Revealed: Restaurant meals you're paying too much for

By Imogen Blake

Pasta along with soups, side salads, desserts and drinks have all been noted as foods which have the most profitable mark-ups in restaurants. Photo / Getty
Pasta along with soups, side salads, desserts and drinks have all been noted as foods which have the most profitable mark-ups in restaurants. Photo / Getty

If you're a vegetarian who likes to start with soup and always orders dessert, then you're a restaurant's dream customer.

That's according to users of the question-and-answer website Quora, who have been sharing the foods which have the most profitable mark-ups in restaurants, reports the Daily Mail.

From omelettes and veggie options to anything from the children's menu, these are the dishes you are paying over the odds for - despite the fact they cost restaurants next to nothing to make.

One user, who claims to be a chef, said vegetarian food is cheaper to make than meat-based dishes as restaurants don't have to pay for the costly protein.

Another said desserts were nearly always profitable because they could be made ahead of time and in large batches - but not everyone agreed with his assertion.

Desserts, children's menus and soup

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User Jonas Mikka Luster wrote:

• Desserts Most desserts served at even extremely high brow restaurants carry a large profit. There's always one dessert that skirts the rule, but in general desserts can be made ahead of time, often in large numbers, and store well. That saves money.

But chef Michael Young disagreed with the dessert claims:

I would disagree that desserts are big profit centers. Maybe in a place where you can buy them cheap, repackage and resell but where I've worked they are often high cost but we sell them because we have to. High priced ingredients, labor intensive, relatively short shelf life; desserts just aren't it for me.

• Children's Menu items Luckily those diminish as the restaurant gets better, but the average restaurant still carries them. A $0.30 hot dog and a few fries for $5? Or a $0.60 microwave pizza? Yes, please.

•Soups Main ingredients of soups are side-items from other dishes. My French onion soup uses yesterday's toast (that's when it gets good), leftover cheese, chicken carcasses that have been butchered for legs and breasts, mirepoix, and onions. The only thing I have to buy are the vegs (I don't use scraps. It's perfectly OK to do that but it's not how I approach the dish) which cost me less than 5 per cent of the price of the dish.

Coffee, tea and pasta

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Michael Young, while disagreeing with dessert claims, believes hot drinks and pasta make for big profit gains for restaurants:

Coffee and tea are huge incremental sales builders with low costs.

Pasta is often a good one but for me the low food cost is offset by the labour of making it. In a restaurant using boxed pasta there is more profit to be made, excluding cream and other expensive based products.

Vegetarian items tend to have a good profit since you rarely have the high impact that proteins usually have.

But really, its all about menu engineering (mentioned here earlier). You don't make every item hit your target food cost. You need some inexpensive to produce items to offset the expensive items that need to stay on your menu but you just can't get the markup on. The goal is to get a mix of sales of items so that the total meets budgeted food cost.

Former restaurant worker Deborah Crawford agrees that pasta can be quite profitable:

Of course adding expensive things decreases its profitability, but the noodles are pretty cheap compared to what you can sell them for. It's also fairly easy to add tasty but inexpensive ingredients and diners will feel the cost was worth it.

Breakfast

Chef Janera Soloven believes it's the first meal of the day that sees the biggest mark ups:

As a whole, breakfast is usually most profitable as the ingredients are cheap and the preparation is fast. The most profitable item is probably an egg white omelet. Just a little feta, basil and tomato added to frozen egg whites, a few seconds on the griddle, and Room service will bring it to your room at the Hilton for $24 + tax + delivery charge + tip. Their cost: 30 cents. Price, delivered $30.00. Markup 10,000 per cent.

Side salads

James McAuley flagged side salads as the most profitable menu item, noting how easy they are to put together:

In my experience the most profitable menu item is a side salad. While other items may have a higher mark-up (like a cup of coffee, or a bottle of mineral water) a side salad increases ticket price without extending service time, meaning unlike a desert, you can still turn the table quickly.

Also, compared to deserts, salads are usually much less labour intensive for the wait staff. For front of the front of house staff, an expo calling for a desert runner is reason enough not to walk into the kitchen for a few minutes. Running desserts often includes scooping ice cream, and anyone who has ever worked in a chain restaurant knows that as soon as you start scooping ice cream a bunch more desserts will be dropped off next to you with hardly a "i'mtoobusyforthistakecareofitformekthanksbye".

Pizza

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Shawn Ramirez, a chef for 15 years, says in his experience he has had great experience with both pizza and pasta:

You can usually charge between 8-15 for a personal pizza. Most of the cost ends up being the dough. I think we bought each dough for 60 cents. As long as you don't overload the pizza with toppings, you will make good money. It was something like 12 cents of cheese, and 4 cents of sauce. Toppings are always extra, and then you're just adding maybe 25 cents of extra cost. The cost is really just having the product.

- Daily Mail

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