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Whether you're putting together a menu for your newly opened restaurant, trying to budget for weekly expenditures, or thinking about implementing menu engineering practices, calculating food cost is one of the most essential pieces of information you can possess as a restaurant owner/operator. It forms the basis of proper restaurant accounting.

Key Takeaways

  • Food cost helps you determine which menu items are most profitable and where to optimize on the cost of ingredients.
  • Start by breaking down the cost of each dish into its ingredients.
  • Calculating what percentage of a menu price comes from food helps you determine target food cost.
  • A food cost calculator is an easy tool to automatically understand your food cost

Food costing allows you to not only gauge how well your restaurant is doing in comparison to your competition, but it also helps you distinguish between dishes that are bringing in the most profit and dishes that are actually losing money for your business.

This article will take you through an in-depth explanation of what is food cost as well as how to accurately calculate food costs at your restaurant. If you want to get straight to our free-to-use food cost calculator, click the link below to download it right now, or

Follow these steps for calculating your food cost

Step 1: Break up each dish into its ingredients

Step 2: Calculate the cost of each dish

Step 3: Figure out your fixed cost per meal served

Step 4: Calculate what percentage of your menu price comes from food

Step 5: Determine target food-cost

Free Excel Food Cost Calculator The easiest way to calculate and manage food cost at your restaurant. Download Now

Four chefs working in a big kitchen at service time

What is food cost?

At its core, food cost is simply the cost incurred by your restaurant on food after taking into consideration all external and implicit costs.

Food cost is used by restaurant operators to determine how much money they make back on the sale of a dish compared to how much it costs to make that dish. Food cost should take everything from fixed overheads such as labor and electricity to individual ingredient costs into consideration.

Food cost helps restaurant operators better understand the profitability of their menu items, and make decisions based on that knowledge.

How to calculate food cost?

Food costing can often seem like a difficult task for most restaurant operators. We've broken the process down into an easy to understand step-by-step guide in hopes that it'll make the job easier to regularly perform at your restaurant.

Step 1: Break up each dish into its ingredients. 

Everything from seasoning to how much cooking oil is added.

Step 2: Calculate the cost of each dish. 

Combine the cost of each ingredient to come up with the total cost per dish.

Step 3: Figure out your fixed cost per meal served. 

To arrive at this number, add up all the fixed costs that go into producing the dish such as salaries and utilities.

Assuming your daily fixed costs are $1500 and on average you serve 150 customers per day, this means that your fixed cost per meal served is $10.

Step 4: Calculate what percentage of your menu price comes from food. 

This is found by dividing food cost by menu price. Assume that an order of Caesar Salad costs you $3 to produce and you sell it at $7 that means your food cost is 43%.

Step 5: Determine target food-cost. 

If you are selling a dish at $10 and you find that your fixed cost per meal is $7, your dishes can cost you no more than $3 for you to make a profit.

Step 6: For established restaurants

Make sure to check each dish to determine whether or not the price covers the food cost and fixed price per dish.

From here it is a lot easier to get a bigger picture of your restaurants daily operation and whether or not it is possible to break even or even turn over a profit.

Example of How to Calculate Food Cost


Tip: It is important to understand that you cannot apply a blanket target food cost percentage across your menu items. If you own a fine dining restaurant where prices are a bit higher than a fast casual restaurant, you can get away with a higher food cost because of the larger profit margins.

Free Excel Food Cost Calculator The easiest way to calculate and manage food cost at your restaurant. Download Now

What is an ideal food cost?

In many full-service and quick-service restaurants, the ideal food cost percentage ranges from 28 to 32 percent on average.

Of course, there isn't a precise percentage; it varies depending on the food served and the restaurant's operating expenses. You must calculate your ideal food cost percentage in order to determine what is best for your restaurant.

How do you calculate ideal food cost?

The ideal food cost percentage for your restaurant can be calculated as follows:.

Ideal Food Cost Percentage = Total Cost Per Dish ÷ Total Sales Per Dish 

You need a benchmark against which to compare this percentage to make sure your restaurant is on track. You can do this by comparing the costs of your actual and ideal meals.

Your initial and final inventories are not considered in the calculation for the ideal food cost percentage. In its place, it takes into account the total expenses and revenue connected to each dish or menu item.

Why is calculating food cost important?

As a restaurant owner, profitability is probably your number one priority. We often gauge a restaurant's success by how profitable it is. Ultimately that is all that matters.

In the restaurant industry, your main method of increasing profits is through selling food. It only makes sense to understand the food cost of every dish on your menu to assess which dishes are profitable and which aren't.

Despite its importance, food costing is often not taken seriously by restaurant operators. This could be because of the assumption that food costing is a difficult process, or because food cost isn't as tangible a cost to your business as rent and labor. Regardless, assigning value to food cost is one of the quickest methods to get onto the path of profitability.

Food costing isn't only limited to small restaurant chains. It is an industry standard that even the biggest global restaurants put into practice.

Let’s take Burger King as an example; Burger King sells around 16.7 million burgers per day. If Burger King doesn’t optimize their food costs down to one cent, they are losing $167,000 per day, or $61 million a year.

Obviously the same applies for smaller restaurants too. If you run a moderately successful independent restaurant that seats about 100 customers per day you are looking at losing $30,000-$50,000 per year when your food costs aren’t optimized.

Advantages of knowing your food cost percentage

There are a number of reasons why you need to calculate food cost at your restaurant, but it should only take a few to convince you to start.

  1. It allows you to know which menu items are profitable and which aren’t, preventing you from missing out on any opportunities to make more money.
  2. When you know which items are more profitable, you can design your menu and pricing around your food cost (this is actually a strategy most restaurants use).
  3. Understand how each ingredient affects your profit margins. If there is a sudden spike in the cost of beef, you will be prepared to adjust prices accordingly to protect your profit.
  4. Most importantly, it allows you to set a standard food cost percentage across the board, and eliminate any menu item that costs too much (or find a way to bring the food cost down).

How can you optimize food cost?

So now that you have a grasp on food costing and its importance, how do you optimize it? We've listed a few simple strategies to help you lower your food cost and keep it there to prevent overspending where you don't have to.

  • Increase the number of carbs on your menu. Carb heavy dishes tend to be a lot cheaper than protein based plates.
  • Design your menu to highlight the most profitable menu items.
  • Play around with portion sizes until you get the food cost percentage you are looking for.
  • Increase menu prices slightly to compensate for higher food cost dishes.

Download free food cost calculator

To make things easier for you, we have put together a free food cost calculator excel sheet that can streamline the entire process.

Free Food Cost Calculator

The excel sheet not only allows you to calculate the food cost per item, but to also add important details such as pictures, notes, and allergy information about each dish.

Save yourself countless hours and download our easy to use food cost calculator now.

Free Excel Food Cost Calculator The easiest way to calculate and manage food cost at your restaurant. Download Now

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Ask Questions

How do you calculate food costs?

To calculate food cost percentage, add your initial inventory to the sum of all your purchases and then subtract the final inventory value from the total. Finally, divide the result by total food sales.

What is food cost percentage?

Food cost ratio is the ratio of the amount of money a restaurant spends on food and beverage ingredients (food inventory) to the revenue generated when these ingredients are sold as menu items (food sales). It is expressed as a percentage of total revenue from food sales. 

What is actual food cost?

Actual food cost is the cost of all food actually consumed in the restaurant during the same period. Actual food costs account for situations such as incomplete portions, accidental waste, improper billing, or employee theft. 

What is a good food cost ratio?

In many full-service and quick-service restaurants, the ideal food cost percentage ranges from 28 to 32 percent on average.



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