Frugal and Tasty: Keeping Restaurant Food Cost Down

Chris Rumpf

Founder and CEO, 15+ Years of Restaurant Technology Innovation

Frugal and Tasty: Keeping Restaurant Food Cost Down

Restaurant menu planning involves a lot more than just good dishes. Testing dishes on consumers, researching appropriate restaurant food costs and of course, buying high-quality ingredients, will help you make money. We have some ideas on how to choose ingredients for your menu that are low cost, tasty, healthy, and can add value to your business.

Fresh, Local, and Efficient

First, always buy fresh. Fresh is actually cheaper than frozen, and much tastier.

Second, always buy local. Locally-sourced items are generally cheaper because of their low transportation costs. You can also feel good about lowering your business’s carbon footprint and supporting your local economy. In addition, you’ll please the growing number of customers that are supportive of hyper-local food sourcing.

Third, make sure you are not overbuying any items. Work with your staff and your vendors to get the right quantities of each item. Also, consider using an app like BlueCart (featured in another of our posts) to keep your orders efficient and your costs down.

Now, for the items themselves.

Cut Costs with Cheaper Cuts of Meat

For meats, consider using cuts that are low-cost but flavorful when prepared the right way. For example, hanger or flank steak is a very cheap cut, but great for steak frites and other high-heat, quick cooking methods. It is the perfect candidate for marinating, then searing and stuffing with prosciutto and provolone.

Pork butt is super cheap and is excellent for stewing, braising, barbecuing, and roasting. Think of pulled pork or, if you don’t want BBQ on your menu, a house made sausage served with a creamy parmesan polenta.

Poultry is generally a low-cost meat, but did you know that whole chickens are much cheaper than chicken parts? Your staff can butcher them and use different parts for suitable recipes. The carcasses can be saved for homemade stock—and you won’t have to buy bullion.

Low-Cost Veggies

When it comes to produce, buying local also means buying seasonally. That ensures your menu stays interesting and your restaurant food costs stay low.

Many low-cost vegetables (less than $.50 per pound wholesale) have been popular for a while and don’t seem to be losing their shine. Among these are kale, spinach, edamame, beets, broccoli, sweet potatoes, and winter squash. Onions and garlic, the beginning of most sauces and soups, are also cheap, so don’t skimp on them!

Veggie Substitutions

Thinking of accompanying that roasted half-chicken with glazed baby carrots? Baby carrots are much more expensive than regular carrots, so buy the big ones and shave them down.

Another tip is to swap out expensive radicchio for either mustard greens or arugula. Either one will add a little bite to a salad, with less cost. If you plan to grill it, try red cabbage instead, which provides the same beautiful color but a more mellow flavor.

Cabbage is also a good low-cost substitute when a recipe calls for cooked endive. In this case, you would go for a paler, tender cabbage like tendersweet.

Low-Cost Fruits

Cheaper fruits (less than $0.50 per pound wholesale) include grapes, pears, apples, watermelon, cantaloupe, kiwi, oranges, and bananas. (Pear-kale-grape salad with gorgonzola, anyone?) Fruits can be incorporated into main dishes as well as salads, apps, and garnishes.

Incorporate low-cost fruit into your dessert menu and push your restaurant margins even higher—dessert is almost pure profit anyway.


Lentils, peanuts, garbanzo beans (“chickpeas”), and beans—which come in stupendous, colorful variety—are all not only cheap but protein-rich, which makes them excellent for vegetarian dishes. They also add texture and visual interest to soups, sauces, salads and other dishes.

Whole Grains

Brown rice, oats, and quinoa are all cheap, healthful foods that add a nutty flavor and hearty texture to a variety of dishes. Think poke bowls and salads in addition to breakfast foods.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. Work with your chef and your vendors to come up with menu ideas that wow your customers without shrinking your margins.