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HomeUncategorized6 Types of Food Comps and How You Can Reduce Food Costs

6 Types of Food Comps and How You Can Reduce Food Costs

Busy Kitchen

I was recently talking to one of our clients about the OpsAnalitica Inspector, and he was telling me how it helps their company reduce Food Costs.

See if this sounds familiar, their managers have always been required to do pre-shift line checks. Even before they had implemented OpsAnalitica they did their line checks like most people do, on a clipboard with pen and paper.

With OpsAnalitica, each manager knows that their Area Manager can look at a report and see when and if they completed their line check each shift. Our client said that he first looks for restaurants that aren’t completing their line checks and then he looks for the inevitable increase in food cost that follows. No line check = increased comps. That is one of the ways he determines which restaurants he will be concentrating on.

When you don’t do line checks, you are letting your customer find your mistakes instead of catching them yourself.

In the spirit of this story, I have identified six different types of food comps and what you can do to stop or reduce them.

1. Crazy or dishonest customer
I mention this one first because I believe that the perception in the industry is that crazy customers are the number one reason for food comps but if you tracked your comps by reason my guess is that crazy customers would account for a small amount of total comps.

There are people who don’t read menu descriptions or don’t ask questions. They order food that they hated in the past but want to give another try or they can’t eat because of allergies.  These customers don’t want to pay for it if they aren’t going to eat it.

Let’s take it one step further, there are crooks out there, they are a small percentage of people who eat at your restaurant, but they do exist.  They order food with every intention of eating some of it and then lying about it to get the dish removed from their bill.

I went through some advanced customer service training when I worked for The Grove in Los Angeles; the training was based on the Ritz-Carlton method. The Groves owner’s standpoint was this, that yes there are people who are going to lie and think they pulled a fast one on you. Those liars are such a small percentage of your customers that it isn’t worth confronting them or allowing your staff to provide less service to them because they believe that the person is lying.  The cost to your business or your reputation, if you are wrong, is so much higher than one comped dish.  If you allow you or your team to make those judgment calls, and you get it wrong with a genuine person, they may never come back. You just have to suck it up as a cost of doing business.

As a manager, I always had a hard time with this because I didn’t like the feeling I had in my stomach when I could tell that one of these liars thought they were so cool and got away with something. It bothered me, but I grinned and beared it because our owner was right, and when I was able to fix a situation for a customer of ours that we genuinely made a mistake on, I was thankful for the power that I had to rectify the situation and deliver on our service promise.

Now with Yelp and Social media I think this is even more important today to treat every customer like gold because these reviews can live online forever.

You can’t do anything about this type of food comp other than training your servers well around the menu and paying attention to items that are getting returned more than others.  If you identify certain items that are returned more often, get them off your menu or ensure that servers are fully explaining the items to guests as they order. Ex “Just so you know this isn’t your traditional calamari that is deep fried and breaded, this is a stewed calamari that is in a bowl of sauce.”  Try to head the comp off a the pass with over communication.

2. Server Screw-up
Servers make mistakes. There are any number of reasons for these mistakes: didn’t hear the customer correctly, didn’t ask clarifying questions, didn’t understand the menu item or how the dish is prepared, was overwhelmed at the moment, was hung over or tired.

I was pretty consistently hungover or overly tired in my twenties. When I came into work hungover, I made mistakes, and the restaurant comped some food.

Server orders the food incorrectly and the guest returns it.  You solve this by tracking comps by server. You coach and train servers that have more comps and if you can’t fix them then they may not be the right fit for your restaurant. You do pre-shift meetings and evaluate your team before the shift and make adjustments when you have to. Send servers home that are hung over or look like they slept in their uniforms, make an example of people and hold everyone to the level of professionalism that you expect. Spend more time training servers before they hit the floor in their sections, it’s more than just menu knowledge its table management.

3. Kitchen makes order incorrectly
This type of comp is very similar to number 2 Server Screw-up, it’s just on the other side of the house. The kitchen makes an order incorrectly, and the guest returns the item. Kitchen mistakes happen more often when there are modifications to the dish, and they don’t make it correctly. The solution is the same, train your staff to ask more questions. A cook should never complete a dish unless they fully understand what they are doing. Servers should be trained when there are a lot of modifications to an order to go back to the kitchen and explain the mods to the cooks or check with the cooks if they are doable before ordering.  If you have cooks that don’t know how to make the menu items, then you have to train and coach them and if they don’t improve this probably isn’t the right restaurant for them.

4. Kitchen makes recipe mistake
This type of comp is different from making an order wrong this is where they made an ingredient, a sauce for example, incorrectly and it tastes horrible. Kitchen prepares food with horrible tasting ingredient and guest send food back.

Kitchen recipe mistakes are one of the easiest issues to catch if you do line checks. A manager should taste every sauce, every soup, all side dishes each meal to ensure that they taste the way they are supposed to. Then you can catch your mistakes before your customer catches them for you. Recipe mistakes are 100% avoidable when doing line checks. In our experience, a restaurant that makes more of their food from scratch on a daily basis will see a greater reduction in food cost from performing line checks.

5. Kitchen takes too long to make food
Food taking too long to get to the table is a double a whammy because it is probably affecting more than one table and can generate a lot of comps when nothing was wrong with the food. There are several reasons this can happen:

  • The kitchen is just slammed because everyone sat at once.
  • The kitchen is slammed because they weren’t stocked to par and not all of their food is thawed and ready – slowing down cook times. This once again should be caught and addressed during the line check.
  • The kitchen or the service staff are making mistakes and there a lot of refires that are jumping in line and overwhelming the kitchen staff.

If this is a consistent issue, then you have to take the proper management actions and get the right people on your team.

6. Food runners make mistakes

Food runners sometimes drop off food at the wrong table. I think the rule is that if they leave the food on the table and walk away or the guest touches the food then they can’t give it to the correct guest, and now we have a comp. This is a training and communication issue. They should be trained not to leave a table where there is any question that the food isn’t correct. If they keep the dish on their tray or off the table, they can figure out what is happening and avoid the comp.

Take Aways

After looking at these different types of food comps, you can boil them down to a couple of core issues.

  • Managers that have not confirmed they are ready for service – line checks and pre-shifts.
  • Bad communication – training and hiring decisions.

1. Using line checks and pre-shifts to confirm that you are safe and ready for service are a no-brainer is the low-hanging fruit in these scenarios because you are 100% in complete control of doing this. Whether you are the manager of 1 location or 100’s of locations you can benefit from implementing a pre-shift/line check protocol in your restaurants. The key to making your line check protocol a success is following-up with your managers on a daily basis to make sure they are doing these pre-shifts correctly. If you implement pre-shifts with follow-up you could see your comps and food waste go down; we’ve seen as much as 1/2 to 2% with some of our clients.

2. Bad communication stems from hiring and training issues and are much harder to address because each person is different and each shift that they work is unique. When you are training your team, make sure they understand the why behind what you are asking them to do. Make sure you train them on using clarifying questions and always to get more information before ringing up an item or making an item.

3. Show the team what comps cost the restaurant. I think that it’s beneficial to do training around food cost and how it affects the business. I’ve seen this attitude where employees compare what they would buy a steak for in the grocery store and how much the restaurant sells it for. They believe that the restaurant is swimming in profits, anyone who has ever managed a restaurant knows the truth.

Hold a training session where you show your BOH and FOH teams the cost of each part of a menu item. Factor in labor and everything else that goes into serving this plate to a guest, go crazy here and really dig deep into your costs. A good way to do that is to divide the average meals served in a month into all of your fixed costs (insurance, rent, loans, etc.) and do the same with your non-food variable costs (profit % of rent, power, etc.).  Calculate the true all inclusive plate cost and watch your teams reactions when they understand that there is really only a small percentage of profit on every dish. Explain to them that when we make a mistake or have to comp a dish how that adds up. By explaining the numbers to your team and how comps affect those numbers, you will hopefully see some change in behavior.

If you don’t do this already, I recommend that you track the causes of your food comps in your register system or on paper. It could be as simple as:

  • Server Error
  • Kitchen Error
  • Food Runner Error
  • Customer Didn’t Like.

Review those numbers after a period and look for patterns.  This exercise should tell you where you can focus some attention to your business.

Comps are a fact of life because we are in a people business. I’m a big believer in Control what you can Control and manage to the rest. So many of the comps that we highlighted were because of a lack of communication between the customer and the server, the server and the kitchen team, the kitchen team and the server, or the kitchen team and the food runners. Those people comps we have to manage to as best we can and make the hard decisions when we have to.

Doing line checks and pre-shifts is part of the control what you can control philosophy.  Restaurant managers should be doing line checks every shift and following up with their teams to ensure they are getting done accurately. If you do this, you will be able to reduce comps and food waste.

If you would like to learn more about how OpsAnalitica can help you with line check compliance and reducing your food comps, click here  to watch our OpsAnalitica demo video.

Written by

I've been in the restaurant industry for most of my adult life. I have a BSBA from University of Denver Hotel Restaurant school and an MBA from the same. When I wasn't working in restaurants I was either doing stand-up comedy, for 10 years, or large enterprise software consulting. I'm currently the Managing Director of OpsAnalitica and our Inspector platform was originally conceived when I worked for one of the largest sandwich franchisors in the country. You can reach out to me through LinkedIn.

2 Comments Published

by Sunil Sharma , post on 15 July 2016 | Reply

Dear Tommy,

can you brief me about the services charges procedure in the usa , and non chargeable sale /complimentary/promo sale like owner/directors / partners and operations /sales / and coupon , what is the procedure ,
Did services charges is applicable on promo sale in any outlets .

by Tommy Yionoulis , post on 15 July 2016 | Reply

Sunil,

Service charges in the US are generally not charged by the restaurant unless it is a large party of 6 or more and that is up to the discretion of the establishment. Therefore it is up to the customer to pay the service charge or tip on top of their bill. Most register systems will show a sub total and then subtract any comps or promos from that amount so the guest can see what the tipped amount should be. Also, a smart server will make sure to point out to the customer the total amount of any comps so they can remind the guest what the original or tipped total was. Now customers can choose what their tip is going to be. I hope that answers your questions.