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If you’re a restaurant owner or thinking of opening a restaurant, understanding the cost of the food you’re serving has a huge impact on your profitability.

You may be serving great food, providing top-notch service and have a packed house every night, but are you wondering why your bottom line isn’t where it should be?

On Wednesday, June 29, from 2 to 4 p.m. in Santa Rosa, the Napa-Sonoma Small Business Development Center (SBDC) is presenting “Understanding food costs: how much does that Caesar salad cost you & how do you know if you are charging enough?”

Napa-Sonoma SBDC restaurant specialist Louise Dawson will discuss such topics as:

— Industry benchmarks for food cost

— Industry techniques for calculating plate cost

— How to price for profitability

— Best practices for managing inventory

— How to work from a budget

Whether you’re an existing restaurateur looking for a refresher course, or a restaurant startup looking for training, this seminar is for you. The cost is $50.

“Not knowing how much that chicken Caesar salad costs you to make and then guessing about how much you should charge for it on your menu is similar to buying a suit,” said Dawson.

“Imagine seeing a suit you love and going into the store and telling the clerk to charge your card, ‘But don’t tell me the price!’ Then, you take the suit into your shop, hang it up and say to yourself ‘I think I can get about $200 for that suit,’” she said.

“In order to be a successful restaurateur, you need to apply industry formulas to your cost and pricing strategies and stop guessing.”

If you’re wondering what is meant by “food cost,” it’s determined as the percentage of total restaurant sales spent on food products (cost of food products/food sales).

Food costs in the restaurant industry vary by type of restaurant, product sales mix and labor costs. It is chefs who have control of cost of goods sold because they handle portion control.

“When pricing a dish, you have to consider so many variables — labor costs, overhead costs, and changes in market price of ingredients. All these factors have a role in determining the cost of a dish. The increase in minimum wage will affect prices for sure,” said Yusuf Topal, owner of Tarla Grill in downtown Napa.

“Food costs directly affect my restaurant’s profitability.”

Dawson brings over 25 years of experience in the restaurant industry to her seminars. She specializes in restaurant operations for restaurants of all sizes, both nationally and internationally. She has worked with over 500 restaurants, helping them improve their business operations and bottom line.

For information about the June 29 seminar in Santa Rosa, or to make an appointment with Louise, you can contact the Napa-Sonoma Small Business Development Center at 707-256-7250. If you are interested in attending the seminar, you are encouraged to register at

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Mary Cervantes is the business services director for Napa Valley College Napa-Sonoma Small Business Development Center. Reach her at 256-7253 or