Keep tabs on your flatware count
Noble Pie Parlor in Reno, Nevada, stays open until 5 a.m. on weekends, and that means one thing: the flatware is going to disappear.
“In Reno the bars don’t close, technically,” says co-owner Trevor Leppek. “We are serving pizza to customers who don’t realize there is a fork and knife on their plate and these get thrown in the garbage.”
Also the dishwashing staff, swamped with the late evening rush, might inadvertently throw out forks and knives when they discard food and other trash from bus tubs. No one has the time, or presumably the desire, to reach into the trash can to retrieve errant pieces intended for the dishwasher, so Leppek does two things. He reorders flatware every three months, a task made slightly easier by his vendor’s online reordering option. Leppek also communicates with workers through Noble Pie’s private, employees-only Facebook page.
“We use it for various things such as covering shifts, or informing the staff we lost this much glassware or flatware this weekend,” he says. “We are reminding them, ‘I know it seems insignificant to you because you’re not paying $80 to $100 every three months.’ ”
Operators have to budget for flatware just as they do plates, glasses and other small items that are lost due to employee haste, general breakage or customer theft. It is another line item in a long list of things that must be reordered occasionally.
Leppek does not think customers are stealing flatware. They steal the cheese shakers, he says, but that’s because the Parmesan is of high quality. “Our flatware is very simple looking,” he says. “They might think it’s funny to steal silverware, or their friends dare them, but they take the pint glasses more often.”
There is one exception and customers do seem to take home one small item. With Saturday and Sunday brunch Noble Pie Parlor offers a “Build Your Own Bloody Mary.” The setup includes pickled items, salt and pepper, horseradish, and other ingredients, and tiny forks and spoons to scoop these items. “We lose those,” Leppek says. “I think people think, ‘Oh that’s cute.’ ”
Other customers have much loftier targets. At 60-seat Blue Planet Grill in New York City, the steak knives often disappear. Owner Jacob Krumgalz says the three-year-old restaurant and pizza bar is located near Ground Zero, so the place is popular. He is too busy to watch all the customers, and he never sees people actually take the knives. “If we did see it we would call the cops, but we haven’t seen it,” he says. “We just see when they leave there is no knife on the table.”
Krumgalz says 80 percent of the clientele are tourists. They might be looking for souvenirs, as the regular forks and knives disappear, too. He buys a dozen forks and knives twice a year. “You have to keep at least three times your seating capacity in stock,” he says. “You don’t have time to wait for the flatware to get washed.”
Greg Ossege, a CPA and business advisor at Ossege Combs & Mann, Ltd., in Cincinnati, says when budgeting for flatware, expect to pay $275 per 200 seats when opening the restaurant. An operator will likely have to reorder a few times per year, and end up spending 15 to 25 percent of that amount for replacement cost.
Ossege says that there is not much an operator can do about loss. “It is probably not worth the time to search through the trash,” he says. “Proactively though, use better training and supervision if the problem becomes severe.” He says some places use magnets on the trashcans to attract the metal forks and knives, saving them from being discarded.
That’s exactly what the 35-location Russo’s Restaurants does, says Anthony Russo, owner and founder of the Houston-based franchise. The restaurants, which include Russo’s New York Pizzeria, a fast-casual pizzeria franchise, and Russo’s Coal-Fired Italian Kitchen, a full-service Italian restaurant franchise, have magnets on the trash cans. “We also only put one set of silverware per guest, as opposed to a ‘grab your own silverware’ area, at the tables,” Russo says. “These methods have been effective in reducing loss.”
The restaurants order flatware every two years, or when supplies get low. The orders are mostly dinner forks, dinner knives, and pasta spoons. “We don’t have much specialty silverware,” Russo says. Depending on the location size, the units spend about $2,000 to $4,000.
Al Dente Ristorante, which is located in Washington, D.C., and happens to have a fork and knife in its logo, checks its flatware inventory frequently. “You should count your silverware every 45 days,” says media manager Angie Duran. “To avoid losing pairs, you should try setting up a system for the bus boys to return all silverware to correct places throughout their shift.”
Metal or Plastic?
People say “silverware” but of course they mean “flatware” or “tableware,” or forks, knives and spoons that are generally made of stainless steel or plastic. When choosing a stainless steel set, an operator usually has the option of 18/10 or 18/0. The numbers refer to the percentage of chromium and nickel content. The 18/10 option has 18-percent chromium and 10-percent nickel, and is shiny, rust resistant, and durable. The 18/0 has 18 percent chromium and zero percent nickel, and has a softer shine, is more economical and is subject to staining.
For some, the choice comes down to how the flatware looks. Trevor Leppek, co-owner of Noble Pie Parlor in Reno, Nevada, says he prefers a matte finish because the shiny finish shows scratches. Also a water spot makes a shiny and otherwise clean utensil look dirty. He does not want to switch to plastic. “Plastic ware is wasteful,” Leppek says. “We try to be as green as possible.”
Some plastic ware can be recycled, but it depends on the capabilities of the local recycling program. Check with your local entity. There is also biodegradable or compostable flatware made of corn. Those cost more, but they send your customers a message about your environmental friendliness.
Nora Caley is a freelance writer specializing in food and business topics. She lives in Denver, Colorado.