons A Lvl 10 Recipe Catalog Is Essential
A powerful, organized recipe catalog can alter the course of your business by empowering you to be more organized, proactive, and precise than ever before.
- Cost food accurately. See all your costs per ingredient, recipe, or menu in real-time. When you use today’s numbers (not last month’s), you have the power to make changes to recipes and see exactly how they impact your margins.
- A single hub for all your food data. No more lost recipe papers, conflicting instructions from two sources, or confused staff. When all your critical data is searchable and organized, onboarding new team members is easy, your staff always know where to find the right instructions, and you can build a robust database that includes all kinds of data, like recipe trim yields, images, procedures, labor expectations, and diet labels.
- Convert units instantly. The days of doing unit conversions mid-service—and often getting erroneous results—are over when your recipe catalog does them for you instantly.
- Find ways to cross-utilize ingredients. By ‘nesting’ recipes (gravy is used for both Biscuits and Gravy and Chicken Fried Steak), you can quickly and clearly find ways to simplify planning, reduce overproduction, and cut down on waste.
- Track recipe changes over time. See how new techniques or ingredients impact your costs and margins over time, then look back and find the most profitable versions. Also a clear, organized way to develop new recipes.
These are just the tip of the iceberg. Level 10 recipe catalogs enable you to interact with your food data—the very core of your business—in a way most food business operators have never dreamed of.
And once you’ve infused your business with this level of clarity, precision, and organization, the impact on the next pillar is dramatic.
Pillar #2: Your Planning Methodology
Every food business uses some sort of planning methodology that may include some of the following:
- Creating menus from recipes
- Organizing menus for events, services, and locations
- Forecasting sales volume (total, and by item)
- Planning for a precise number of guests
- Grouping recipes into categories (appetizer, vegan)
- Considering previous plans to improve new ones
The purpose is to connect raw food data with production needs to create a practical, profitable plan. The reality is, most food businesses—even catering operations, where the headcount is known before service—can’t accomplish this with much detail or precision.
Level 1 plans are simply recipes and volumes listed on a sheet of paper, often with the chef knowing exactly what to do while the cooks are left wondering and confused (sound familiar?).
A Level 5 methodology is more robust, with recipes and their ingredients listed out on spreadsheets, along with production volumes by recipe. You can go back and see how menus change over time, but you still have to go in and add most data points manually, like food costs or how close your projections were to the actual food sales—and that takes loads of time.
Level 10 systems horizontally integrate your recipe catalog so that, no matter what or how much you plan, all the accompanying data—like real-time food costs or diet labels for the whole menu—slides over into your planning workflow automatically.
Four Ways A Lvl 10 Planning Methodology Moves You Forward
Once you’ve integrated your recipe catalog to Level 10 planning methodology, the impacts can be seen immediately.
- Scale menus to match your plans. Estimations on foot traffic (or headcounts for caterers) can be transformed into precise recipe and menu plans. For example, if you plan to cater a wedding with 200 guests and have three dinner options, you can set recipe forecasts (40% chicken, 40% beef, 20% vegan) and your planning tool will instantly bring over how much of each recipe to prepare, down to the ingredient level.
- Project revenue accurately. With food costs pulled over from your recipe catalog into your planning workflow, you can forecast precise revenue and margins long before the event or service (say goodbye to post-event food costing!).
- Measure margin fluctuations over time. See how ingredient prices and recipe changes impact your food costs and margins across events or services. You can also use those insights to help you achieve a target margin or food cost percentage for future events.
- Keep every event / service organized in one hub. Never lose track of plans for an upcoming event, search through past recipe packets across custom variables (time of day, location, event, diet), and use previous plans as templates for new ones. With everything in one place, you’re the master of all your planning data.
No two businesses plan the same way, and you may use any combination of thousands of ‘inputs’ to create your final plan (the ‘output’). One caterer may use the weather (88 degrees) to assume that salad will be chosen more at a corporate meeting than hot soup. A restaurant may use a big event (the Super Bowl) to plan for more hot wings.
This is why it’s critical that your planning tools are fluid enough to fit into existing planning systems and account for countless inputs—a one-size-fits-all algorithm is doomed to leave out important pieces of information.
The goal, therefore, isn’t to replace your planning workflow, but to enhance it with your own recipe catalog data that’s more precise, organized, and available in real-time.
This is the key to planning forward—rather than always looking backward to see what really happened with last week’s or last month’s event.
We built Galley for this very purpose: to give everyday food businesses the clarity, organization, and planning power of their food data. Our users see a +3% margin boost on average and find they have tons more time to work on their business, not just in it, now that they’re not bogged down with repetitive, manual tasks.
To see how Galley can help streamline your business, click here.
And here’s the thing… if you were to only implement these two pillars, you’d see big results in days: higher margins, better planning, more organization.
But there’s so much more you can do with this foundation of food and planning data, like automate your purchasing, simplify inventory, and find ways to optimize your food production to reduce labor costs—the kinds of things that have never before been possible because the underlying food data simply didn’t exist.
Stay tuned for our final article in the series where we’ll talk about how you can put your entire kitchen on autopilot without sacrificing quality or control in Pillars #3-5 of efficient food systems.