Natural Foods Merchandiser

Give them more deli for their dollars

Maybe there was a time when your customers didn't worry that lunch from a natural foods store's deli could cost more than the weekly wage of workers in some countries. But those times are disappearing faster than the profits of a U.S. automaker. These days, even the most economically flush are questioning $15-a-pound chicken salad and $6 smoothies. But how do you cut your foodservice prices to appeal to cash-conscious customers while still maintaining your commitment to organic ingredients, storewide sustainability and living wages for your workers? We asked experts for their top seven ideas on how to put your store's foodservice operations on a healthy diet, without sacrificing good taste.

  • Staff smarter. If your foodservice is typically open morning through night, with two people working the day shift and two people on the late shift, “Deli Lamma” Steve Rosen suggests changing your staffing to something along the lines of one person from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., another from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and one from 5 to 7 p.m. “That way you still have two people during your busy lunch and dinner hours, but you pick up four to six hours of labor savings a day,” says Rosen, founder of Rosen Enterprises, a Cooper City, Fla.-based foodservice consulting company.
  • Fix it. Maintenance is much cheaper than repairs, so don't ignore those dangling or hanging components on your foodservice equipment, Rosen says. And make sure to clean your stove and other kitchen equipment before pricey parts become clogged with grease.
  • Don't toss the salad. The California Integrated Waste Management Board recommends rehydrating vegetables that have wilted by trimming off the ends of the stalks and immersing the veggies in 100-degree water for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Rethink the seasonal concept. If it's January and you still have cans of Thanksgiving sweet potatoes in your back room, use them in foodservice. “Make some sweet potato soup or something like that,” Rosen says. “Now is the time to use as much of your current inventory as you can. Keep inventory at a 1.5 to 1 ratio of weekly sales.”
  • Follow the recipe. Encourage employees to be creative when formulating recipes, but regimented when actually making the dish. “Standardized recipes are the only way you can have accurate costs and a viable business,” writes Douglas Robert Brown in Controlling Restaurant and Food Service Food Costs (Atlantic Publishing Co., 2003). Standardized recipes also ensure uniform quality and taste, help with inventory and purchasing lists, require less supervision during food prep and call for fewer highly trained and highly paid employees, Brown says.
  • Contain the containers. Paper costs—everything from to-go boxes to kitchen foil—in your foodservice operations can equal 3 percent to 5 percent of your total budget, Rosen says. Save money by reevaluating your inventory, he suggests. “Do you really need three different-sized cups? Maybe when it's time to reorder you can cut to two sizes.”
  • Don't run out. “When I ask a deli manager, ‘How does that item sell?' I so often hear the following phrase: ‘That's our best seller. We run out of it every day,' ” Rosen says. “My response is: ‘Then why aren't you making more?' ” Focus on what your customers want and encourage return visits by making sure you always have your most popular items in good supply, he says.

    Vicky Uhland is a Lafayette, Colo.-based freelance writer and editor.

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