Everything you Need to Know about Menu Engineering

Find out how to manage your recipe knowledge with recipe database.

Published on 03/03/2023Sébastien Vassaux

In the restaurant business, a recipe database is a must. This document allows the chef to structure their knowledge and to calculate the profitability of their recipes. It also allows the chef to organize their production efficiently while enriching information.

As you can now see, a database is a management tool that will help you lead your restaurant to success. When well written, you will save precious time and be able to better organize yourself efficiently. As a restaurant owner you know better than anyone that organization is one of the main keys to success.

1. Structuring knowledge

In the restaurant business it is essential to structure your knowledge in order to build a solid and durable foundation. Thanks to this, you will be able to standardize information to avoid errors, train your colleagues with ease and prevent turnover.

Standardize information to avoid errors.

In the kitchen, as in life, not all mistakes can be avoided. However, you can try to reduce them to a minimum. With your recipe database, you will be able to standardize the information at your disposal and start structuring your knowledge. By doing this work, you will minimize mistakes that might occur later. If you look in detail, restaurant chains are primarily structured independents who have standardized their processes and knowledge.

Train your colleagues

In order to work efficiently in the kitchen, all employees must have access to the same level of information and knowledge. In order to save as much time as possible in training your colleagues, it is important to structure information beforehand. The time spent on structuring knowledge will be quickly made up for at a later date. In school you learn with a recipe book. Unfortunately, when you start in the kitchen with a professional, you often learn on the job due to the lack of ergonomic tools.

A database is the perfect tool to do this job thoroughly. Thanks to it, your colleagues will have a document they can refer to when they need to know more about a recipe, or even if they have doubts. You can print out an up-to-date, laminated recipe booklet and make it available to the kitchen staff. The clearer and more detailed your database is, the easier it will be to train staff.

Prevent turnover

The growth rate in the hotel and restaurant industry is the highest of all sectors. That being said, turnover is still very high--sometimes reaching over 70%. This is almost 2 or 3 times higher than the average for other sectors. This can often be explained by the age of employees, who can be young and/or students, but also by the hectic, and sometimes stressful, work pace.

One thing is certain: turnover must be considered as mandatory and anticipated, in order to be better protected against it. You certainly don't want to wait until your chef has left to realize that all of the knowledge of your restaurant was only in their head. You should also take into account that a structured, modern company is more likely to retain its employees.

In the professional world every employee should be careful to make their work clear and available, in order to share information. In the restaurant industry the same logic must be applied--and this is where the recipe database comes into play with composition of recipes, production steps, selling prices and so on. Record your knowledge, and your staff's knowledge, to make sure nothing is forgotten.

2. Calculating profitability and optimizing your ratios

To optimize the profitability of your kitchen, it is essential to look at different components: the analysis of the performance of your dishes, the reduction of your costs, your pricing (but also the improvement of your marketing mix)... Nothing should be left to chance.

Calculate the profitability of your menu items

A recipe database is a crucial tool for any restaurant owner. It will allow you to calculate the cost price simply and quickly, so that you will always be able to follow your profitability.

When you know how much it costs to make your dish, you can better control your expenses. With the exact price and quantities you need for your recipe, it's easy!

This will make it easier for you to set your selling prices and know your margins.

For your calculations to be reliable, you must be careful in considering the entire manufacturing process. In your cooking database, make sure you take into account the variations in weight of your food. For example, a cooked tomato does not weigh the same as before processing. If you sell take-out or delivery, also include the cost of your packaging in your recipe database. Remember to calculate the margins on labor costs as well.

Get into the details of your revenues

Once you've calculated the profitability of your recipes, it is time to identify the ones that make you lose money and the ones that make you gain money.

To do this, you need to optimize the profitability of your menu items by looking at:

Prices that are too low: if different sales units of a product have disparate profitability (one is profitable, the other is not), you have a price positioning problem. For example, you sell a portion of a dessert at a lower price than the complete dish, or you sell a glass of wine at a lower margin than the entire bottle. In any case, you would be discounting with volume.

Bad proportion: you can identify that the main cost of a recipe comes from a particular ingredient--can you reduce its quantity and/or substitute it with another ingredient? For example, in a bolognese, use more tomatoes and less meat.

Costs too high: if all the recipes that use a particular ingredient are not very profitable, it is perhaps because the cost of the ingredient is too high. This must be negotiated with your supplier. You can also refer to the volume of orders from suppliers to analyze your bargaining power and to better negotiate.

Quantities too large: a recipe database is designed for a fixed number of portions or a fixed weight per portion. You can quickly simulate better profitability by reducing the size of the portions served. That is, more portions are served for the same recipe. It is necessary to determine what is acceptable for the customer, knowing that there are often leftovers. This is an opportunity to differentiate the price according to the size of the portion, which is, for example, well done on burgers with the double steak option.

Next, sort your recipes by increasing margin. It is worth optimizing your improvement efforts on the lowest margin because the potential for improvement is greater. It is easier to go from 40% to 60% than to go from 90% to 95% on margins.

Finally, refine your marketing mix. Products that are not very profitable can be beneficial if they participate in cross-selling, i.e. if they allow you to sell others that are profitable.

3. Organizing the production

A recipe database is the best way to keep control of the production of your recipes. It allows you to guarantee a consistent level of quality and service to your customers. At all stages of your production, a recipe database guarantees a better organization of your production processes, purchases and prices.

Use recipe databases to ensure consistency

As soon as we talk about well-organized structures, the importance of the proportions and quantities of the recipe databases is mentioned.

It's impossible to achieve this without standardized and shared information.

Provide your team with easy access to your recipes so that they can respect quantities.

Compare your incoming and outgoing flows to determine if there were any differences: inventory N+1 = inventory N + purchases - sales + diff

Avoid calculation errors by factoring recipes and sub-recipes into correct quantities

In the kitchen, calculation errors happen faster than you would think. When you have to make a recipe for 30 people, trying to round up the quantities isn't always easy for kitchen staff. Using a database management solution that allows you to round up the quantities of your recipes and sub-recipes will not only save you precious time, but also reduce production errors to a minimum.

4. Enriching information

Calculate nutritional and allergenic information: an INCO obligation

Now that you have efficiently structured your recipe knowledge, it is time to enrich the information.

Food composition and nutritional information

Food composition and nutritional values are increasingly important to your customers. Displaying this information allows you to be transparent to them. Thanks to preliminary structuring work done on your recipe database, you are normally able to report the nutritional information of your recipes with ease.

Presence of allergens

All restaurants are obliged to communicate allergens present in the dishes they offer.

This obligation also applies to caterers, canteens, collective catering establishments and all professionals in the food industry. Make sure to enhance your recipe database to include allergens.

Connect your recipe database to third-party systems

To take your recipe knowledge management even further, why not connect your database management software to third-party systems? With this adjustment, you will be able to:

Synchronize your database with your various tools

Once your data is structured and centralized, you can connect it to different tools to get maximum value from it. By synchronizing this data with different sources, you will then be able to build consistent analytics, which will allow you to optimize your business efficiently.

Build additional features

Take the opportunity to build additional features. For example, your website is a key point of contact in your customers' purchasing journey. The information displayed must be exhaustive and meet your customers' expectations. By connecting your database management software to your website, you can, for example, display recipes in a mosaic format, with the added bonus of nutritional information and presence of allergens.

Go further: use a recipe database software

To help you in the conception of your techniques, there are several pieces of software at your disposal. These softwares are much more complete than a simple technical recipe sheet on Excel--they allow you to easily calculate your margins, ratios, costs and so on. In the restaurant business, these softwares will be able to offer options according to individual needs.

The kitchen management solutions for the catering industry are designed to help manage your kitchen in a more structured and efficient way. These softwares also allows you to control the essential indicators for excellent management of your business.

Not all restaurant management softwares offer the same features, i.e. management of stocks, inventories, supplier orders, etc.. Extensively explore the details and try a software before you start with it.