Food Costs

From “Ask Kit!”:
Q: What is a typical or average meal cost?

A: Let’s start with breakfast; anticipate about $5 per person, depending on what you are serving. Breakfast can be a very economical meal to serve.

If you plan to offer other meals, you really need to price them based on what you are serving. A spaghetti dinner will be much cheaper to prepare and serve than a steak dinner, so plan your menus and calculate all the costs involved with offering any specific meal.

It behooves you to know what the costs are for all the food you offer — breakfast, snacks, beverages — and roll all those costs into your food pricing. You are offering a total bed and breakfast package, but there will be times you want or need to break out the food charge from the lodging charge (for calculating taxes, for per diem guests, for long-term stays, for extra breakfast guests), so you might as well know that cost up front.

8 thoughts on “Food Costs”

  1. I have two culinary degrees, so I’d like to make a pitch for reducing food costs through offering made to order breakfasts.
    We have two breakfast menus at my inn. One is complimentary. The other is a “deluxe” paid menu for $5.00.
    The complimentary menu is very simple. Guests get the following choices: pancakes or hashbrowns, scrambled eggs, fried eggs, or a cheddar cheese omelet, and sausage, bacon, or refried beans.
    The deluxe menu is a bit more complicated and includes a variety of stuffed crepes and French toast, specialy omelets, and specialty meats including venison sausage and scrapple – both of which are Pennsylvania Dutch favorites. (My inn is in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country).
    For the purposes of this discussion, we’ll discount most of the deluxe menu and focus on the complimentary menu at this time.
    First – why offer a made to order menu?
    Think about your typical breakfast buffet. You fry up sausage. You fry up bacon. You make an egg dish. You offer stuffed French toast and other goodies and what happens? There are days when the sausage and bacon are devoured and there are days when they’re not touched. There are days when 3/4’s of your egg casserole is consumed. There are also days when everyone decides to eat yogurt and fresh fruit.
    The amount of food wasted in the typical B&B buffet can really add up. Food that guests don’t eat is wasted and wasted food is money that you’re throwing in the garbage.
    With made to order breakfasts, everybody gets what they want and the breakfasts are usually quite easy to put together.
    How do you do this? It’s simple.
    Consider this typical breakfast order using the complimentary menus described above.
    Ten guests are having breakfasts. You have the following orders staggered with requests for 6:30 to 9 AM serving times:
    6 hashbrowns
    4 pancakes
    3 fried eggs
    3 scrambled eggs
    4 omelets
    4 sausages
    5 bacon
    1 refried beans
    I typically use masking tape to tape the breakfast orders on the cupboards above the kitchen counter. I tape them from left to right in their serving sequence from 6:30 to 9 AM.
    The oven is preheated to 200 degrees. Serving plates are put in the oven to warm.
    Of all these items, refried beans are the easiest because I make a big batch ahead of time. I cool them down, individually portion them, wrap the portions in plastic, label them, date them, and freeze them.
    When someone wants refried beans, I zap them in the microwave for a minute and spoon them in a ramekin to mold them into a cylinder shape. The beans are then hot held in the oven.
    Several of the above items may also be cooked at the same time and hot held in an oven.
    All of the bacon can be cooked together over medium heat. All of the sausage may be cooked together. The hashbrown potatoes are also cooked together.
    The bacon and sausages are then hotheld on a plate in the oven. The hashbrown potatoes are also held in the oven.
    I usually make pancakes within 20 minutes of serving to keep them from drying out. I mix the batter for all of the pancakes needed and cook the pancakes that I’ll be serving. The pancakes go into a warm oven for holding.
    Scambled eggs come together pretty quickly. I cook the eggs within 15-30 minutes of serving depending upon how many eggs are needed.
    Omelets may also be made slightly ahead of time. I plate the omelets individually and put these plates in the oven.
    Fried eggs need more finesse. Make them too early and hot hold them and you wind up with hard baked yolks. I like to leave fried eggs until almost the last moment.
    A few moments before serving, I consult the orders above the kitchen counter and begin pulling plates out of the oven.
    First order: two pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon. I plate this order, scooping pancakes from a plate full of pancakes, scrambled eggs from the pan I just cooked up, and bacon from the plate of bacons and sausage.
    Second order: hashbrowns, omelet, sausage. I scoop hashbrowns onto a plate that already has an omelet. I add two sausages.
    I plate the other orders and carefully put them back in the oven to hothold them until they’re ready.
    I then check to see if the guests are ready. I confirm their identities to avoid giving the wrong breakfast to the wrong guests. (I once had guests order breakfast for 9 AM and show up at 8 AM. Since I was only expecting two guests for 8 AM, I assumed that the guests who came downstairs were the 8 AM breakfast guests and I gave them “their” breakfast. Big mistake. The real 8 AM guests came down at 8:05 and were not happy to find someone else eating their breakfast).
    Made to order breakfasts can be time consuming – but I truly believe that if this is done properly, guests are happy that they had a choice and food wastage is reduced.
    Some people are not big breakfast eaters. I’ve had several guests who want nothing more than a couple of scrambled eggs with no sausage, bacon, hashbrowns, or pancakes.
    With regards to the deluxe breakfast menu – specifically the specialty omelets, I’ve asked people about the food wastage involved with having to stock various types of cheese, green peppers, olives, mushrooms etc.
    The truth of the matter is that I don’t stock these items fresh. I individually portion them and freeze them. I have containers in the freezer that are literally marked, “Polish sausage,” “venison sausage,” “olives,” “bell pepper,” “Swiss cheese,” etc.
    Most of the items that are used to make the specialty omelets are frozen. I unwrap them, zap them for 30 seconds in the microwave, and voila – they’re ready to go.
    It’s all a matter of mise en place (MEEZ ahn plahs), a French culinary term that refers to having all the ingredients necessary for a dish prepared and ready at hand to use just before cooking.
    If you’re organized – made to order breakfasts are a cinch.
    This is not to say that this is all I serve for breakfast. Before cooking breakfast, it takes me 15 minutes to put the breakfast buffet together. I have a cold breakfast buffet that includes yogurt (in a bowl of ice), fruit salad, a bread tray, jams and jellies, a pitcher of orange juice, a pitcher of water, and a pitcher of milk. Cereal is already in covered containers on the side table with bowls. It only takes me a moment to grind fresh coffee beans, toss them in a filter, and make a pot of coffee. Hot water is put in a carafe and the coffee and hot water are placed on burners in the dining room.
    A silver tray full of assorted teas and hot chocolate sits next to the burner.
    The tray includes a container of milk powder and another container of sugar. I also add a creamer filled with cream.
    I have served as many as 16 made to order breakfasts on any given day. The only time I don’t serve made to order breakfasts are when all guests want to eat together.
    It’s not too much of a problem if I only have 6 or 8 guests. It IS a problem if I have 16.
    On the rare occasions that this has happened, I have reverted to serving a hot breakfast buffet as a matter of personal convenience.

  2. Wow. Made to order meals are impressive. I don’t think I’d have the talent. Our B&B has an open floorplan so the kitchen is part of the dining room. So while we (my wife and I) are keeping conversation going (we serve family style) we also have to keep the food progressing. It’s a bit of a challenge but its kind of fun. I think if we were prepping custom breakfasts we would be swearing more than an innkeeper should. It might be entertaining to watch, but the results might be a wee bit scary.

  3. I can’t boil water and talk to people, so I’d be in trouble in your kitchen, Steve.
    The first inn I managed didn’t have the food license to prepare breakfast. We served from 7-10, 7 days a week. We served what I called a continental-plus breakfast, and I mean served. We provided fresh squeezed OJ, yogurt with fruit, homemade granola was available for either a cereal or as topping for the yogurt, a croissant, and hot beverage.
    When people sat down for breakfast, choosing between the group table in the dining room or the private tables on the sunporch, we approached them with their OJ. We served the yogurt and the croissant as courses, giving us time to warm the croissant . It was taken to the table in a napkin-lined basket, adding a touch of elegance — or at least a personal touch. We told them their second one was warming and all they had to do was ask for it.
    A 2 oz croissant was generally enough for the guests, so we rarelya had a request for a second croissant. We also only took the cream and lemon curd to the table as people sat down, doing it so the items didn’t go bad. By treating people to service they had fresh food and we didn’t have to throw much away. Perfect!
    David, what suggestions do you have for reducing food costs at inns that aren’t allowed to cook for their guests?

  4. Kit Cassingham wrote:
    David, what suggestions do you have for reducing food costs at inns that aren’t allowed to cook for their guests?

    There are lots of things that can be done for non-cooked breakfasts.

    1. Get an electric double burner. Fill one carafe with hot water. Fill the other carafe with freshly brewed coffee – preferably using coffee beans that have been freshly ground and brewed.

    2. Put a large tray next to the burner. The tray should contain small wicker baskets of assorted teas and hot chocolate. It should include a container of granulated sugar, a pot of honey, a bowl of sugar substitute envelopes, and a creamer. There should also be a cup of spoons for stirring and a shallow empty bowl for people to discard their stirring spoons. A waste basket on the floor will encourage people to discard their teabags and empty envelopes of instant chocolate and sugar substitute. (At the Inn at Elizabethville, we have an “Asian” basket that includes Jasmine tea, black tea, and green tea. We have a “European” basket of Earl Grey, English breakfast tea, and Black Currant. We have an old fashioned tin canister that contains bags of Lipton. We even have a couple of boxes of Celestial Seasonings: blueberry, raspberry, and black cherry berry).

    3. If you have hot water, offer guests a tray of instant oatmeal. Put empty bowls next to the tray.

    4. Put out a bread tray. Here’s a trick I like to use. To keep my bread “fresh” for as long as possible, I sort them into freezer bags. Each gallon bag contains an assortment of bagels, English muffins, cinnamon-raisin bread, whole wheat bread, corn bread, and white bread. The bags are labeled, dated, and frozen. I defrost bread as necessary and put them on a three tiered plate with tongs for serving. Bread plates can be stacked next to the bread tray along with jams, jellies, cream cheese, and pats of butter. To emphasize our regional flavor, we offer guests an assortment of Amish jams and jellies and locally produced honey.

    For an added touch of elegance, go to your local crafts store and get some small plastic chocolate molds. Allow a stick of butter to become soft at room temperature. Fill the molds with the butter. Chill them. Pop them out of the molds and you’ll have pats of butter in various decorative shapes.

    5. Include a toaster near the bread tray and allow guests to toast their own bread.

    6. Cereal can be purchased in bulk and stored in secure containers. We have four containers of cereal that are always on our side table. A metal scoop sits on a plate in front of the cereal. Empty bowls are also available. Cereal may also be purchased in bulk in small single portion boxes from places like Sam’s. My inn typically offers corn chex, wheaties, homemade tropical granola, and cinnamon crunch.

    7. Include a pitcher of water, a pitcher of milk, and a pitcher of orange juice. Orange juice needn’t be the expensive “fresh squeezed” quart sized containers found near the dairy section of the supermarket. Tropicana produces a 64 oz. container of orange juice made from concentrate that can be purchased in the Dollar Store for about $1.50 as opposed to $3.99 and more that you can pay for the “fresh squeezed” stuff. The quality is nearly as good.

    8. Purchase a variety of yogurt. Put an assortment of yogurts in a bowl of ice to keep them cool.

    9. If you have a farmer’s market nearby, purchase some affordable seasonal fruit. A bowl of apples, pears, and oranges, topped with a couple of bananas makes for a very attractive display. You may also offer fruit salad. The Dollar Store sells a rather nice 1 lb. can of tropical fruit salad. I like to drain the juice and toss the salad with a mixture of sliced melons and grapes. The addition of melons with add a contrasting texture to the fruit. The grapes will also add a variety of color.

    10. Danishes are always a possibility as are donuts or donut holes. (It has been my experience that most guests don’t eat danishes or donuts – but then again, it also depends upon who your target market is).

    11. Cereal bars are another possibility. There are all sorts of cereal bars available. The Dollar Store sells Leclerc fruit and cereal bars that are both affordable and reasonably tasty.

  5. David, those are excellent ideas. I personally cringe at a few of the suggestions because I can see people “going cheap” on them.

    1. Get an electric double burner. Fill one carafe with hot water. Fill the other carafe with freshly brewed coffee – preferably using coffee beans that have been freshly ground and brewed.

    You keep coffee on the burner?!?!? I’d have thought you would pour freshly brewed coffee in an air pot so that it didn’t burn.

    Do you make your coffee dark and strong?

    Another idea to help people keep breakfast costs down. If an innkeeper knows a restaurant owner maybe they can make arrangements to cook and bake in their approved kitchen, freeze the items, and then heat and serve them as needed. Even if “rent” was paid to the restaurant, it would still be a cost effective way to make some wonderful food items (like breads, quiche, waffles, and crepes).

  6. Quote:
    No-no-no … not a restaurant. This creates too many liability concerns and space in a restaurant kitchen is extremely limited.

    Can’t you read my mind?!?!? When I suggested a restaurant I was thinking of one that had limited meal hours.

    There were two restaurant owners in Boulder, CO, YEARS ago who shared one kitchen; one was open only for breakfast and the other was open only for dinner. It worked well for them for a long time, until the dinner guy bought his own place and moved there.

    But you are right, there are lots of commercial kitchen ideas out there. Be creative as you research your options. And also check with your state/county health official to find out if you have to do any paperwork to satisfy them. You might.

  7. Kit Cassingham wrote:
    Can’t you read my mind?!?!?

    Of course not. We’re not married. (GRIN)

    Does your husband know your every thought? You’re not one of those couples who finish each other’s sentences, are you?

  8. No, we’re worse than that! HORRORS!!!

    We ask or answer a question before it’s been asked. We bring up the subject the other was about to mention. We laugh at a memory at the same time the other was reviewing the same memory.

    It’s very weird, but fun.

Comments are closed.