Plate study shows how restaurants throw away money

Tracking what patrons leave behind through a plate study can literally save a restaurant thousands in food costs each month.

Your local nursing home most likely conducts a plate study routinely.  But the idea works just as well for any restaurant that wants to lower food costs.

The idea is simple.  Just measure food portions, garnishes, individual packs or items that come back when tables are bussed.  You’ll quickly learn if portion sizes are correct, which side dishes are beloved (or not) and if wait staff is “over-serving” everything from napkins to ketchup.

Listen in as Dave provides details below.  Or read the transcript below.

Plate study video transcript

BILL:  So Dave,  over time and talked a lot about plate studies… something that you always recommend when you go in and start working with a new operator. What’s that all about.

DAVE: I learned it from the nursing home world because every nursing home we walk into, retirement center,  whatever you want to call it — long term, short term,  skilled — they have weight-gain charts usually hanging by the boss’s office, or the kitchen manager.

And I remember when I finally asked them what is this for?  Well, one of the largest causes of death in nursing homes is weight loss. So it’s real important about the weight gain or weight loss charts on things.

And right next to it was a plate study chart.   Then I asked what’s that?  And they said, well, come in next Thursday and we’ll teach you. So they measure everything that comes back. So when the bussers clear off the table they bring everything back when they’re doing a plate study.  And they do at least once a month.  Some doing them every week.  Some do it  everyday.

But I’m going to suggest for a restaurant if you could do it once a month. Just take any day and do it different days of the week when there are different people working there.  Bring everything back from the table.  Just instruct them to bring back napkins, straws,  unopened individuals, unopened packets of ketchup,  mustard, salt, pepper.  You know souffle cups with catsup in them.  Whatever it is, bring it back and count it, measure it.

Why we’re doing this is we’re trying to find out are we using the right ingredients?  Are we using the right recipe?  Are we using the right product?

And again from the nursing home world I started doing it with my restaurant and I thought it was such a good idea especially when I was trying to sell them something new  because I knew that that was a dog or the other one was a dog.  But one of their customers just loved it, so they left it on the menu.

When every ounce counts!

Now we have more data than we did back then. You know like your point of sale… to understand what’s moving and what’s not. But more importantly, when  we do the plate studies, what  we’re really looking at are two things. Are we serving the right portion. If there’s more than a half an ounce left, we’ll count adding little stick men on a piece of paper. Some people count one ounce.   But with ounce costs continuing to rise to 20-30 cents and ounce — or  when you get your proteins and things like that you find 60-70 cents an ounce.   And so it’s really important that you have the right portion size.  So, if there’s anything left on the plate… can we change that?  If the plate is clean, but people are complaining that the prices are too high and things like that you might want to add a little bit more. The goal would be to have less than a half an hour of anything left doing these plate studies.  Extra napkins bring it back… OK, we know who served it, we know whose table was, we know all that stuff.

Yesterday I went to a restaurant and the waitress brought like a handful of eight-fold napkins.  Well, they’re like nine-cents each!  And then I asked for extra ketchup because I had French fries.  The ketchup was in little 2-ounce souffle cups.  And she brought me like three of them.  It sort of made me happy but I used one other one.  The other two went to waste.

So, do these plate studies… they’re important.  Are we using the right product and are we serving the right amount. If there is anything left on the plate,  there is some reason usually.  And you need to figure that out.

Who should conduct the actual study?

And for salespeople people, I like doing plate studies myself.  Talk the restaurant owner to let me come and do it and get somebody back there. Nobody will care — if DSRs are listening to this — will care if you’re back by the dishwasher out of the way counting stuff.  And it’s just a wise thing for any operator to do all the time.  And the operators who are listening… ask your sales rep if he or she will come in and to a plate study once a month.

BILL:  It’s basically a good thing for both of them, right, because the DSR will learn so much more about that operator’s business and vice versa. Hopefully the operators can save some money because they’re literally throwing away money if they’re not doing these kind of studies.

DAVE:   It’s a great way for the operator to find out for sure if the recipes are working.  You’ll know if every menu item is working or not working. Use the data from your POS what’s selling and what’s not selling… you should be doing that, too. But to make sure that you have the right product… just because you sold it doesn’t mean that customers liked it and ate all of it.

It’s just a great way of checking.