Posted by: Rae | April 18, 2008

Why soup & 1/2 sandwich costs more than soup & sandwich

It seems crazy, I know.  Every other week or so someone asks why we don’t offer a lunch special – a cup of soup and half a sandwich.  Occasionally, depending upon how receptive I think people will be to the info, I tell people that I could, but I’d have to charge more, so I’d rather just let them take the uneaten half home for dinner.  Here’s my explanation.

How do I figure out what a sandwich costs? 

Ingredients.  Raw ingredients, including waste (what you cut off, what you screw up, and what you have to throw out because you made too much).  That includes the other half of the sandwich ingredients, because they generally don’t get used.

Fixed costs.  Electricity, gas, rent, insurance, all of the other costs that have to be covered by what you pay for your food, regardless of whether you eat a piece of toast and a glass of water or a big meal with dessert.   

Preparation.  That’s labor, the biggest cost.  Think of beef:  roast it, slice it, weigh it out into portions of exactly the right size, package up the portions, and label them.  We have a special crew of prep cooks, paid less than line cooks, who do this work.  In order to get your sandwich assembled and cooked on the line as quickly as possible while ensuring consistent results, everything is portioned ahead of time.

How do I approach the half sandwich problem? 

1.  Prep half portions and use two of each thing for a whole sandwich and one of each thing for a half sandwich.  This adds time on the cook line (have to unwrap twice as many portions), it means sandwiches can’t be partially pre-assembled during the summer rush, it means the prep cooks are weighing and packaging twice as many portions, and it means we’re using twice as many bags, foil sheets, and labels.  Yipes!  Add $1.50 to the cost of a sandwich.

2.  Prep half and whole portions of everything, and keep both on hand.  I’ll need twice as much storage space (ROFL), there will be even more pandemonium on the cook line during summer rush, I’ll still have more waste because I won’t be able to keep the right number of half portions on hand, and I’ll be using more of the baggies, foil sheets, and labels.  Yipes!

3. Don’t prep half sandwiches.  Have the line cooks do their own prep for these (get a single piece of bread, cut in half; pull out a portion of chicken and cut it in half, guessing at weight; pull out cheese & sauce portions and use half; put remaining half portions away or pitch them).  I’ll have less waste than if I prep for half sandwiches, but now I’m having my most highly-paid employees do this work, and it’s going to slow down the food delivery for every order behind the half sandwich.   Every second counts on the cooking line.  Yipes!  Add $1.50 to the cost of a sandwich!  And add to the impatience of waiting customers.

4.  Always make whole sandwiches and throw half in the garbage if someone orders a half.  Yipes!  It’s morally repugnant.  But at least it doesn’t increase the cost.

So what do I charge people?

1.  I could charge more for the whole sandwiches, and let the big eaters subsidize the half-sandwich eaters, under the theory that what people don’t know won’t hurt them. 

2.  I could charge the same amount or more for half sandwiches, because my costs are higher, in which case everyone would think I had lost my mind and had something against light eaters.   

3.  Or I can offer people take-home bags (wax bags, cheap and environmentally-friendly, and better than throwing it away) for the remaining half a sandwich.  Make sure that the sandwich is something that can be reheated, and it’s so good people are happy to have more for later.  Isn’t this really the best value for my customers?

I would love to hear any suggestions or thoughts you have about this.




  1. I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

    Stacey Derbinshire

  2. Good Blog. I will continue reading it in the future. Nice layout too.

    Aaron Wakling

  3. Stacey & Aaron – thanks for your comments. Akismet, my comment spam filter, picked them up along with a bunch of insurance offers, and I just rescued them today. Akismet is supposed to “learn” from its mistakes. We’ll see! Raechel

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