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10 Sneaky Ways Restaurants Try to Save Money


10 Sneaky Ways Restaurants Try to Save Money

Everyone is out to make a quick buck; restaurants are not immune to this affliction. There is lots of wastage in restaurants, it is not easy to make a profit, so they resort to all kinds of ways to succeed. Here are 10 Sneaky Ways Restaurants Try to Save Money.

10. Smaller Portion Sizes

Sometimes, things are beyond our control. In the restaurant business this is particularly true as things can be volatile and fickle from one year to the next.  It can be the rise of beef prices or the increase in cost of vegetables from one year to the other. It can be something like the recall of lettuce due to e coli contamination or a shortage of celery. Restaurants must adapt quickly and always find better ways to make a profit. It’s not always easy, restaurants have to pay higher prices to keep up with the demand, and wastage is high and profits low.  So, they have to resort to some really sneaky tricks to make money. For example, portion sizes can be decreased at the spur of the moment, without people noticing. A restaurant can shave an ounce off a burger patty or use a smaller bun, without questions asked. The same goes for plates, when food prices rise, restaurants can switch from 12-inch plates to 11-inch plates without anyone noticing. This doesn’t only happen in fine dining establishments but even your local fast food counter. When there is a shortage of produce, they may switch out to other cheaper alternatives as well. Restaurants are also notorious for serving big portions upon opening but as time passes, they also downsize portions. Once they have you, they know you will keep coming back. Unless you really notice your being gouged.

9. The Early Bird Specials

It’s not just the plate size that can be an illusion. For years, in Florida, there are many restaurants that offer early bird specials. An early bird dinner which usually starts as 4 pm is popular among seniors and low-income families.  It’s usually the lunch specials leftover from two hours ago. Many people are impressed with the cheap cost and it tends to draw in big crowds. One restaurant in Florida wanted to give the impression that their early bird dinner was in high demand, so they instructed staff to park in front of the restaurant to give the illusion they were busy. People wanted to know what all the fuss was about and began lining up in droves.  As the restaurant filled up, the staff would sneak out and move their cars to the back of the restaurant. Once you were there, it was too late, they would seat you at the bar, up-sell drinks, which would increase your tab, which in turn means more money for the restaurant.  Some places would procrastinate and keep you in line waiting till 6 p.m. It happens more than often; and in the end you’re paying full price. A couple in Sarasota, posted a complaint on Yelp that they were scammed, first they had to ask about the early bird special and when they got the bill it was enormous. The waitress, offered an excuse that they had changed the prices last month and only offered 20% off for early bird. It was not really good deal at all!

8. Refill Old Condiment Containers

Before you reach for the ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise containers on the table, think about this. If the Heinz Ketchup bottle looks gunky, it’s because it probably has been refilled and sitting there for a while. It is common practice in a restaurant, that at the end of every shift the condiment bottles are to be removed from the tables, cleaned and replaced. But this doesn’t happen often. Many restaurants are guilty of marrying condiments, they refill half-full bottles from bulk containers in the kitchen.  Gallon sized containers of ketchup are much cheaper than buying individual smaller-sized bottles. The problem with this is, that ketchup can start to ferment after a while, and there’s also no telling how old the contents of the bottle is. Those in the industry say that the practice isn’t against health code violations, provided the bottles are completely washed and sanitized before re-filling. But this rarely happens. It’s not just the ketchup and mustard, either. Restaurants might even smooth out a dish of already-served butter to make it look fresh before sending it back out with the next bread basket. Fast food restaurants also pick-up left-over packets of condiments that have been left on the tables to save on cost. Some bars also do this with wine and beer. Some unscrupulous bar owners, recycle leftover beer and by dumping the daily contents of unfinished portions of beer into another pitcher and when full, serve it to the next client. Same goes for house wine served in carafes.

7. Charge Premiums for Add-On’s

Paying extra for anything more on your sandwich, salad or plate is pretty standard practice in many restaurants. It’s common to pay extra for a slice of cheese on your cheeseburger, or extra cheese on pizza. One investigation found out just how much more customers are really paying for these little extras. Customers usually get charged $ 1.50 for extra cheese; this is close to a 400 % markup. This is a fantastic way for a restaurant to pad a bill and make huge profits, when that slice of cheese would only have cost them a few cents anyways. Most items like cheese are purchased in bulk.  Then again, restaurants have complained that they lose money every time someone adds extra guacamole to their burritos, even with the extra charge it means lots of wastage for them. It is important to check your bill at the end of the meal.  You’d be amazed at how easily an extra bottle of beer or order of sides can find its way onto your bill, especially if you are a large group. If something you didn’t order appears on the bill, make sure to tell your waitress. Some staff and dubious business owners do this to get higher tips or make extra money.  Extra Premiums for sharing portions is another practice that earns the restaurant lots of extra money. But the best by far type of fake premiums is when restaurants charge clients for not eating everything on your plate. What is that all about?

6. Recycling Food

Another sneaky way that restaurants save money is by recycling food. Everything in a restaurant that can be recycled usually is. Ever wonder what happens to the leftover bread in your basket that is uneaten.  Some restaurant insiders admitted that bread that is not eaten, sometimes is returned to the kitchen, re-heated and served to other guests, even Anthony Bourdain claimed this was a common practice. It’s a good recipe for disaster with contamination and people getting sick with food poising or the norovirus. But because bread loses its freshness quickly any good chef knows that stale bread is good for a number of things, the next day like making breadcrumbs. Some restaurants do throw out bread that has been served to customers, but there is always bread that doesn’t make it out of the kitchen. Uneaten bread and stale bread are also turned into French toast, crostini with your torchon de foie gras, or croutons for your Caesar salad. Extra meats and fish are recycled and used in casseroles and non- descript dishes the next day, an example is the delicious beef bourguignon on the lunch menu and fish and vegetable soups. Rice and vegetables are also recycled. They end up in a mix of things. So next time you see French toast on the menu, you know the kitchen had a lot of bread to get rid of.

5. Breakfast and Lunch Specials

Breakfast is the cheapest service to produce in the restaurant business. Eggs are inexpensive and the meats served are usually pork items like bacon, ham and sausages which are not costly. Another thing that consumers may not be aware of, is that many restaurants also re-purpose items that were not used during evening service.  Aside the bread for French toast, they also recycle the potatoes to make hash browns, mask them with onions and hollandaise sauce and there you go. Breakfast also does not entail big labor costs, is much faster and easier to prepare. Less staff is needed to prepare it.  Whatever is also not used for breakfast is recycled for the Lunch specials. Notice how the daily lunch specials always something contains something served the night before.  Maybe spinach makes an appearance in a salad, sautéed as a side dish, or pureed into a soup. Shrimp might be served up fried or in a mango salsa.  Restaurants might offer the same side dishes with a number of their meals. This is done to try to save money by simplifying the ordering process and making sure that highly perishable foods will be used. It’s a trick called cross-utilization, and a profitable and smart restaurant will use it often. All that is needed is a little creativity from the chef, you won’t even notice the redundancy. But, if you start feeling like everything you order at your usual bistro tastes the same, they might be overdoing it a bit.

4. Dumpster Diving

Sounds disgusting, but I don’t mean fishing food out of dumpsters. Garbage can hold many secrets to how a restaurant is wasting food and overspending. Owners of restaurants will routinely dig through the trash at their restaurants to see what foods are ending up in the bin. Both from what’s being scraped off diners’ plates to what trash is coming out of the kitchen. If the owner sees lots of fries or too much of an uneaten item, he will tell the employees and managers to serve smaller portions.  He will make adjustments to the menu and recipes to make it more appealing as well. The dumpster dive also might reveal if the cooks are being careless with their meal prep by throwing out good food or produce.  For instance, they might be asked to be a little more vigilant or make sure to use all of the vegetables they’re prepping. It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.  This will save a restaurant lots of money in food costs, as well as reducing their garbage-hauling bill. These days many restaurants are also turning to ugly produce, which is much less expensive because of the lack of demand. Some restaurants promote this and base their menus on the items available at the market that week. There is a whole culture around dumpster diving where people actually recycle food out of restaurant dumpsters as they are notorious for wasting perfectly good food that can be salvageable.

3. Alcohol, Cocktails and Drinks.

Alcohol is another way a restaurant makes big profits. One of the ways restaurants save money is not only by diluting cocktails and colas with lots of ice, but also carefully pricing wine, beer and spirits with huge mark ups. Next time you order a glass or bottle of wine, do the math. You will be surprised at how much you are paying. Of course, bottles are usually marked up higher than at your local liquor store. Granted the restaurant needs to pay for a liquor license, cost of glassware and staff, but a license can cost what a restaurant makes in drinks alone in one night.  For wines by the glass, there is an unwritten rule in the restaurant business, the price of a single glass of wine should be enough to cover the cost of a whole bottle. The mark up can be as much as 600% and Cocktails. Mixed drinks cost a fraction to make. Restaurants knowingly serve weak cocktails. There are lots of ways restaurants save money behind the bar, usually by giving customers a little less. They create much fanfare with preparation of your drinks, meanwhile shortchanging you a full shot in the process. Other dishonest bars and restaurants might slightly dilute the contents of their liquor bottles, or pass off top-shelf liquor with a cheaper version. Dubious bartenders’ resort to all kinds of tricks to make a fast buck. The liquor usually is poured at the bottom of the glass, then topped with ice so the first sip you take with a straw is a strong one, and the rest of the drink weak. You’re most likely not to notice.

2. Prepared-Ready Made Foods.

Another way restaurant’s save money is by purchasing prepared or ready made foods from local distributors. We all assume that when we dine out, restaurants’ makes everything from scratch, but it’s far cry from what we think. Restaurants have tricks of the trade to save money and make you believe they are serving you meals made totally in house.  You are not only being served frozen French Fries, but also dinner rolls, croissants, filled pastas, battered fish and desserts.  It is cheaper for restaurants to order certain prepared foods, including sauces, soup bases, and salad dressings.  Making these from scratch can be time consuming and laborious, not to mention will require lots of staff. They do not want to waste money hiring staff to sit in the kitchen all day waiting for a stock pot to simmer. If you’ve ever been to a wholesaler restaurant-supply store (like Costco) and have taken a peek inside the freezers, you’ll know that a restaurant can order ready to serve versions of many things. Then all they have to do it heat them up and serve you. Restaurants have in place many cost cutting measures to save on labor and food wastage. Restaurants serve lots of processed foods to also save on cost. Anything battered and fried, filled pastas and definitely desserts. So, if you’re looking for an authentic experience, steer clear of many fast food restaurants and opt out for finer dining. It may cost you more, but then you can eat at home.  

1. The old Switch-a-roo Trick

The many ways restaurants save money is by pulling the old Switch-a-roo trick on certain menu items that are very expensive. This is not limited to just sushi bars who switch out the yellow fin tuna for a cheaper version, but also some other fine dining establishments that will say they have run out of an item and replace it with an inferior one at the same price. Fancy restaurants have been busted for touting rare and exclusive Japanese Kobe beef on their menu, when it was really a slightly less prestigious type of beef. Sushi bars are also notorious for switching out the high-end species for less expensive fish.  And you’re still paying for it. Seafood fraud is a big problem with one in three samples mislabeled. In some cases, restaurants have been found to be serving a fish called Escolar, which is known to cause serious digestive issues, instead of the white tuna listed on the menu. Deadly for some.

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