Food Cost Inaccuracies: Have you checked your scales?

11th February 2014
Southern Foodways Scale: A Creative Commons photo by southernfoodwaysalliance

Keeping food costs contained is a science and one that requires careful measurement. Managing inventory (and therefore food costs) means balancing the security of knowing you have enough quality goods on hand, with the knowledge that reducing inventory and cost per goods sold is important.

One key to inventory management is ensuring that your scales are accurate. Most restaurants use a scale to check inventory, by weighing and recording how much of certain items are on hand. They also use a scale to portion-out food. For example, if your location makes hamburgers from scratch, you might weigh out 1/4 lb ground beef portions. Other products that come in loose form, like shaved steak or diced chicken, need to be portioned out before they are served as well.

Certain types of restaurants have more complex needs. In the case of frozen yogurt franchises like AngelBerry, scales determine what the customer is charged. As each customer prepares to check out, they put their dish of yogurt and toppings on a scale and are billed accordingly. For these businesses, scales are not only tracking inventory, they are also determining the cost of goods sold.

Keeping that all in mind – when was the last time you verified the accuracy of your scales? We recently spoke with a Subway franchise owner who, after noticing some discrepancies in inventory, checked and found that a scale at one of their locations was off by 20%. Recalibrating the scale immediately reduced their food cost by 1.5%.

How do you check scale accuracy?

Step 1: The simplest way is to purchase a set of calibration weights. Do not try to use something you “know” weighs a certain amount. As an example, do not try to judge the accuracy of your scales by weighing what is purportedly one ounce of chocolate.

Step 2: Now that you have your standardized weight, turn on your scale and give it some time to warm up. Then place the standardized weight in the center of the scale. If it matches the exact amount, move onto Step 3. If it does not, skip to Step 4.

Step 3: Without moving the weight you have placed in the center, use the “Zero” function on your scale. Your reading should now be zero. Add a second weight as close to the center as possible. If it is dead on – move to Step 5. If not, continue to Step 4. The zero function is important because many items you weigh regularly will be in a container.

Step 4: Calibrate your scale. For this step you may have to consult the instructions that came with the scale. Almost every scale permits manual calibration – manufacturers know that scales drift and have a way to compensate for this.

Step 5: Train your staff to repeat this process every week before taking inventory. Scales often become inaccurate over time. What was accurate today may not be in a few weeks. By taking 5 minutes a week to do this, you will be able to state with more confidence that your inventory is in order.

Keep food costs in check

Now that your scale is accurate – work to keep it that way. Instruct staff not to pick the scale up by its plate and to keep it in a place where it will not be dropped.

How are you keeping your food and beverage costs in check? Let us know below.

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Chief Operating Officer at LIVELENZ. Greg began working part-time in restaurants when he was 15 and continued in the industry for a decade. He then began working for technology companies developing a passion for improving operational efficiencies at fast-growing organizations.

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