Blue Blaze Café Gets Menu and Labor Costs Handled with Resources from RestaurantOwner.com
All that G. (GaWaNi) Pony Boy Morrell, owner of the Blue Blaze Café on the Appalachian Trail in downtown Damascus, Virginia, wanted was a firm handle on his cost numbers. He found that - and much more - on RestaurantOwner.com.
According to G. Pony Boy, formerly a world-famous horse trainer and author of such bestsellers as Horse, Follow Closely, Time Well Spent and Out of the Saddle, the web site's Prime Cost and Menu Item Cost worksheets have helped him get a handle on his numbers by putting these ideas into dollars and cents. "My managers now know our labor costs on the hour, and our prime cost does not exceed 60%.
"I have always had a good feeling for prime cost (the direct cost of a commodity in terms of the materials and labor involved in its production, excluding fixed costs) but did not have the tools to put the ideas into practice," he confesses. That in mind, it becomes clear why he uses the prime cost worksheet, as puts it, "religiously. It gives me a Monday morning absolute read on what's happening."
Morrell, 47, opened the 180-seat Blue Blaze Café in early 2013 in a location that had been home to a pizza restaurant for two decades. The menu consists of classic American favorites, including cheese steaks, pizza, burgers and beer. The average per-person check at dinner is just over $10. Projections call for first-year sales to approach $700,000.
He first came across RO.com a decade ago while working his last restaurant. "Somehow I came across a copy of the magazine." So important was the information he found, he recounts, that "I decided I wouldn't open this restaurant unless I had a solid manager and all of the numbers in place."
Morrell, who has spent parts of the last 30 years in the restaurant business and has owned his own establishment, says that from the outset what he wanted more than anything else was "a real labor cost, and a real food cost. I use the menu item cost worksheet religiously." The clarity of vision that it helps him achieve is significant, he notes. "I can tell you that my meatballs cost me 24c to make. Before, I just had a feel for it." Labor cost for his 21 employees? "It is under control."
There are times, Morrell reflects, when having the numbers at one's fingertips is more important than at other times. "I'll tell you the biggest thing that this has done for me: we've had two months of rain in Damascus, which is a bicycle tourist town. We get, like, a thousand visitors a year who ride bicycles down a trail, and when everything is going great the costs really don't matter. But when things are really tight and nobody is in town it's just invaluable to know the actual numbers."
Morrell makes sure his managers know the labor cost numbers on the hour. That way, he explains, "they know if and when they have to cut someone. If they're not really paying attention they could start lunch with a 50% labor cost while we're dead for two hours. Not knowing that is detrimental."
The site's employee manuals "were a good start for me," he adds. "I'll tell you what's most valuable to me on the web site: knowing that if I need something I can go there and find it."