Hey, What's the Cost of That Bowl of Pho?

Hey, what's the cost of that bowl of pho?Updated 10-25-15. Ever wonder how much a bowl of beef pho costs to make?

If you're a customer, when you pay $8 for a bowl of beef pho, what are you really getting?

And if you're a pho restaurant operator, do you know your food cost and profit margin?

Let's get on a spreadsheet and take a look at a typical beef pho recipe. There are many ways to do this calculation, depending on your preference and business setup. What I'm presenting here is one of the simpler methods for illustration purpose. Also ingredient prices fluctuate regularly, but the concept is valid and should give you a decent result.

There are 3 tables below. The first one aims to calculate the broth cost only, the result of which is cost of broth per regular bowl of serving. The second shows calculation for a typical serving, including the banh pho noodle, toppings and garnishes, but specifically excluding any protein toppings. And the third table costs out each portion to include various protein toppings like sliced rare eye of round, tendon, tripe and beef balls.

The first table is the Cost of Broth Per Bowl Calculation, which shows the cost of broth for a typical Regular size bowl requiring about 30 FL-OZ of broth. Many restaurants use much larger pot sizes, but for simplicity I'm using a more manageable pot size to yield 21 gallons. The broth cost per bowl comes out to about $1.36. This is how much your broth for each regular bowl costs.


Ingredients From RecipeRecipe QuantityRecipe UM*Vendor PriceVendor UM*Recipe Component Cost
Beef knuckle bones25LB$0.79LB$19.75
Beef Brisket20LB$4.59LB$91.80
Fish Sauce2FL-OZ$1.60BOTTLE$0.19
Rock Sugar0.14LB$1.44LB$0.20
Star Anise (Đại Hồi)0.1LB$3.00LB$0.30
Cinnamon (Vỏ Quế)0.3LB$2.00LB$0.60
Cardamom (Thảo quả)0.1LB$36.00LB$3.60
Cloves (Đinh Hương)0.2LB$2.00LB$0.40
Yellow onion3LB$0.50LB$1.50
BATCH COST =$121.67
*UM = Unit of measureGALLONS YIELD =21
** Assume a typical Regular size bowl (30 FL-OZ)NUMBER OF BOWLS** YIELD =89.6

The next table displays the Cost Per Assembled Bowl Calculation-Without Protein Toppings, which shows the cost of the same regular bowl with properly portioned banh pho noodle, onion garnish and broth. It also includes one portion of the garnish (bean sprouts, lime, chili pepper, and Thai basil) that is typically served on the side plate. The cost of the bowl is now increased to $2.22. Note that this is for costing purpose only; operationally you would add other proteins and ingredients over the banh pho before adding the broth last.


Ingredients From RecipeRecipe QuantityRecipe UM*Vendor PriceVendor UM*Recipe Component Cost
Banh pho5OZ-WT$1.10LB$0.34
Green onion1OZ-WT$0.70BUNCH$0.14
Yellow onion2OZ-WT$0.50LB$0.06
Bean sprout2.8OZ-WT$0.60LB$0.11

Now that you have the basic regular sized pho costed out, it's time to add a few protein toppings to get the final food cost of a regular beef pho bowl. I've included examples of rare beef (tái), tripe, tendon, and beef balls here, as well as the well-done brisket. Note that, because the brisket cost was included in the broth calculation already, adding well-done brisket to a bowl should not add brisket cost a second time. The cost of the bowl now ranges from $2.20 to $3.68.


Ingredients From RecipeRecipe QuantityRecipe UM*Vendor PriceVendor UM*Recipe Component Cost
Beef tái3OZ-WT$2.60LB$0.49
Beef balls4OZ-WT$3.70LB$0.93
COST PER BOWL-Pho Tai =$2.70
COST PER BOWL-Pho Tai + Tendon + Tripe =$3.68
COST PER BOWL-Pho Beefballs =$3.14
COST PER BOWL-Pho Brisket =$2.22
COST PER BOWL-Tai + Brisket + Tendon + Tripe =$3.68

What's shown above are normally considered "food cost" in foodservice industry. Labor costs can also be calculated to show a more accurate cost of a bowl of pho.

If you're eating at a pho restaurant that charges $8 per regular Special bowl (tái + brisket + tendon + tripe), then you can estimate that restaurant's food cost for the Special bowl is about ($3.68/$8) = 46%. I use typical retail prices in these calculations, and $3.68 is a great deal for home cooking.

For a restaurant business, food cost should be below 30%. A restaurant has its own wholesale price list from its suppliers, and prices vary widely depending on location. Furthermore, a conscientious restaurateur have many ways to optimize operation to minimize costs without compromising quality and service. Finally, pho restaurants make all the menu items in bulk during both prep and service steps, all of which keep per serving cost low. The net result is controlled food cost which is an important step to increase profit margins.

Just as a counterpoint, there are pho restaurant owners who will skim costs to make a buck at the expense of the customers. They may do the following:

  • Adjusting recipes (ingredients, procedure, and cook time)
  • Using lower quality/lower cost ingredients
  • Employing less qualified/untrained staff

There is nothing wrong with doing these in and of themselves; the owner has every right to run his business any way he wants as long as it's not illegal. But this is why pho quality can vary greatly from one pho restaurant to another.

People love to enjoy good foods and actually don't mind paying for a great bowl of pho and a satisfying experience. The fact is, busy pho restaurants (which most of the time equates to serving good pho) have developed their own procedure to maintain quality and control both food and labor costs. They know how to provide good customer service to attract repeat business. As a result, they charge fair prices for great pho and great dining experience.

In the end, what does this all mean? Well, regardless of how much the bowl of beef pho is charged to a customer, a smart customer can find very good pho at very decent price, while the pho restaurant owner can make good profits knowing his accurate costs.

If you're a pho customer, be wary of the cheap pho. Those half-priced pho or even those in the range of $5 to $6 may become real expensive pho if you're not getting the quality and service expected, or they're not around long to charge you those cheap prices. It's better to pay a few dollars more to support pho shops that care to serve good pho using good ingredients, employ and pay a well-trained staff, and charge a fair price for it. Those are the ones you want to be around for a long time.

If you're a pho restaurateur, learn how to calculate your food costs properly, then learn to control and maintain both quality and cost of your pho. This care will show in the pho that you serve, and will definitely show in your bottom line. Doing so will also ensure you have good margins and your pho restaurant will be doing business well into the future.

Share your opinion in the comments below.

Looking to try your hand at making your own pho? Check out a solid beef pho recipe, or follow this link for Top pho bo and pho ga recipes you must try yourself.

For help with your pho restaurant, please use the pho consultation inquiry form.

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