POS Data Builds Smart School Menus 

Foods you serve can be more profitable and popular when guided by sales and purchasing analysis. 

Making menu changes can seem like a gargantuan undertaking. Rest assured, it doesn’t have to be. The key to shrinking this sizeable task down is ensuring the right serving cost solution is in place. Pair that data with what you can get from your point-of-sale (POS) system and you’ll have everything you need to optimize your menu.

“It’s crucial to make menu decisions based on the data,” emphasizes Matt Dyksterhouse, Gordon Food Service Customer Technology Supervisor. “It takes the subjectivity out of the equation.”

Step 1: Serving cost solution

Dyksterhouse outlines key components that make serving cost solutions important:

  • Accounts for real-time pricing so you can more accurately assess profit margin.
  • Executes batch recipes first and single-serve recipes (chicken nuggets, corn, diced peaches, milk served separately) second. “What good is the price of a pasta dish if it doesn’t include the marinara sauce?” he offers by way of explanation.
  • Segments your menu by daypart and/or season so you can get plate costs for the full menu, cost out multiple menus at once, look at what’s most profitable and uncover additional opportunities to drive sales.
  • Includes bulk recipes for catering menus and events, offering you scalability to manage your inventory and price according to size.

“Having all of these features will make your life, and your decisions, much easier,” Dyksterhouse says.

Having the solution isn’t enough, though. Take it one step further and make sure everything added to it is accurate. One of the most common mistakes is duplicate items and miscategorization. It’s hard to get reliable data if the data isn’t right to begin with.

Step 2: POS data review

Once you have accurate serving costs, you can review your POS data. Very basically, POS data tells you what’s selling, what isn’t selling and reports on other various aspects of sales like item sales per day of the week, month-to-month and year-over-year comparisons. Your job, as a foodservice director or manager, is to peel the curtain back and look past what’s in front of you to determine if you’re making money.

A POS system improves service level, inventory management and satisfaction for parents and students. “POS systems also provide data, but it’s only beneficial when it’s analyzed and action is taken to improve service level, effectiveness and satisfaction. If these steps are not taken POS systems are simply tools to collect activity information,” says Rayona Baker, RD, LD, Gordon Food Service Business Solutions Specialist. 

Because a school can have more than 100 items on an a la carte menu, it pays to know sales volumes. For example, if a popular meal is being served on the tray line, it’s smart to know how that volume will affect the number of pizza slices needed for the single-item menu. It will eventually tell you which items to feature and which ones can fall off the menu entirely.

Similarly, sales data can be used in forecasting. Parents often start out the school year by packing a lot of lunches, and that data will show up in your POS numbers, providing a more accurate picture of when food sales are likely increase.

Step 3: Full menu analysis

A full-blown roll your sleeves up, lock yourself in your office assessment of your menu should be conducted at least once a year, ideally twice a year. But, there are exceptions to this recommendation:

  • Major economic shifts. 
  • Significant competition moving into the area. This is especially important for open campus settings or college and university foodservice. If there is a coffee shop or restaurant where students buy food to bring on campus, it’s valuable to know what’s popular there and adjust your menu accordingly.
  • Volatile labor market. If you have to bid up wages to retain or hire staff, you need to look at the other half of the equation to figure if and how these changes will impact your serving costs.

SUBHEAD: Step 4: Individual item analysis

Everything on your menu should be categorized one of four ways. Take action based on where each item falls.

Categorize items for individual menu analysis

Time consuming? Yes. Complicated? No. Nicole Nicoloff, Gordon Food Service Education Segment Manager explains that if a foodservice director looks at and identifies what the dogs are and removes them versus just promoting the stars, it will lead to a more profitable program.

The power of this analysis comes down to simple math. If you can increase profits by a few cents per meal per day, it makes a big difference over the course of a school year “If you have the data and take the time to analyze it, you can uncover those types of opportunities,” Nicoloff says.

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