The Great Chicken Cutlet Challenge

food cost increase sales menu planning profitability Aug 07, 2023

This week we decided to take a deep dive into the chicken sandwich craze which seems to be exploding through the country. 


The chicken sandwich is EVERYWHERE.  Spicy chicken sandwich.  Hot chicken sandwich.  We see pictures all over social media, and even entire chains based on this one item. 


And yet, while customers seem to crave this new or re-imagined item, chances are that the chicken sandwich we see plastered all over Instagram probably isn’t helping food costs.


So, the question this week was simple.  As foodify experts, is there a way to make a delicious chicken sandwich, using fresh ingredients that taste fantastic, while also lowering our food cost? 


For the challenge we utilized the great knowledge of Chris D’Agostino, our resident foodify expert.  As the conversations went on, Chris had his eye on one very important deviation from the chicken sandwich norm.  The cutlet.  


The technique of breading and frying meat cutlets has its origins in European cuisine.

Today, chicken cutlets are enjoyed in numerous countries and have become a versatile and beloved dish in both home cooking and restaurant menus. The variations in preparation, seasoning, and serving style have made chicken cutlets a widely adaptable and customizable dish enjoyed by people with diverse culinary preferences.


What was interesting and somewhat surprising in this deviation, was the significant savings in costs as well as yield.  Using a smaller portion of chicken, prepared as a cutlet, the sandwiches were filling, incredibly tasty, and with a margin in the low 20% rather than low 30% with the use of a chicken breast. 


More than just finding a great sandwich that would add appeal to any menu, this finding speaks to the larger lesson of the Foodify movement. 


Technology in the hospitality industry has led to the incorrect assumption that your food cost, especially in proteins, can only be improved by paying less for the product.  Aside from the cost of the protein item, the margin is what it is.  And there isn’t much that can be done.  With increased technology promising to generate colorful reports and feedback daily on your food cost, most of the industry is so fixated on scanning invoices and watching yield, that we have all but forgotten the many variations there are in each menu dish.  


One creative deviation, the change from a breast to a cutlet, has yielded SIGNIFICANT results.   


Having great food margins is about so much more than a simple math formula done by a software.  It is about working collaboratively with your back of house team, and not being afraid to deviate and create a new item when something isn’t working.  


Being a foodify expert requires the desire to be improving the quality of the food on your menu every day.  It requires curiosity, drive and consistency. 


So today our challenge ends with a challenge to you.  Step away from the software.  Turn off your computer.  And step into your kitchen.  Have a conversation with your back of house team about the chicken dishes on your menu.  


Chicken is one of the products that has been a fight over the last two years.  There were significant supply chain disruptions that has led to most dreading the mention of chicken on the menu. 


But today is a new day.  Today is the day you are going to take back control of the chicken on your menu.  


Today is the day you are going to do two very important things: 


  1. Sit down in your restaurant and order your chicken sandwich. Yes.  Really.  Don’t just grab one off the line or find it in the software.  Sit down in your restaurant and order the dish.  As the chicken sandwich is delivered to you.  Taste it. Really taste it.  Pretending you were a customer ordering the dish for the first time. 

Is it good? Is there something you could be doing better? Is there a way to make it more cravable? 

  1. After eating the sandwich, walk into the kitchen and ask the team that prepared it the cost? 

Chances are they may not know.  But rather than fearing their answer.  When the inevitable happens, and they don’t know.  Or don’t care.  Take the time to answer the question together.  By taking 5 minutes and pulling out your phone, or calculator to add up the cost of each ingredient in the item.  You have now SHOWN them their impact on your food cost.   


Chances are that after performing these steps, you have a result that is good, but potentially not great.  Both in quality as well as cost.  The chicken sandwich is a hard dish, that can deliver an inconsistent product and preparation even in the best of operations.  


Which means if you didn’t LOVE the product you tasted, today is the day to be creative.  The chicken cutlet is a great alternative.  But as foodify experts, we know it is just ONE alternative, and there are so many more.  By being creative, curious and focused on improving your margins, today is the day to foodify your chicken sandwich!

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