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10 BEST and Most Profitable Foods and Menu Items

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Justin GuinnAuthor

Most Profitable Restaurant Foods and Menu Items

The profitability of your individual menu items can significantly impact your overall bottom line.

On the other hand, you may not be best served to feature a menu that only considers profitability.

Restaurant operators have to harmonize menu item popularity and cuisine appeal with the most profitable restaurant foods and ingredients. Successfully doing so can balance consistent sales of a range of menu items with varying degrees of profitability.

In this article, we will delve into the concept of individual menu item profitability, highlight some of the most profitable foods to sell at your restaurant, and explain how to analyze menu items to calculate their plate costs, menu price, and overall profitability.

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Analyzing menu items for profitability

Maximizing profitability in your restaurant is an ongoing process that requires a keen understanding of your menu's individual item profitability. By assessing your costs, pricing strategy, and operational efficiency, you can identify the most profitable items in your restaurant.

To determine which items on your menu are the most profitable, you'll need to engage in a thorough plate costing exercise and menu price analysis. 

Here are some key steps to consider:

  • Cost breakdown: Begin by calculating the cost of ingredients and labor for each menu item. This should include not only the obvious components but also any condiments, garnishes, or sides associated with the dish.
  • Pricing strategy: Assess your current pricing strategy. Are you charging enough to cover the costs and generate a healthy profit margin? Keep an eye on the market and adjust prices accordingly.
  • Popularity and seasonality: Some menu items might be more popular during specific seasons or events. Take these trends into account when assessing profitability.
  • Waste reduction: Minimize food waste through proper inventory management and portion control. Wasted food is wasted money.
  • Efficiency: Streamline your kitchen operations to reduce labor costs and improve efficiency.
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7 most profitable restaurant foods

Let's explore the five most profitable restaurant foods based on our analysis:

1. Burgers

Burgers are not only an American favorite but also a profitable choice for restaurant operators. 

The cost of ground beef and buns is relatively low, and you have the freedom to create unique, high-margin offerings with premium toppings and condiments.

Burgers can be especially great for medium-scale restaurants, where there are some creative, speciality items. Some guests may have their favorite items or enjoy branching out, but there’s definitely a cohort that’s getting a burger nine times out of ten.

2. Pizzas

Pizza is versatile and can offer substantial profits. The dough and sauce are cost-effective, and with creative topping combinations, you can cater to various preferences. Operators may consider specialty and regional pizza flavors to boost margins.

Another factor to consider is what ingredients you’re making in house vs what you’re purchasing from a supplier. Making components may not be cheaper, but it may allow you to charge more for your products and boost profits via increased prices.

3. Pasta dishes

Pasta is a restaurant staple with great profitability potential. Noodles are an inexpensive base, and by creating signature sauces and using fresh ingredients, you can enhance the perceived value of your dishes, allowing you to charge a premium.

Pasta sauces can be a great place for vegetables that may be nearing the end of their life. And these days, there are plenty of quality canned tomatoes and other vegetables that can light up a sauce without erasing profits. 

4. Sandwiches

Sandwiches offer a balance between affordability and profitability. Quality bread, a variety of meats, cheeses, fillings, and condiments can help you craft enticing options. 

The ability to bring certain items in house, such as fresh-baked bread or your own roasted turkey can help offer greater control, flavor variety, and cost savings. There has to be a balance struck here though between food cost and labor, as the additional labor costs associated with bringing items in house has to be redacted from profits.

5. Vegetables and vegetarian dishes

Vegetarian and vegan dishes can be a profitable powerhouse for restaurants in today’s landscape. 

Vegetarian and vegan dishes often center around affordable ingredients like vegetables, legumes, grains, and tofu. These ingredients typically cost less than premium cuts of meat or seafood. And guests may often be willing to pay a premium for well-crafted vegetarian and vegan dishes, particularly when they're creative, flavorful, and presented beautifully.

When it comes to vegetarian and vegan dishes, creativity and flavor are key. Highlight the use of fresh, locally sourced ingredients, and create unique dishes that stand out on your menu. Consider seasonal specials, and make sure to promote your vegetarian and vegan offerings effectively, as they can be a major draw for a diverse customer base. With the right approach, these dishes can be among the most profitable items on your menu.

6. Soups and stews

Soups and stews can be highly profitable menu items for your restaurant. They offer a unique combination of cost-effectiveness and customer appeal — and often rely on affordable ingredients like vegetables, beans, and grains. Operators can typically stretch these ingredients to create hearty and filling dishes without incurring high costs.

Soups and stews offer opportunities for upselling by offering add-ons such as crusty bread, salad, or side dishes. These can boost your average check per customer.

7. Fried foods

Fried foods, from classics like French fries to innovative fried creations, can significantly boost your restaurant's profitability. Many fried foods, such as fries, onion rings, and fried pickles, rely on low-cost ingredients. Potatoes, onions, and pickles are budget-friendly items that can be transformed into crowd-pleasing treats.

Encourage upselling by offering combo meals that include fried items, like a burger and fries or a sandwich with onion rings. Combining items can increase your average check.

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Optimizing restaurant 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 on your plate 

Calculating plate costs can show you exactly the costs and profit margins for individual menu items. It’s the combination of recipe cost, portion costs, and individual ingredient costs. It can help restaurant 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

Plate costs are essential to ensure you don't get trapped serving profit-crushing dishes. For example, 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 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. And handhelds enables your front-of-house staff the flexibility to stay on the floor longer, spending more time taking care of guests.

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 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 can give you transparency and visibility into fluctuations in your weekly labor costs, tip pooling breakdowns, payroll taxes, and deductions. 

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.