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Most Profitable Cafe Foods to Help Grow Your Bottom Line

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Justin GuinnAuthor

Cafes hold a unique place in the culinary world — with the welcoming atmosphere of a stylish (or perhaps cozy) space, the aroma of freshly brewed coffee, and the promise of a delicious treat.

To capitalize on this mystique, owners and operators can focus on the most profitable cafe foods to boost their bottom line.

Cost-effective ingredients, creative recipes, strategic pricing, and customer preferences play a crucial role in maximizing the profitability of cafe menu items. Whether it's soups and sandwiches, smoothies, salads, pastries, coffee drinks, or more intricate items, the most profitable cafe foods can help menus strike a balance between popularity and profitability.

In this article, we'll explore the key ingredients of sustained cafe profitability, delve into individual cafe menu item profitability, and explain how to analyze menu items to calculate plate costs, menu prices, and overall profitability.

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Key ingredients of sustained cafe profitability

Achieving a proper rise in profitability in a cafe requires more than just brewing a great cup of coffee. Here are the key factors to consider when developing your menu of profitable cafe foods:

  1. Cost-effective ingredients: Like any culinary enterprise, cafes must utilize cost-effective ingredients. Staples like bread, produce, meat, and dairy provide a solid foundation for profitability.

  2. Quality and presentation: The appearance and taste of cafe items play a pivotal role. Using fresh and high-quality ingredients coupled with appealing presentation justifies premium pricing and enhances profitability.

  3. Unique creations: Differentiate your cafe by offering unique, signature creations. Whether it's a special sandwich recipe, a creative smoothie, or themed pastries, a touch of creativity can attract customers willing to pay more for a distinctive experience.

  4. Seasonal specials: Adapt cafe foods to seasonal ingredients, whether it's holiday-themed drinks or seasonal produce for salads and sandwiches. Seasonal specials can create anticipation and boost sales.

  5. Pairings and complements: Encourage customers to pair their food items with beverages like coffee, tea, or wine. Upselling opportunities such as bundle deals can enhance the overall dining experience and increase profitability.

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Achieving success with strategic menu item pricing

Proper pricing is essential to ensure profitability in your cafe. Here are some tactics to consider when setting or revamping your cafe prices.

  • Cost analysis: Understand the cost of ingredients, labor, and overhead to establish a baseline price. Pricing should not strike a balance between covering costs and providing a healthy profit margin.

  • Competitive analysis: Research local competitors to determine what they charge for similar cafe foods. Price competitively while showcasing the quality and uniqueness of your offerings.

  • Value perception: Highlight craftsmanship and the artisanal touch that sets your cafe apart. Packaging, marketing, and an inviting ambiance can enhance the perception of high-value products.

  • Multiple price tiers: Offer a range of prices to cater to different customer segments. Include premium, mid-range, and budget-friendly options, allowing customers to choose based on their preferences and budgets.

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Most profitable cafe foods

Here are some of the most profitable cafe foods that can elevate your cafe's success and boost your bottom line.

  1. Artisanal sandwiches: The variety of freshly made sandwiches offers a wide range of flavors and potential roles for your cafe. Use unique ingredients or even offer Latin or Mediterranean inspired flavors.

  2. Smoothies: Smoothies provide endless opportunities for creativity with various flavor combinations and combinations of fresh produce and dairy. Customers seeking a healthy pick-me-up will be delighted by these drinks.

  3. Salads: Offer a wide array of unique and healthy fresh salad options full of vegetables, fruits and seafood.

  4. Pastries: A variety of delightful pastries such as pies, tarts, macaroons, muffins and cupcakes can enhance sales.

  5. Specially crafted coffee drinks: Offering specialized drinks such as cappuccinos, lattes with a variety of syrups or whipped creams and clean comedy Wifi 'to-go coffee' are a necessity.

By focusing on the most profitable cafe foods and implementing strategic pricing, cafe operators can tap into a prosperous market and ensure sustained profitability. With the right mix of cost-effective ingredients, quality, creativity, pricing, and the selection of profitable cafe foods, your cafe can thrive and meet customer demands in the long term.

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Optimizing cafe operations with the right blend of tech and service models

Offering the right restaurant foods can make a significant impact on the overall profitability of your business. Folding some or all of these most profitable restaurant foods into your menu may help boost profit margins on your sales.

Here are a few other ways to help encourage greater restaurant profitability, including restaurant cost breakdowns, restaurant technology, and optimized service models.

Adjust what goes into each dish

Calculating plate costs can show you exactly the costs and profit margins for individual cafe menu items. It’s the combination of recipe cost, portion costs, and individual ingredient costs. It can help cafe owners see exactly how each component is contributing to the overall profitability — making it easier to achieve an ideal balance between portions, prices, and profits.

Remove popular items that have lost profitability

If batch costs become too high for a particular item, you may want to be careful not to get trapped. Underbelly Hospitality Group realized that the cost of chicken wings had risen dramatically, fluctuating between 30 and 40 percent higher than usual. Rather than sacrifice the quality or portion size of their famed, crowd-pleaser wings, they pulled them entirely.

Get more efficient with scheduling

More staff doesn’t equal better service. Too many team members and not enough work leads to complacency — in the front and back of house. Scheduling software built for cafes, bakeries, and restaurants can integrate with payroll tools to help you take control of your weekly staff schedule and associated costs.

Implement the New Steps of Service

What if a single adjustment could improve guest and employee experiences while saving on labor costs? Sounds too good to be true until you dive into the New Steps of Service — with streamlined service that can empower guests to order and pay at the table whenever they like. It also enables your front-of-house staff to pick up a handheld POS and help bust the line on your busiest days.

Leverage granular reporting within your restaurant software

Invoice processing automation is an automated tool that digitizes critical invoice line-item data. 

Having this ingredient pricing data readily available can simplify your ability to calculate cost of goods sold (COGS), monitor price fluctuations, and take action on the COGS side of your ongoing restaurant cost breakdowns.

Just like with invoice automation for food costs, scheduling and payroll and team management tools can help automate and simplify labor cost calculations. 

You likely don’t have time to manually calculate individual payrolls — and you definitely don’t have time to add all that up to get your cumulative labor costs. An easy-to-use payroll and team management software gives you transparency and visibility into fluctuations in your weekly labor costs, tip pooling breakdowns, payroll taxes, and deductions.

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Restaurant Invoice Automation Guide

Use this guide to learn more about your restaurant invoices, the value within, and how to consistently and accurately tap into it to make smarter decisions.

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Where to go from here

Combining Toast and xtraCHEF can help all types of restaurants access reports on daily sales, costs, and how they’re impacting profitability.

Toast Payroll and Team Management, as well as Scheduling, powered by Sling, work together to uncover valuable labor trends so you can make better decisions.

xtraCHEF by Toast empowers you to drill into line-item level detail for every ingredient on each of your supplier invoices.

Together, these tools can automate and simplify the process of creating restaurant cost breakdowns.

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DISCLAIMER: This information is provided for general informational purposes only, and publication does not constitute an endorsement. Toast does not warrant the accuracy or completeness of any information, text, graphics, links, or other items contained within this content. Toast does not guarantee you will achieve any specific results if you follow any advice herein. It may be advisable for you to consult with a professional such as a lawyer, accountant, or business advisor for advice specific to your situation.