Profitably Sourcing Top Quality Ingredients
For a premium quick-service restaurant like Untamed, one of the biggest challenges is navigating the balance between sourcing the best, sustainably raised ingredients while also keeping menu prices accessible to as many customers as possible. Being a quick-service restaurant, we do not have wait staff, linens or the other myriad of costs that make full service dining so expensive for the operator and the eater. But with our mission of bringing 100% sustainable meats to a quick-service sandwich shop, we are choosing to use the same, or better, quality ingredients than fine dining restaurants, and food is the single biggest cost to a restauranteur. Managing food costs on a weekly basis is essential to our success.
So what do you do if your concept requires top quality ingredients that drive up your menu pricing?
Stick to Your Guns
Just because a few customers on Yelp call you overpriced does not mean that you need to lower quality to lower prices. You have built a relationship with your customers based on trust and expectations. Failure to meet their quality expectations will destroy all the goodwill you have built with them.
Know Your Customer
You have quality standards that you feel must be met at all times, but you also need to make a profit. Consider raising prices on your most popular items and lowering them on the ones that don’t move as much. Who cares if your margins on individual items don’t make sense as long as the bottom line works for you.
Get to Know Your Suppliers
Go out to their facilities. Get to know them by name. . Learn what is sustainable or unique about their products, and really get to know what makes them tick and what they are passionate about. Only by going on a site tour and really talking with the farmer can you be sure that they are the principled professional that they claim to be. Your customers have to be able to trust you. You in turn have to be able to trust your suppliers. The knowledge gained from these relationships can also be passed on to your customers, increasing their appreciation and understanding of the ingredients that make their food great.
Then Learn How Best to Work with Your Suppliers
Your suppliers need to make a profit as well, but just like you, they have their more popular items and their less popular items. They might be willing to give you a great deal on an item that they are having trouble moving if you guarantee steady purchases. We’ve seen great examples of this in sourcing meat. Serving grass-fed beef tenderloin would be prohibitively expensive for a sandwich shop. But grass-fed beef short ribs are not nearly as popular, in spite of the fact that in the right hands, short ribs taste SO MUCH BETTER! Farmers are more likely to cut a deal with you for the short ribs, knowing that they can sell the tenderloin, ribeye and ground easily to retail customers.
Cut Out the Additional Costs
If food is where you want to invest your dollars, then you need to find ways to save money beyond that, and every little bit counts. For us, that means printing our own take out menus, stamping our own take out bags and buying equipment at auction. It also means cutting waste wherever we can – using chicken bones for making stock, using onion tops as well as the onions, making chicharones out of pork skins.
Choosing to be a sustainable restaurant of any kind takes a principled strategy. Only by developing a network of great suppliers, a clearly articulated message about food quality to your customers, a product that makes the best use of that food quality and a comprehensive business model that puts food first, will you be able to build a truly sustainable, and profitable, business.