Why Your Restaurant Must Have Scales
The quickest way for food cost to rise is to improperly portion your product. It happens in restaurants all over the country—kitchen staff gets busy prepping for a lunch or dinner rush, has a lengthy checklist to cross off before tickets start getting rung in, and the scales get left under the sink or on the shelf. Lazy habits are an easy trap to fall into, and some restaurants don’t even bother to buy quality portion scales.
But kitchen managers and chefs must emphasize using scales in order to control food cost and eliminate waste. A good portion control scale is a great tool to cut down costs and they’re easy to use. Even if your food cost is where it should be, good portion control scales might help you reduce costs and see a greater margin.
Finding the Right Scale
Restaurant scales are either mechanical or digital. Experience tells me that either is suitable for nearly every kitchen. Mechanical scales are much like the scales in many people’s bathrooms. They have a spinning hand that rotates around a dial. Some scales are very precise and measure weight to fractions of ounces, while others are for larger weights and measure pounds.
Digital scales are more expensive and offer little advantage beyond the fact that they are harder to break. Mechanical scales are spring-loaded, and overuse can wear out the spring, decreasing accuracy and effectively breaking the scale. In most kitchens, it’s worth it to buy multiple scales just in case one seems a little off. The benefit of accuracy is worth the investment for a reliable scale in the long run.
Not Just for Expensive Proteins
Scales should always be used for proteins like fish, chicken, shellfish, and beef. It’s worth it to be in the habit of double-checking pre-portioned proteins after they’ve been received. Mistakes on a distributor’s end should not be your mistake as well. In fact, you should always be compensated for inaccurate measurements from the distributor.
When portioning out fish or chicken, or when cutting your own beef, slight differences in cuts can lead to mismatching portions. When these are extrapolated over time, the cost adds up very quickly. Don’t let subtle mistakes get compounded by taking your portions for granted.
The same goes for scoops, measuring cups, portion bags, and other volume measurement tools. Regardless of the product and no matter how large or small the measurement, be accurate and don’t waste anything. The idea is that proper measurements are like turn signals in your car. They’re often not necessary but it’s worth it to use them every time to develop the habit. Over time it’ll save you.
The best kitchens throw away nothing. That’s right—no food goes to waste. It’s a great goal for any new kitchen to have. That said, a good waste sheet clearly posted (near an employee schedule or on a bulletin board) is a great tool for keeping track of food you do have to waste. When throwing away food because it has spoiled or was improperly delivered, weigh it first so you know how to account for anything. Waste happens, but don’t let it remain a mystery why your costs have risen.
Waste sheets have columns for amounts, reasons and signatures of who is throwing the food away. They should be consulted when compiling profits and losses, and are a staple of kitchens around the world.
You Can’t Be There Everyday
That’s why scales are essential. It’ll happen—you’ll be gone, a newer prep or line cook will grab the 4 oz. scoop instead of the 3 oz., and start plowing away on your crab cakes.
Don’t let this happen to you. Keep the scales in obvious places, train your staff properly, and relax (a little bit). Your scales will keep working when your escalating food cost needs a break.