Restaurant Management: When Jargon Masks Poor Management Skills

COGS calculation, F&B, location-based leisure facility (LBL), prime cost, EP price, inventory turn formula, yield percentage, budget variance, average inventory value…

It’s the technical jargon of the modern-day restaurant kitchen operation.

But the overuse of jargon in the restaurant business can stand in the way of communication, and can needlessly obscure what are, in reality, basic, simple and logical methods of running a successful business.

Worse yet, an ability to sling jargon is often mistaken as a proficiency to manage- It sounds technical, complex, authoritative, so it’s too easy to make the mistake that the person using them understands more than the mere meaning of the words.

Here’s a case in point. A GM and KM huddle over the prime cost and cost of goods sold (COGS) reports the KM has submitted. The GM would like to know why the COGS are consistently running at a higher percentage than the industry standard for their market niche. Despite a healthy and consistent sales growth quarter after quarter, he wants more dollars to drop to the bottom line- and, confident in the evidence before him, he points to a high food cost percentage as a likely target.

The managers submit their recommendations to the owner. Dazzled by the fancy charts, and all the acronyms, the owner decides the evidence speaks for itself: Cut food costs by dialing the quality back a bit- Less spring greens, more iceberg in the salads, reduce the weight of the meat portions, drop some scratch sauces and replace them with canned, replace fresh with frozen.

Was this the right choice? Maybe. Then again, maybe the higher food cost is what’s driving the volume increase. Maybe a smaller profit percentage of a larger gross is preferable to a higher percentage of a low gross. Or maybe the high food cost signals a lack of expertise among the kitchen staff, poor vigilance over suppliers, lax labeling and rotation practices, etc., etc.

The point is, the inexperienced management team mistakenly concluded that the authoritative-sounding technical jargon, formulas and calculations furnished the answer, when it really only provided clues.

It’s tempting to dismiss such jargon as merely existing to help insecure restaurant professionals feel self-important. After all, these terms generally describe restaurant management techniques that predate the lingo by many decades. The reality, though, is that it’s a language adopted for the simple reason that restaurant chains needed to define terms and calculation formulas for large-scale training purposes- It’s hard to teach something if you don’t have a name for it.

And that’s exactly where it’s value lies. It provides specific labels for very specific, time-honored methods and techniques, and a shorthand for discussing these methods and techniques among those who know the language. It makes reports clean and simple, so the important elements of the reports- The actual content- can be more easily grasped.

But it should never be allowed to get in the way of communicating vital information, and it should never be mistaken for the constant vigilance, diligence, leadership and decision making of successful management.