Day 366: Start of Second Year

And so, there we were again, exactly one year later, standing on the Niagara College campus at 8:30 a.m. However, some things do change. Last year, our first day was spent in the Teaching Brewery. This year, we watch the 1st-year students entering the Teaching Brewery while we… go to class.

First up was Business Ethics, taught by Professor Jay Perry. Prof. Perry looks to be an enthusiastic teacher–he shared with us that he sky-dives and bungee-jumps, but prefers the latter due to its bigger adrenaline rush. He assured us that it won’t be a difficult class, but there will be a fair amount of participation required, including several one-on-one debates, as well as some essays and a presentation. And that’s it for the first class.

Back out into the sunshine, where we spend the next couple of hours catching up with one another.

On to Sensory Evaluation of Beer, Wine & Spirits. This is actually a bit of a misnomer, since our first four weeks will be spent with Chef Michael Olson, tasting typical brewpub food, learning how it is prepared, how to cost it, and how much to charge. Chef Olson is an very amusing teacher, and kept the class entertained and educated as he introduced us to the world of charcuterie.

Charcuterie (“char” = meat  and “cuit” = cook) refers to a plate of assorted cold cuts such as prosciutto, capicollo, bresaola or  cacciatore, usually accompanied by sharp or smelly cheeses and bread or bread sticks. Although it has become fairly popular in brewpubs and restaurants in the past couple of years, these meats were first developed in the Middle Ages as a pre-refrigeration method of keeping meat longer than a day or two. Either the meat is salted and then dehydrated, or it is fermented, lowering its pH. In both cases, the meat is made inhospitable to bacteria for several months.

Although the meat is devilishly expensive–anywhere from $30 to $55 per kilo–the salty flavour is so intense that your customer only needs a small portion. Chef Olson proved this point by providing us with slices of five meats. Despite the fact that the slices were so thin that they were actually translucent, 30 grams or so (served with samples of Niagara College beer) proved to be very filling.

And so, on to the cost calculation. This is very easy (especially using the metric system): simply take the cost per kilo and multiply  it by the amount of meat you’re putting on your customer’s plate. Add the cost of any cheese, fruit and bread, add it all up, and voila, you have the food cost of the plate. For instance, if your plate has 20 g of bresaola ($55/kg), 20 g of prosciutto ($40/kg), 20 g of soppresata ($42/kg), 100 g of melon ($10/kg) and two bread sticks ($42/500 sticks), then the food cost of the plate will be

($55/kg x .020 kg) + ($40/kg x .020 kg) + ($42/kg x .020 kg) + ($10/kg x .100 kg) + ($42/500 sticks x 2) =

$1.10 + $0.80 + $0.84 + $1.00 + $0.17 = $3.91

Now that we’ve determined our total food cost, we can decide how much to charge for the plate. Some restaurants simply calculate the food cost as a flat percentage of the selling cost. In this case, 40% would result in a selling cost of  $9.78, while 30% would give a selling price of $13.33. Apparently the popular food cost percentage is 30%.

However, Chef Olson also introduced the concept of “what the market will bear”. In other words, what is your customer willing (or perhaps, expecting) to pay? A charcuterie plate that sells for $8 in a small brewpub might not raise the diners’ eyebrows at a fancy restuarant if it sells for $18.

Despite this, net profit margins on food are apparently razor thin–that difference between the food cost and the selling price has to cover staff salaries, utilities, rent or mortgage payments, interest on other loans or bills, building maintenance, equipment repair or new equipment, and (of course) taxes. If there’s anything left over after all those costs, that’s your profit on each charcuterie plate–probably a few cents, if it doesn’t actually lose money. Chef Olson hinted that the real profits in a brewpub come from (you guessed it) the beer! But doubtless that will be covered in a future class.

On to our next class. Yes, on Wednesdays, we have eight straight hours of classes with no lunch break. Or we thought we did. The head of the Food, Beer & Wine division arrived to tell us that our third class of the day had been moved to Monday mornings at 8:30 a.m.

I  am torn–this means we only have five straight hours of classes on Wednesday now, but those of you who have been reading this blog for the past year know how I feel about 8:30 a.m. classes. On Mondays.

I shake my fist at the capricious gods of time-tabling.

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4 Comments on “Day 366: Start of Second Year”


  1. And while you shake your fist at the capricious gods of time tabling you can thank those same gods that they provided a lovely lunch with sparkling, refreshing beverages for you. 😉


  2. “… know how I feel about 8:30 a.m. classes. On Mondays.”

    I feel your pain. Way back in the stone ages when I was in University I had an 8 a.m. class and a 5:00 p.m. class on Wednesdays one year and nothing in between. Would have been fine if I lived on campus and could go back to the dorm in between but, no, I lived at home and took public transit to get to Uni. That’s when I became familiar with the Rye-High pub and the beauty of WWE Wrestling…


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