Fine-Tuning Your Restaurant’s Inventory Practices

Restaurant_InventoryTaking restaurant inventory isn’t the most glamorous part of the job, but it’s crucial to keeping weekly food costs low, ingredients fresh, and customers satisfied.

We’ve already outlined a few ways to get a better overall grasp on your restaurant’s food costs. Now let’s look a little closer at perhaps the most important food cost-saving measure, improving your inventory practices.

Take Inventory More Frequently

Our own Andre LeBlanc notes that “often, restaurants wait far too long between inventory counts and are ultimately left unsatisfied with the results.” It’s difficult after three or four months or a year to see a trend that resulted in higher than expected food costs. LeBlanc recommends at least weekly or even daily spot checks on high-cost items, even if the rest of your inventory is done once a month.

Less is More

RestaurantOwner.com makes a compelling case for keeping inventory levels low but adequate, and never over-ordering “just in case”, which some managers and chefs still do for their perennially popular dishes. They offer the following comparison:

“If you’ve ever served fries, you’ve probably made the horrifying discovery that there is only one box left in the freezer and four hours left in the shift. So the manager tells everyone to be real careful with fries because there is only a box left, and guess what happens? Fries are immediately perceived as a valuable commodity. Somehow the staff manages to scrape by with the last box. Everyone’s handling them with kid gloves because they’re scarce. They’re valuable. When there are 20 boxes in the walk-in who cares about fries? Nobody.”

Keep Organized!

Inventory time will only run smoothly if your establishment is kept properly organized. Ensuring all products are kept in designated spaces allows your chefs, cooks, bartenders, servers, and managers to know when an ingredient is almost empty and needs to be re-ordered. Be sure to have a senior kitchen staffer fill out your inventory form(s), this will help ensure that appropriate amounts are ordered. And, if possible, consider having a second set of eyeballs helping out with inventory to ensure nothing is missed, and reduce the chances of employee theft.

Go Shelf to Sheet

Avoid the mistake of doing your inventory in a “sheet to shelf” fashion. This means using your inventory sheets as a starting point, and tracking down those products on your shelves from there.

If you choose this route, you’ll undoubtedly overlook items which are on your shelves but not on your sheets. This will likely be brand new products that have yet to be included on paper, or seasonal specials.

Get in the habit of always using a “shelf to sheet” method.

Rotate Regularly 

Always ensure that products are being used on a “First In, First Out” schedule. Older product should be rotated to the front of walk-in shelves so they’re used-up first. It may be an obvious tip to some, but it bears repeating. It’s easier for kitchen staff to maintain the “FIFO” system if all products are properly labelled, and kept in a consistent positions in your walk-ins.

Rush hour in a restaurant can be a hectic scene, and team members need to be able to grab the right product quickly. Stick to consistent storage spots and never forget your labelling to ensure they’re always grabbing the oldest product first.

No Resting on Sunday

The National Restaurant Association advises restaurateurs to take inventory on Sundays. They note that typically, inventory levels will be lowest on a Sunday evening after the busier weekend days. This provides the bonus of having less stock to count; the path of least resistance.

Have any other ways to create smoother restaurant inventory practices? Share them in the comments.

Have any other tips for improving restaurant inventory practices? Share them in the comments. And be sure to download our free ebook, 25 Restaurant Cost-Saving Best Practices, at the button below.

NOTE: This post originally appeared in March 2014 on FoodTender.com’s Restaurant Strategy Blog.

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Cover image via Flickr.

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