Prime costs are key indicators of your restaurant’s financial success. In another blog, we answered the first most common question, “What Should Prime Cost Be in a Restaurant?” In this article, we address the second most common question regarding prime costs: Do we use gross sales or net sales in prime cost reporting?

Gross Sales vs Net Sales

Let’s first establish what amounts are included in gross sales versus in net sales. Gross sales are the positive revenue amounts resulting from your restaurant’s operations. This is food sales, beverage sales, wine sales, beer sales, wine sales, merchandise sales, and any other operating income, without any reductions from discounts and comps. Net sales are the positive revenue amounts netted against or reduced by discounts and comps.

Prime Cost Formulas

As a refresher, here is the prime cost formula:

Prime Cost = Total Cost of Sales or Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) + Labor Cost + [Paper Cost for Quick Service Restaurant (QSR)]

Additionally, you need to know what your prime cost percentage is – or, how your costs compare to your actual sales:

Prime Cost Percentage = Total Cost of Sales or Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) + Labor Cost + [Paper Cost for QSRs]) / SALES

What Should Prime Cost Be in a Restaurant?

The first question we usually get about prime costs and prime cost percentages is, “What numbers are good/indicate success?” The answer depends on whether you are a full-service versus quick-service operation. Full-service restaurants should be looking for at least an average of 60-65%, and ideally, right around 55%. Quick-service restaurants with average prime costs as a percentage of sales are in the 55-60% range, and ideally about 50%. Full-service restaurants operating at 65%, and quick-service restaurants operating at 60% are usually considered “in trouble.” For more information about ideal prime costs for your restaurant, check out our full article here.

Notice how those percentages between ideal and “in trouble” only differ by about 10%? That is why it’s super important to make sure you’re capturing and using the correct financial data, so that you’re not making decisions based on bad information. Using the wrong type of sales number can lead you very astray, as you’ll see below.

The Case for Using Gross Sales

The second question we get about prime cost is, “Should we be using gross sales or net sales in prime costs reporting?” The answer depends on what information you’re evaluating. For purposes of evaluating food and labor budgets or for determining if your menu pricing is appropriate, we recommend using gross sales. We use gross sales because we analyze the costs of products sold (food, beverage, and labor) and compare them to the sales of those products to evaluate profitability. Without this starting point, you cannot evaluate where any profitability issues are originating. Let’s walk through an example.

How Net Sales Can Produce Inaccurate Prime Cost Percentage

In your full-service restaurant, you sell a plate that costs you $27.50 in COGS and labor. You usually sell this plate for the menu price of $50, giving you a prime cost percentage of 55% (food of $27.50 / $50.00 gross sales, aka sales price before discounts/comps = 55%). This plate is perfect for your restaurant and gives you your ideal prime cost percentage.

One week, you hold a special offering the same plate for $40 instead of $50. This $10 discount is available all day, all week, and for that week, is the most popular plate. This dish’s prime cost percentage for that week is 68.8% (food cost of $27.50 / $40 sales price after discounts/comps). The prime cost percentage, including the discount, is far from ideal and would even indicate trouble! But is the original pricing wrong? No, the original pricing for that dollar cost is spot-on.

The Wrong Data Leads to the Wrong Decisions

This is especially important when evaluating how your restaurant’s team controls prime costs. Let’s say you set kitchen management bonuses to kick in when prime costs are below 57%. Under the printed menu prices, according to the costs the kitchen staff has incurred, they are mastering controllable costs with a prime cost percentage of 55% using gross sales. But if you used net sales – which includes comps and discounts that your team cannot control – your team would be unfairly unrewarded at the discounted rate of 68.8%.

Additionally, if you’re only using net sales to calculate your prime cost percentage, it may be because you’re not tracking your comps and discounts separately on your P&L, leading to drastic misunderstandings about how your restaurant is faring. Using the same figures as the example above, assume that your servers are always comping that plate by $10 because it takes a little longer than the rest of the meals to prepare and deliver to the table. If you examined that prime cost percentage using the net sales as the denominator, you would very likely decide to cut the plate from the menu entirely or make drastic changes to alter it. This is a problem because the issue is not with the dish’s cost or pricing but the servers’ training and comp management. By looking at the prime cost percentage using the gross sales, you’d know to look elsewhere, digging into the comps and discounts.

The Case for Using Net Sales

However, there are cases when using net sales to evaluate prime costs is more beneficial. When comparing your financials in other restaurants and industry averages, it’s generally accepted to use net sales, because your restaurant’s overall performance does include comps and discounts.

Besides comparing your performance to other restaurants and industry averages, calculating your prime costs using net sales also gives you a better understanding of your restaurant’s overall actual performance with discounts, comps, etc. Discounts and comps, when presenting net sales, are often represented on the P&L by a negative line item in the revenue section. This helps you pinpoint issues with your bottom line, such as if your comps and discounts are too high, your occupancy is too low, etc.

Gross Sales vs Net Sales from Prime Cost Comparison

The P&L below shows how prime cost percentages differ using the same financial data.


Still have questions about prime cost percentage?

Once you figure out prime cost components, the rest falls into place. If you need help setting up your financials, making sure they’re correct, or learning more about reading KPIs like prime cost, sit down with us!