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How to Calculate Food Costs for Your Restaurant Menu

How to Calculate Food Costs for Your Restaurant Menu

How you price dishes on your restaurant’s menu can make or break your business. Price dishes too high, and customers won’t order them. Price dishes too low, and you won’t generate enough revenue to cover your overhead expenses.

Lucky for you, we’ve got restaurant pricing down to a science and are willing to share our secrets. We’re revealing how to set menu prices that will cover your overhead and ensure that your restaurant is financially healthy. To do that, you’ll need to:

  1. Determine the cost per serving for each dish you serve.
  2. Choose your desired food cost percentage.
  3. Price your menu items accordingly.
  4. Track your price change’s effect on sales.

Keep reading for a walkthrough of each of the above steps. Let’s get strategic about your restaurant’s food costs and maximize your profitability.


1. Determine the cost per serving for your dishes

Before you determine the price of your restaurant’s meals, you have to know how much they cost to make. Specifically, you need to figure out how much it costs your restaurant to make one serving of each item on your menu.

The formula for cost per serving is:

Here’s an example of how to calculate your cost per serving:

Johnny of Johnny’s Burger Bar wants to determine his famous Johnny Burger’s cost per serving. The dish consists of 8 ounces of ground beef, 1 sesame seed bun, 1 tablespoon of sauce, 2 slices of cheese, 2 slices of tomatoes, and 2 potatoes.

Johnny buys his ingredients in bulk and pays £19 for 5 pounds of ground beef. He calculates that 8 ounces of ground beef for a single burger costs his restaurant £1.90. Johnny does similar calculations to determine the cost per serving of the remaining ingredients in the burger.

  • 8 ounces of ground beef: £1.90
  • 1 sesame seed bun: £0.25
  • 1 tbsp. Sauce: £0.10
  • 2 slices of cheese: £0.90
  • 2 slices of tomatoes: £0.50
  • 2 potatoes: £0.75

Cost per serving = Sum of cost of ingredients for one serving of a dish

Cost per serving = £1.90 + £0.25 + £0.10 + £0.90 + £0.50 + £0.75 = £4.40

It costs Johnny’s Burger Bar £4.40 to make the Johnny Burger.

Calculate the cost per serving for all of the dishes on your menu, and don’t forget to do the same for your cocktail menu!


2. Choose your desired food cost percentage

Food cost percentage is the ratio of restaurant food costs to revenue. The figure helps restaurants determine how much to mark up their food cost per serving to set menu prices that cover overhead like rent, labor, utilities, advertising, and more.

While some restauranteurs don’t take food cost percentage seriously, you shouldn’t be one of them. Optimizing your food cost percentages can help you maximize each of your menu item’s profits.  

What should your restaurant’s food cost percentage be?

In order to run a financially healthy business, most restaurants keep their food cost between 28 and 35% of a dish’s menu price. This range accounts for a variety of restaurant venues, from fast food to fine-dining. Only you can determine your ideal food cost percentage by keeping track of your finances and seeing how customers respond to prices. But how do you do that?

Calculate your current food cost percentage

  • List all the inventory you received at the beginning of the week.
  • Find the dollar value of each item on that list.
  • Track the inventory purchases you made within the week that weren’t counted in your original list.
  • Repeat the same process at the beginning of the following week.
  • Add up your total food sales per shift using your POS sales reports.

Next, calculate your actual food cost for the week. Here’s how:

Let’s see how Johnny’s Burger Bar would calculate their food cost percentage:

Starting inventory value = £11,000

Purchases = £7,000

Ending inventory = £15,000

Food sales = £8,000


Food cost percentage = (11,000 + 7,000 – 15,000) / 8,000

Food cost percentage = 3,000 / 8,000

Food cost percentage = 0.375, or 37.5%

Calculate your ideal food cost percentage

Now that Johnny’s Burger Bar knows that their current food cost percentage is 37.5%, it’s time for them to compare their actual food cost percentage to their ideal food cost percentage.

Let’s say their total costs were £2,500 and, as we see above, their total food sales are £8,000.

Ideal Food Cost = £2,500 / £8,000
Ideal Food Cost = 0.31, or 31%

As you can see from the Johnny’s Burger Bar example, their current food cost is 37.5% but their ideal food cost is 31%. That’s why it’s important to calculate food cost percentages. If you don’t, you could be missing out on an opportunity to maximize your profits. Armed with this information, you can re-engineer your restaurant menu and make sure each dish is as profitable as possible.

If you don’t have historical data on pricing or have yet to open your restaurant, we recommend setting your prices using the middle of the industry benchmark range between 25% and 35% and then comparing your current vs. idea food cost percentage once you have enough sales data (say, after your first month).


3. Price your menu items accordingly

From our example, the Johnny Burger costs Johnny’s Burger Bar £4.40 per serving to make. So how much should Johnny’s Burger Bar charge for this dish in order to cover overhead expenses and possibly make a profit? To determine that, we’ll use this formula:

We know that the cost to the restaurant for one serving of the Johnny Burger is £4.40. We decided that we want a food cost percentage of 31% because that’s what their ideal food cost percentage was. Now we apply those figures to the formula:

Menu item price = £4.40 / 31% = £14.20

Based on the ideal food cost percentage of 31%, Johnny’s Burger Bar should price the Johnny Burger at £14.20.

Calculate your current food cost percentage vs. your ideal food cost percentage for each dish on your menu to assure that your establishment is maximizing its revenue per dish.  


4. Track your price change’s effect on sales

It’s easy to think that you can set menu prices once and be done with it forever. However, if you want a successful restaurant, you have to track the effects of pricing on your sales to determine whether or not you need to adjust prices.

Let’s revisit Johnny’s Burger Bar one last time. After using our pricing formula, Johnny determined that he needs to raise the price of the Johnny Burger from his original price of £12 to £14.20. How did the new price affect sales?

Here are two scenarios that illustrate what could have happened:

Scenario 1: Burger sales slow down

In this scenario, sales of the Johnny Burger have gone down since the price increased.

This could mean that the price is too high for customers. If Johnny wants to reduce the price of the dish to increase sales, he should do it strategically within industry food cost percentage benchmarks. If he uses a food cost percentage to 35% (the higher end of the food cost percentage range), his burger’s menu cost would be £12.57, a price that would be affordable for guests while covering his overhead expenses.

Scenario 2: Burgers sell like crazy!

Conversely, if the Johnny Burger is selling really well with the new price, it could mean that customers can afford another price bump.

To increase the price without outpricing customers, Johnny could use a food cost percentage of 28%, which would price the Johnny Burger at £15.70.

In both scenarios, it’s important to see how customers react to changes in price. Find the sweet spot in pricing, where dishes are profitable for your restaurant and popular with customers.


5. Other ways to manage restaurant food costs

If increasing menu prices result in fewer people eating at your restaurant, you can decrease your food cost percentage by reducing your cost per serving. You can do this by:

  • Finding cheaper vendors: Can you get the same or similar quality ingredients for a lower price with a new vendor?
  • Reducing portion sizes: In Johnny’s case, he could serve a 6-ounce burger instead of an 8-ounce burger to cut down on portion sizes and food cost per serving.

Either option will help reduce your restaurant’s food costs.


Takeaways from pricing menu items and managing restaurant food costs

Keeping food costs down and pricing menu items properly can make or break a restaurant, and that’s why it’s important to compare your existing food cost percentage to your ideal food cost percentage and change your prices accordingly.

Let’s say Johnny’s Burger Bar kept their burger prices at £14.40, up from their original price of £11.75. While it might not seem like a lot at first, that extra £2.65 per burger adds up quick. If Johnny’s Burger Bar sells 75 burgers a day, that £2.65 becomes over £72,000 in additional revenue per year. Now, just imagine if Johnny optimized the food cost percentages for each menu item.

It might seem like a hassle, but carefully controlling your restaurant’s food cost percentages assures that you’re controlling the profitability of your restaurant.

To recap, here’s how to price menu items at your restaurant for financial success:

  • Determine the cost per serving for all of the dishes on your restaurant’s menu.
  • Calculate your current food cost percentage.
  • Determine your ideal food cost percentage.
  • Price menu items accordingly.
  • Adjust menu item prices and food costs based on how customers react to the price changes.

Now that you’re a restaurant food cost guru, maybe it’s time to revisit your menu item costs and give it a revamp. Read our ultimate guide to menu engineering and download your free menu templates to get started.

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