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Chantal Gagnon knows how to work her culinary savvy

Chantal Gagnon credits the Académie culinaire established by the Roland et Frères food distributors and headed by former restaurateur Adrien Boucher for literally saving her business.

By Julie Gedeon

“I knew there were problems but couldn’t actually put my finger on them,” says the owner of Hôtel National, a family restaurant, bar and small hotel in Saint-Pamphile, Québec, along the Maine border. “When you’re immersed in your business it can be difficult to see things clearly.”

Fortunately, Gagnon mentioned her concerns to a Roland et Frères representative. He advised her to contact Boucher, who had just launched the culinary academy.

“The goal is to enhance the culinary and business skills of restaurateurs throughout southeastern Québec,” he says.

Boucher knew he could help Gagnon, but it would involve analyzing every aspect of the business – a process that would take 60 to 75 hours of meeting regularly over months.

With Boucher’s help, Gagnon applied to the Québec government for matching funding to pay for half of the extensive mentorship program. Soon after, Gagnon officially became the academy’s first client.

Boucher and Gagnon began the process by looking at the sales figures and key costs of operating a restaurant which seats 100 with another 60 on a terrace during nice weather. Boucher immediately saw that the restaurant’s salary costs were too high for the volume of business.

Food costs were also way too high. One of the main culprits was food bought for daily specials that went unsold. “With the academy’s help, we revamped the menu so that only three of our six choices would always change, with the other three being our star BBQ chicken, steak and fries, and a fish of the day,” Gagnon says. “Those popular dishes, along with some tricks Mr. Boucher gave us, have eliminated our food waste.”

Gagnon also realized that portions were overly generous. Food inventory now takes place nightly to help keep costs within 25 per cent of the overall budget.

The biggest eye-opener was being able to cut the business’s energy costs in half. “Just by paying more attention to when the stoves are turned on and off we’re saving $10,000 a year in propane costs alone,” Gagnon says.

She credits the culinary academy’s mentorship program for making her a wiser entrepreneur.

Top tips to monitor profitability

  • Watch your expenses, especially kitchen salary costs, service salary costs (including your contribution), and primary operating costs, including food.
  • Look for potential savings. Not all of your costs are food and staff-related. Energy costs can eat up profits, too, so consider energy-saving equipment, which pays for itself in savings over time.
  • Cut the waste. Find creative ways to incorporate unused food into other dishes to reduce one of the biggest revenue-eaters in your operation.
  • Calculate your revenues against your expenses to come up with a profit or loss figure. Keep a close and constant eye on your calculations.