Hot special pricing tool

Spring 2009

In a typical "capitalistic" company, the cost of inputs used to produce its goods and services would set only a lower bound on the price it would charge its customers, and the actual price settles at whatever the market will bear. At a not-for-profit company, the practice is often not very different, but profits (according to the books) are reinvested in the company rather than paid out to the owners. What would it be like to interpret "not for profit" more literally, letting the cost of inputs dictate the price of the product according to a rigid formula? This project explored that very idea, implementing such a formula in JavaScript and in Perl (for browsers where JavaScript is turned off).
Implementation details
On the back end, text files provide the unit prices for common ingredients used in the kitchen. The file format is simple enough to be updated by the average worker who happens to notice increasing totals on the latest invoices from suppliers. JavaScript (or Perl) uses these files to populate the array of factors by which kitchen measurements are rescaled into dollars and cents. Scale factors for labor and rent/utilities circa 2009 are hard-coded into the scripts, providing a window on historical pay scales years before the push for a livable wage of at least $15/hour. These less-volatile unit conversions could easily be modularized the way the food ingredient scale factors are, but since they change over greater time scales I left them in the source code with inline documentation for the next maintainer.
Transferrable skills learned from this project
  • Generating HTML on-the-fly by having PHP loop over the lines of an input file
  • Directing the output of a JavaScript calculation to a specific field on an HTML form
  • Ensuring broad compatibility even for browsers without JavaScript
Working demo

Raw materials

Measure or estimate how much of each ingredient you used in your hot special. If you don't see a particular ingredient, enter your estimate next to the ingredient that's closest in price.


sweet potatoes
yellow onions
red onions
red cabbage
jalapeno peppers
green peppers
purple peppers
red peppers
yellow peppers
acorn squash
butternut squash
spaghetti squash
yellow squash

Bulk Foods

long pasta
short pasta
long rice
short rice
jasmine rice
peanut butter
maple syrup
nutritional yeast
baking yeast
raw sugar
bulk tofu
vegetarian sausage
corn meal
white flour
whole wheat bread flour
whole wheat pastry flour
whole wheat berries
vital wheat gluten
dried chickpeas
black beans
pinto beans
kidney beans
black eyed peas
red lentils
green lentils
rolled oats
split peas
flax seeds
sesame seeds

Cooking Oils and Other Liquids

canola oil
olive oil
toasted sesame oil
peanut oil
lemon juice
lime juice
apple cider vinegar
red wine vinegar
vanilla extract

Canned Foods

garbanzo beans
green peas
fancy corn
green beans
white beans
frijoles negros
habichuelas rojas
habichuelas pintas
tomato filets
tomato paste
pickled jalapenos
coconut milk


all-purpose seasoning
allspice powder
anise seed powder
asafoetida powder
baking powder
baking soda
basil leaf
bay leaf
bay leaf powder
black pepper
brown mustard seed (whole)
cajun seasoning
caraway seed powder
cardamom seed (whole)
cardamom seed (powder)
cayenne powder
celery seed powder
red chili flakes
fiesta chili powder blend
chipotle powder
cilantro leaf
cinnamon powder
cinnamon sticks
cocoa powder
coriander seed powder
coriander seed whole
cumin seed powder
cumin seed whole
curry powder
dill weed
fennel seed powder
fenugreek seed powder
garam masala
garlic powder
ginger root powder
italian seasoning
jamaican seasoning
lemon pepper
marjoram leaf
onion powder
oregano leaf
paprika powder
parsley leaf flakes
peppermill 3 pepper blend
rosemary leaf whole
rosemary leaf powder
sage leaf rubbed
sea salt (coarse)
sea salt (table grind)
taco seasoning
thai seasoning
thyme leaf
vegetable broth powder
white pepper
yellow mustard powder
yellow mustard seed (whole)
lavender flowers
mild-sweet pickling spice
apple pie spice
garlic pepper
arrowroot powder
dash o'dill
licorice root

Labor and Utilities

How many paid worker hours contributed to cooking, serving, and selling the hot special?

How many volunteer hours contributed to cooking and serving the hot special?

How many paid hours were involved in cleaning up the kitchen to get ready for the next productive task?

The total cost of ingredients was $.
Divide this total by the net yield to get a wholesale cost per pound. Appropriate markups can be found on the wiki.
Alternatively, you could try pricing by margin, using the estimated added value from labor and utilities: $.