How to increase profit-per-plate without sacrificing quality
So, you're trying to figure out how to get more profit per plate at your restaurant. Maybe meat prices went up, maybe you didn't set your prices high enough and now you feel stuck.
You may feel tempted to keep the filet mignon on your menu, but call your supplier and say "do you have a cheaper filet?" Or, maybe another sales rep shows up with a magically cheap filet.
Don't do it.
Have you been on yelp recently and followed a new restaurant over the course of a few months? It goes like this... "Great spot, tender, delicious steak, will be back!" ..."Another great visit!"
A few months later.... "I don't know what happened, I used to come here all the time, but the steak is like dry and gristly and it just seems like overall quality has gone down."
A few months later.... From yelp: this business is now closed.
Your customers are smarter than you think. They have better memories than you think.
Anecdote: My wife used to work at a sandwich shop. A competing sandwich shop's owner got together with her shop's owner for a beer one night and he mocked him because her store paid $2 more per pound for deli meat. "I get mine for 99 cents a pound, HAHA!" (first of all, ew. 99 cents a pound? I don't wanna know where that came from). Guess who's out of business and guess who's still in business?
Resist the urge to reduce the quality of high-dollar cuts
The temptation is to just lower the quality of your protein to keep your menu the same so you can still appear high-end and consistent, but reduce your costs. This is a valid temptation. Most of the time, it does not work.
My menu hasn't changed at all! you'll think. You're wrong. It has.
The difference between Prime and Choice can be very noticeable to many (dare I say most) people. There is a reason the grades are different and the prices are different. If you're billing yourself as a mid-to-high end restaurant, and you're delivering budget low-end entrees, it's going to be pretty obvious.
Alternative: Swap out the value cut for a same quality lower-value cut
Keep the quality the same! There's a whole carcass to choose steaks from, don't just stick to the same old Filet Mignon. If you're worried that people will notice you've simply raised your prices, you can replace or modify your unprofitable menu items instead and create a formula that is successful for your customer and your costs.
If you are good at what you do (and if you're opening a restaurant, you are), you'll be able to prepare these cuts in a way that makes your customer want to return.
That One Guy
Everyone has that one guy, who comes in the day after you remove your least profitable menu item, and is like "the ONLY reason I come here is for the liver and onions!"
I have known plenty of restaurant owners who have kept a larger menu than necessary, full of unprofitable menu items, because of That One Guy (or girl).
If That One Guy told you to jump off a bridge, would you? He's just one customer, and unless he's bringing in 5 business associates on the company credit card each week with 3 bottles of wine per seating, you shouldn't care about what he says. Yes, even if he threatens a bad yelp review.
Offer him the next closest or newest or cheapest or your favoritest menu item and if he never comes back, who cares. If his liver and onions aren't making you any money, you're only risking more people ordering it by keeping it on your menu. Get rid of it and don't look back.
Try these instead
Here are some examples of lower value cuts you can swap in for high value cuts at the same quality:
Petite Chuck Tender: this is a morsel of super tender meat that comes off of the Chuck Shoulder Clod. Cut 2 or 3 oz medallions into a 6-8 oz portion, add a starch and vegetable and you have a whole new menu item that sounds fancy, is super tender, and more flavorful and much less expensive than a filet mignon.
Baseball Cut Sirloin Steak: just like a filet mignon in appearance, but with far more flavor and at half the cost. Yes, it's not as tender, but with this you can still offer a great looking beef dish at a much lower cost.
Flat Iron Filet: the second most tender muscle on the carcass, next to tenderloin, the flat iron boasts great flavor and it plumps when you cook it! A very successful item for many restaurants, this cut's price stays relatively stable throughout the year (unlike tenderloin or ribeye).
Ball Tip Steak: From the bottom sirloin, this cut can go onto your menu as a sirloin steak and can be cut either filet style, or strip style. One of the most economical cuts, with great sirloin flavor.
Denver Steak: This cut comes from the chuck and has extremely heavy marbling for rich flavor and juiciness. Excellent flavor comes from the chuck and it almost looks like a strip steak on the plate. Not quite as tender as a NY strip, but for the money it's one of the best steaks on the market today.
Double Bone Pork Chop: many times customers are looking for the "wow factor" when ordering a main course. It doesn't always have to be a beef item. Bone-in product is all the rage right now, and with this succulent chop, two bones is better than one.
Airplane chicken breast: a beautiful roasted chicken breast with the skin and wing attached. You can replace any kind of "tiny chicken" with this, to quote Will Ferrel (game hens, quail, etc.). A crispy skin, silky duxelles sauce and you're in the money.
Any other ideas? Let me know in the comments.