Culinary School Qtr 2: Week 2 – More Lessons on Serving and Customer Service

CULA 124

Hi all – Week 2 of my 2nd Quarter at Lake Washington Institute of Technology, focusing on being a server in our restaurant

The restaurant is still not open, the CULA 120 class (the cooks for this quarter) are working on a menu, which we are told we’ll see very soon now.

We continued learning about serving, place settings, etc. We had to come up with a napkin fold that will be part of our place setting, Every Front of House class does this every quarter. There are a bunch of napkin folds in our text book, and Youtube videos abound. Here is one example of a video showing multiple folds.

As with a vast number of people, I never really paid much attention to the napkin when I sit at a restaurant, other than they are different.  Turns out there are zillions of napkin folds, some very complicated and artistic. It is basically oragami with cloth.

The assignment was to bring a napkin fold to class, and we’d all look at what we brought and decide on one. I said up front I thought it should be fairly simple and quick to do. Chef City Grill is not, after all, fine dining, but was a cut above a Denny’s or someplace like that. We have cloth, not paper, napkins, so having a fold was necessary.

WP_20150112_004The one we decided on was the simple pocket fold. A video of how to fold this is here.

The rest of the week we discussed more about specifics of customer service, and mainly we practiced. Practice Practice Practice. We practiced our “spiel”, where we introduced ourselves, dropped water on the table, and took orders. The order is:

  • The guest(s) is/are seated by the host and given menus.
  • We come up with water, and drop it on the table. Drop doesn’t mean “drop”, we place it in front of the diner. Drop is restaurant lingo.
  • We introduce ourselves: “Hello, welcome to Chef City Grill, I’m Jason, I’ll be your server for today. Does anyone want anything to drink besides water?”
  • We take the drink orders, which includes practice on how to write it on the pad, there is a specific format we use so we can remember which customer ordered what.
  • We go back and get the drinks, whatever they may be (soft, coffee, tea, etc).
  • When we come back, there should have been enough time for them to decide.
  • We write down who wants what, and then go enter the orders into the POS system.

We spent a good deal of time this week doing this in various ways. We would divide into groups and take turns doing this routine, and most importantly, entering the orders into the POS system.

The POS (Point of Sale) is pretty interesting. This is one of those things I had seen in restaurants and was looking forward to learning. Ours is called “Maitre’D”, but there are several on the market. I realize I didn’t take a picture of the screen, I will do this for next time.

The menu we were using for this was last quarter’s, as the 120 class is still working on theirs. We’re told we’ll see the menu next week. Will be looking forward to that.

CULA 154 Food and Beverage Procurement

Last week we basically were introduced to Purchasing, why we do it, etc.  Now we are getting more into the specifics.

This week we talked about quality and how it relates to the purchasing decision. The first assignment was to come up with a hypothetical business that we’d want to do, something to do with Food Service. Mine was a deli/butcher shop named “Jason’s Tasty Piggy Parts”, which would specialize in cured meats, hams, etc, and have a small Deli where we can serve sandwiches, charcuterie plates, etc. The 2nd assignment this week was to outline the quality specs for a few products you’d need to run this restaurant. I listed artisinal, organic pork sides for my business, along with some meat processing equipment (grinders, sausage stuffers, etc). Quality might relate to a specific brand, for example Heinz ketchup vs Hunt’s, the grade of the meat or poultry (prime, choice, or select beef, for example).  The options go on and on.

This points out that whoever does the purchasing for an operation has to have some degree of technical knowledge about what you are ordering. In most smaller operations, the chef would be ordering the food, for example. We talked about how ordering is done in large operations, like franchises and chains, where ordering is done by a central ordering group.

The Chef/Owner of a small bistro can go to the local fresh market and design a menu or specials based on what looks good that day. The purchaser for Denny’s or Applebee’s doesn’t have that flexibility. The latter has to regiment it’s purchasing based on the menu that is already established.

CULA 142 Cost Control

This week, we looked at the menu as the guiding force behind any sort of food service. We looked at various types of menus:

  • Fixed – Menu is the same every day, and may change seasonally or periodically.
  • Cyclic – Used in a lot of institutions (“If it’s Tuesday, it must be meatloaf”)
  • Combined – Fixed with specials


The menu drives what food is to be purchased, how it is presented, and even the decor of the restaurant. You won’t have linen table cloths and crystal glasses if you are a breakfast joint, and likewise a prime steakhouse won’t serve on paper plates, to illustrate a few extremes.

Probably the largest most important part of the menu, besides deciding on the general tone of the food, is the pricing. The prices on a menu represent 100% of the income that will be realized by that establishment, and thus whether you make money or not. So the price is critical. Many restaurants go out of business because they under or over price menu items. Underpricing might cause serving food at a loss, and overpricing might drive customers away.  It is a delicate balancing act.

The primary concept here is that there is a food cost associated with every dish on the menu. This simply is the cost of the basic food (ingredients) that are purchased to make that dish. The simplest way of establishing a menu price is to take that food cost and divide it by a food cost percentage. This is the desired portion of the menu price that is the cost of the food. For example, if the goal is to run a restaurant with a food cost of 25%, then every item on the menu would be priced at 4 times the food cost. An item whose raw ingredients cost $4.00 would be priced at $16.00 on the menu.  The formula is

Menu Price = Food Cost/Food Cost %

In this example:  $16 = $4/.25

A food cost of 25% is REALLY low, and generally costs in the mid 30’s are more common. Note that no accounting of labor, rent, etc are done in this method. You have to hope that this covers it, and in most well run operations it does. Also, different types of menu items (drinks, appetizers, main course, salads) have different food cost percentages that are somewhat standard in the industry. Drinks are generally VERY high profit, especially soft drinks. At the other extreme, entrees might have a much higher food cost. For example, the steaks in a prime steak house will run a food cost of 50%.  This is one reason why everything is ala carte in a prime steak house. They make money on the side dishes.  So the next time you go to Ruth’s Chris and order a side of creamed spinach and pay $8 or $9, think about that. The food cost on those is probably 25% or less.

In most operations this simple method would be where the owner starts, and then there are other methods used later which can take into account other costs of the establishment when they are known. After the restaurant opens and has been running a while, you will know what your labor, rent, utilities are and can factor those in and get a more precise idea of what is happening.

The five methods we discussed are:

  • Food Cost Percentage method (described above)
  • Factor Method (same as above, but the % is manipulated to create a multaplicative factor rather than dividing by a %)
  • Contribution Margin Method – This takes into Variable costs that are nonfood related
  • Prime Cost Method – Takes labor and other factors into account. Prime Cost = Food Cost+wages+Employee Benefits+taxes
  • Taxas Restaurant Association – Similar to Prime Cost, but labor is expressed as a percentage, and a profit goal is included, rather than an outcome of the other formulas

It is a bit confusing, but all are basically doing the same thing, figuring out what to charge on the menu so that the company makes a profit (typically 6-10% for restaurants) and everyone gets paid.

I can see already how the purchasing and costing classes will intersect.  Not sure why they aren’t taught together, but that’s the way it is.



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