Unbeatable Prime Cost Control Strategies To Increase Your Profits In 2022

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Now is a great time of year for operators to look back at their prime costs and determine where they can increase efficiencies and decrease costs in 2022.

Industry supply/transportation issues and labor shortages control much of the conversation these days. Operators have been inhibited by the lasting impacts of the pandemic and are looking for ways to strategically move forward.

Having the proper tools in place to keep a tight control on your prime costs is essential to both operational efficiency and profitability.

Furthermore, by understanding what your prime costs are as a percentage of sales, as well as strategies to control prime costs, you can look to 2022 with the direct intention to utilize prime cost controls as an additional method to increase profits.

Restaurant managers looking at laptop report

What is Prime Cost?

Your Prime Cost is inclusive of your largest expenses. This includes your cost of goods (food and beverage) and labor expenses (including payroll taxes). These are the first two categories you’ll find on your Profit & Loss Statement.

What is the Prime Cost Formula?

Prime Cost = Total COGS + Total Labor 

 Prime Cost Breakdown

1.  COGS: The COGS acronym, stands for Cost Of Goods, or Cost Of Sales. COGS is the first Prime Cost area you see on your Restaurant P&L.

 What is the COGS formula?

( Opening Inventory + Purchases – Credits – Ending Inventory ) / Sales = COGS

To learn more about what should be reflected in either food cost and pour cost, review our guide on How to Control Cost of Goods!

2.  Labor: Labor is the largest expense for most restaurants and it’s the second and final Prime Cost area on your Restaurant P&L. Your total labor includes your Operational Labor (your FOH & BOH/hourly employees) plus the remainder of your labor. This is your salaried employees, payroll taxes, employee benefits, and employee discounts.

To learn more about regulating your operational payroll dollars, read our post here!

Restaurant managers looking at POS system 

What is Prime Cost as a Percentage of Sales?

Prime cost as a percentage of your sales is simply your total prime cost divided by your total sales. Knowing this number helps you to determine where your prime cost fits within the industry average. More importantly however, this helps you to compare against your own historical data to ensure you’re making progress over time and maximizing profits.

What is the Formula for Prime Cost as a Percentage of Sales?

Prime Cost as a Percentage of Sales = Prime Cost ÷ Total Sales

What is the Average Industry Range for Prime Cost as a Percentage of Sales?

Prime Costs will typically range between 60% – 70% of your sales, the lesser end of the range (or lower without cutting corners) being your ideal target. If costs are 60-70%, remember that leaves 30-40% to flow down to other costs associated with your restaurant such as supplies, maintenance and occupancy.

Keep in mind that this range can vary greatly between quick-service restaurants and full-service restaurants.

Chef reviewing checklist

Why is it Important to Control Prime Costs?

It’s important for operators to control their prime costs because COGS and Labor are the largest expenses to the restaurant. If you’re lowering your prime costs then you’re positively impacting your bottom line.

Prime costs can fluctuate greatly depending upon what’s happening around the globe. Commodity prices, staffing challenges, and consumer behavior can all affect your prime costs. Therefore, the more frequently you review your prime costs (and your financial statements for that matter) the better. We recommend a weekly manager meeting to review P&Ls for this reason. This is why operators have the most direct control over these areas.

Consistently assessing your data makes certain that you’re better equipped to make educated business decisions based on opportunities presented in your analyses.


 3 Strategies to Control Prime Costs

Strategy 1: Review and Forecast Labor, then Schedule Accordingly

Getting control of your labor dollars can feel daunting. Especially when you’re facing industry-wide labor shortages. When reviewing Labor, best practices include:

  • Review Period Trends: Analyze your last 3 periods, look at your overall labor costs, and see if you can identify any trends
  • Review Historical Trends: Analyze YOY trends to highlight areas of opportunity

Note, it’s critical to understand what took place at the time of your trend comparisons (holidays, parties, weather, etc.). This will help paint the picture in the long run so you can understand if you’re comparing apples to apples, or apples to oranges.

What Tools Can Help Forecast Labor & Schedule Accordingly?

  • Sales & Labor Analysis Report: Utilizing tools like a SLA Report, or a Sales & Labor Analysis, helps provide you with key metrics to better understand what you’re currently doing in Sales and Labor compared to what you had forecasted in those areas. This not only shows you what you’re doing well, but more importantly it’s a yellow highlighter on your areas of opportunity within proper forecasting. Forecasting and adjusting based on actual sales allows you to continuously hit your budget goals.

Restaurant operator reviewing report on tablet


Strategy 2: Take Control of Your Inventory & Optimize Your Menu

Counting inventory is the best way to get an accurate representation of what your true usage is. Your inventory should be a total of all the food product, nonalcoholic beverage, beer, wine, liquor, etc. Note: For QSRs we suggest including your packaging in this as well.

Additionally, when you count inventory you touch everything inside the restaurant. This includes all the equipment, the storage areas, walk-in freezers, etc. So, while you’re counting, you can simultaneously perform a facility maintenance check. In doing this, you’re able to catch any maintenance issues before they become a bigger problem.

Furthermore, keeping a tight control on inventory helps you to alleviate issues like waste, error, portioning issues, or theft – all simple areas to reduce costs by spending the extra time to manage it properly.

We recommend you engage your management team in the process. By doing so, you create a baseline for which they can make meaningful decisions. Ultimately you’re going to save more money with the impact they can have rather than the actual labor dollars it costs for them to perform inventory. Check out our list of best practices in counting inventory to learn more!

When you know your restaurant’s actual usage, you can then compare it to your actual costs. By utilizing that data and comparing it to your sales, you can then establish the optimal steps to maximize your menu’s profitability.

What Tools Can Help Manage Inventory & Optimize Your Menu?

  •  Weekly Spend Forecast: Just like the name reflects, a weekly spend forecast puts you in a position to evaluate and optimize daily spending with a weekly spend forecast. Check out our Declining Budget to learn more about how you can stabilize your costs and increase your cash flow.
  • Menu Item Velocity Reporting: Menu Item Velocity Reporting shows daily operational data that identifies volume of sales per menu item or category. You can then view which items have positive sales and positive contribution margin to optimize profitability within your menu. Additionally, it’s critical to properly train your staff on merchandising those particular items. Merchandising properly is how restaurants continue to evolve and sustain permanent, long-term growth. The first step here is to properly educate your team members on which menu items have the highest velocity and greatest margin. Equally as important, train your team to recognize which items, while still important to your menu balance, aren’t the ones that are going to provide your business with the greatest margin contribution.
  • COGS Audit Reporting: In a restaurant, COGS is where the managers can make the most impact. When analyzing COGS you’re looking at your big-ticket items – anything that’s significant in getting food to the customer. With COGS Audit Reporting, you can review and approve item and purchasing variances in real-time. This ensures you make impactful business decisions based on real-time data. Additionally, just like reviewing labor, you should review COGS for trend analysis on a period basis as well as a YOY basis. This will provide you with opportunities to leverage relationships with your vendors – Example: Is there an opportunity for price negotiations or product discounts?

Chefs performing inventory in a restaurant


Strategy 3: Leverage Relationships with Your Vendors

Building relationships with all of your reps from your food and beverage vendors can help you maximize savings. Creating a partnership between your restaurant and your vendors is key to deepening your level of engagement. This enables you to strategize together.

It’s crucial that you prepare before you sit down with your key vendor partners. Make sure you’re knowledgeable about purchasing trends and price volatility. This way, you can ask about applicable programs or discounts that are specific to your goal and what you need.

What Tools can Help you to Leverage Relationships with Your Vendors?

  • Manufacturer Rebate Program: If you’re not currently involved in any manufacturer rebate programs then you might be missing some cost savings that could help decrease your overall cost. A manufacturer rebate program leverages the purchasing power of all its members to negotiate contracts with suppliers. This ends up benefiting everybody in that organization. As part of a larger group, you’ve got strength in numbers. Therefore, this leads to lower product costs that you couldn’t attain on your own.
  • Invoice Analysis Tool: An invoice analysis enables you to track key inventory price changes and quantities purchased over time. Utilizing this type of tool provides you with the data to speak intelligently with your vendor partners about various strategies for your franchise players:  Examples include the possibility of product substitutions, recipe enhancements, or raising menu prices.