The Breakdown

Menu engineering—and saving money—is in the details. We break down the cost of vinaigrette two ways: housemade and premade.

Cruet of golden salad dressing. Out-of-focus tomatoes, vinegar, and a wooden salad bowl filled with greens in background.
The cost of a simple vinaigrette can vary by nearly 80 percent, depending on whether you buy or make it. Imagine what other menu items can do to your bottom line.

With restaurant budgets squeezed ever tighter, money has to come from somewhere. A refrain we’re hearing more often? Skip the in-house prep and buy comparable already-made menu items. With labor costs skyrocketing, it may make more sense to outsource some food prep than to trumpet, “All items made in house!” on your menu.

But how much can you really save taking this route? Paul LaRue, restaurant operations consultant at US Foods, estimates over two-thirds of operators don’t accurately cost out recipes or factor in labor costs. He provides four cost breakdowns for a simple vinaigrette, assuming an entry-level cook being paid about $15 per hour can assemble a gallon of dressing in about 20 minutes.

The path of least resistance

  • Buy premade quality vinaigrette at $15 per gallon
  • Virtually zero labor involved
  • Total cost: $15 or 11.7 cents per ounce

Housemade, but…

  • Buy bulk commodity ingredients for $7.50
  • $5 labor
  • Total cost to produce: $12.50 or 9.8 cents per ounce

Middle of the road

  • Buy decent ingredients for $10
  • $5 labor
  • Total cost to produce: $15 or 11.7 cents per ounce

The high road

  • Buy quality ingredients for $17.50
  • $5 labor
  • Total cost to produce: $22.50 or 17.5 cents per ounce

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