A Detailed Breakdown of Restaurant Operating Costs

Gain insights into managing restaurant operating costs effectively. Learn about fixed, variable, and semi-variable expenses, including labor and food costs.

Revenue Optimization
Gain insights into managing restaurant operating costs effectively. Learn about fixed, variable, and semi-variable expenses, including labor and food costs.
Erin Watkins

Understanding operating costs is critical for the success and sustainability of a restaurant. Operating costs in a restaurant can be divided into various categories, including fixed, variable, and semi-variable costs. Fixed costs, such as rent, tend to stay the same month-to-month, while variable costs, like food expenses, change according to output. Semi-variable costs, such as labor, include both fixed and variable components.

To provide a perspective on average restaurant costs, labor costs often represent a substantial slice of the operating costs pie, with an average labor cost percentage across all types of restaurants rising to about 31.6%. This increase is partly due to minimum wage hikes and a shrinking pool of potential workers. Rent expenses, another significant component, should ideally not exceed 6%-10% of sales. Meanwhile, utility costs account for approximately 5% of sales for most restaurants, including expenses like electricity and internet.

Efficient management of these operating costs is essential for restaurants to maintain competitiveness and profitability. This article will explore these critical cost components in detail, offering insights and strategies to optimize them for a restaurant's financial health​.

Restaurant operating costs.

What is Operating Costs

Operating costs, also known as operating expenses, are the restaurant costs required for the day-to-day functioning of a restaurant. Fixed and variable costs in operating costs encompass a wide range of financial outlays, including but not limited to food and beverage purchases, labor, rent, utilities, insurance, and marketing expenses. Unlike capital expenses, which are one-time investments such as purchasing real estate or major kitchen equipment, operating costs are recurrent and significantly impact the monthly financial statements of a restaurant.

1. Fixed Costs

Fixed costs in the restaurant industry are those expenses that remain constant regardless of the restaurant's level of business. These costs do not fluctuate with the number of customers or the volume of sales. Examples of fixed costs include:

  • Rent or Mortgage Payments: The fixed cost of leasing or purchasing the space where the restaurant operates.
  • Salaries: Payments to salaried staff, whose wages do not typically vary with the number of hours worked or the restaurant's revenue.
  • Insurance Premiums: Regular payments for insurance policies that protect the business.
  • Loan Repayments: Monthly installments on any loans taken out by the restaurant.
  • License and Permit Fees: Costs associated with maintaining necessary business licenses and permits.

2. Variable Costs

Variable costs, on the other hand, are expenses that change in direct proportion to the restaurant's level of activity or sales volume. These include:

  • Food Supplies: The variable cost of ingredients, varies depending on menu items, menu prices and the number of meals served.
  • Utility Bills: Expenses for utilities like water, gas, and electricity, which can fluctuate based on usage.
  • Hourly Wages: Payments to staff who are paid on an hourly basis, which can vary with the number of hours they work.
  • Marketing and Advertising Expenses: Costs that can be adjusted based on the restaurant's current marketing strategy and budget.
  • Maintenance and Repairs: Expenditures for upkeep of equipment and the premises, which can vary depending on the need.

3. Semi-Variable Costs

Semi-variable costs are a mix of fixed and variable components. They have a fixed base level but can vary with the level of output or activity beyond a certain point. In the food service industry, these costs include:

  • Labor: Labor costs are often semi-variable, as they include both salaried employees (fixed) and hourly employees (variable). For example, a restaurant might have a core team of salaried staff, but the number of hourly workers needed can fluctuate with the restaurant’s busyness.
  • Utilities (to an extent): While utility costs are generally variable, they can have a semi-variable nature due to base charges or minimum usage requirements.
  • Administrative Costs: Some administrative expenses, such as office supplies or software subscriptions, can be semi-variable. There might be a fixed base cost for these items, but additional expenses can occur depending on usage or business scale.

By understanding and managing these three types of costs—fixed, variable, and semi-variable—restaurant owners can more effectively control their overall operating expenses, leading to better financial management and profitability.

Major components of restaurant operating costs.

6 Major Components of Restaurant Operating Costs

1. Rent or Mortgage Payments

Rent or mortgage is often one of the largest fixed expenses for a restaurant. It's generally recommended that rent or mortgage payments should not exceed 5% to 10% of the restaurant's total revenue. However, this can vary depending on location and the type of restaurant.

Tips for Negotiating Better Terms

  • Research the Market: Before entering negotiations, research the local real estate market to understand average rates and terms.
  • Long-Term Agreements: Consider negotiating a longer lease term to secure a more favorable rate.
  • Rent Escalation Caps: Try to negotiate caps on rent escalation to prevent unexpected increases.
  • Improvement Contributions: Ask if the landlord is willing to contribute to the cost of any improvements or renovations needed for the space.

2. Labor Costs

Breakdown of Labor Costs

  • Salaries and Hourly Wages: This includes payments to both hourly and salaried staff. Total labor costs can range from 25% to 35% of total revenue, though fine dining establishments might see higher percentages.
  • Payroll Taxes: These taxes, mandated by law, include contributions to social security, Medicare, and unemployment taxes. Payroll taxes vary by location and are calculated as a percentage of the employee's salary.
  • Benefits: Employee benefits may include health insurance, retirement benefits, paid time off, etc. Offering competitive benefits is important for attracting and retaining quality staff.
  • Training: Training costs encompass orientation, ongoing training programs, and any specialized training required for staff members.

Strategies for Efficient Staff Management

  • Cross-Training: Train staff members in multiple roles to maximize flexibility and efficiency.
  • Scheduling Efficiency: Use scheduling software to optimize staff scheduling, reducing restaurant labor costs during slower periods.
  • Performance Incentives: Implement performance-based incentives to encourage productivity and reduce turnover.
  • Regular Reviews: Conduct regular performance reviews and offer constructive feedback to improve efficiency and morale.
  • Employee Retention: Focus on employee retention strategies, as hiring and training new staff can be more costly than retaining existing employees.

3. Food and Beverage Costs

In the restaurant industry, the Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) refers to the direct costs associated with the production of the dishes served. This typically includes the cost of food ingredients and beverages.

How to Calculate Food and Beverage Cost

  • COGS is calculated by adding the starting inventory to the purchases made during the period and then subtracting the ending inventory. This gives the total cost of food and beverage items used in a specific period. The formula is COGS = Starting Inventory + Purchases - Ending Inventory. Regular monitoring of COGS is essential for maintaining profitability. The COGS should ideally be between 28% and 35% of the revenue, although this can vary based on the type of restaurant.
  • Food Cost Percentage: The food cost percentage is a ratio that expresses the cost of ingredients (COGS) as a percentage of the revenue generated from those ingredients. The food cost percentage is calculated as Food Cost Percentage=(COGSFood Sales)×100Food Cost Percentage=(Food SalesCOGS​)×100.

Tips on Inventory Management and Supplier Relationships

  • Regular Inventory Audits: Conduct regular inventory checks to avoid overstocking and wastage, which is helpful in reducing food costs.
  • Supplier Negotiations: Build strong relationships with suppliers and negotiate for better prices or bulk purchase discounts.
  • Seasonal Purchasing: Take advantage of seasonal produce which can be cheaper and of higher quality.
  • Technology Utilization: Use inventory management software to track stock levels and predict future inventory needs.
  • Waste Reduction: Implement practices to reduce food waste, which can significantly lower food costs.
  • Adjusting Portion Sizes: Optimize portion sizes to manage inventory efficiently, reduce waste, and control food costs, aligning with customer demand and ingredient supply.

4. Utilities and Maintenance

Average Costs of Electricity, Water, Gas, and Internet

  • Utility Expenses: Utilities such as electricity, water, gas, and internet are variable costs that can fluctuate based on usage. On average, restaurants spend about $2.90 per square foot on utilities and maintenance.
  • Electricity and Gas: These are typically the most significant utility costs in a restaurant, especially for those with extensive kitchen equipment.
  • Internet and Other Services: Costs for services like internet, cable, and phone are also to be considered, especially as they are essential for online ordering and reservation systems.

Preventive Maintenance and Cost-Saving Measures

  • Regular Equipment Maintenance: Regular maintenance of kitchen equipment can prevent costly repairs and prolong the life of the equipment.
  • Energy-Efficient Appliances: Invest in energy-efficient appliances to reduce electricity and gas bills.
  • Smart Thermostats and Lighting: Utilize smart thermostats and LED lighting to further reduce energy consumption.
  • Scheduled Maintenance Checks: Implement a schedule for regular maintenance checks to avoid unexpected breakdowns.
  • Training Staff: Train staff on the proper use and maintenance of equipment to prevent misuse and damage.

5. Marketing and Advertising

Understanding the specific costs associated with each marketing strategy is crucial for budgeting and assessing the return on investment (ROI). Here’s a breakdown:

  • Social Media Marketing: Costs can vary widely, depending on whether you use paid advertising, hire content creators, or collaborate with influencers. Small campaigns might cost a few hundred dollars monthly, while larger efforts could run into thousands.
  • SEO and Online Listings: While listing on platforms like Google My Business is typically free, investing in SEO optimization for your website and online content might require hiring an SEO specialist, with costs ranging from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.
  • Email Marketing: Costs include email marketing software subscriptions and design expenses. These can range from minimal (using free platforms with limited features) to higher costs for more sophisticated services.
  • Community Engagement: The costs here depend on the scale of the event or participation. Small local events might have minimal costs, while larger sponsorships or events could cost significantly more.
  • Loyalty Programs: Implementing loyalty programs might involve software costs, promotional materials, and the cost of the rewards themselves. These could start from a few hundred dollars and vary based on the program's complexity and scope.

6. Licenses, Permits, and Insurance

Restaurants require various licenses and permits to operate legally, such as food service licenses, liquor licenses, health department permits, and business licenses.

Insurance is a critical legal expense, covering risks such as property damage, liability, worker’s compensation, and more. The average annual cost for insurance in the restaurant business ranges from $6,000 to $10,000.

Managing These Costs Without Compromising Compliance

  • Research and Planning: Conduct thorough research on all the necessary licenses and permits, understanding their costs and renewal periods.
  • Comparing Insurance Providers: Shop around and compare different insurance providers to find the best coverage at a reasonable rate.
  • Bundling Policies: Consider bundling different insurance policies with the same provider for potential discounts.
  • Regular Reviews: Regularly review and update insurance policies and licenses to ensure they are up-to-date and in line with current business needs.
  • Legal Consultation: Seek advice from legal experts or consultants to navigate the complexities of compliance without incurring unnecessary costs.

Conclusion: Maximizing Profitability with Strategic Cost Management and Advanced Forecasting Tools

Understanding and effectively managing operating costs is paramount for the success and longevity of any restaurant business. This comprehensive overview highlights the key areas of operating costs - from fixed and variable expenses to semi-variable costs, providing practical strategies for efficient management and cost reduction. The insights offered aim to guide restaurant owners and managers in making informed decisions to enhance their financial health.

Implementing the strategies discussed, such as optimizing inventory management and strategic labor scheduling, can lead to significant savings and smoother operations. Moreover, embracing technology is critical in today's competitive market.

One such technological advancement is the 5-Out sales forecasting tool. This innovative tool leverages artificial intelligence and machine learning to predict a restaurant's future demand up to 35 days in advance. Providing detailed insights about inventory purchasing and labor scheduling helps reduce labor costs and food costs, ultimately saving money for restaurants.

5-Out is not just a cost-saving measure; it streamlines operations, making them more efficient and profitable, and thus is an invaluable asset for any restaurant aiming to stay ahead in the industry. Book a demo and save money today!

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