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Menu Management

Restaurant Inventory Best Practices 101


Alex Fainblum

We know it’s tedious, we know it’s not a good time – and we know it’s one of the most important things you’ll do as a restaurateur.  It’s time to count all your inventory!

You’re probably looking for an easy way out, but we’re here to urge you not to cut corners.

Proper inventory management may require a bit more time, but it can save your restaurant thousands of dollars per year. Inventory also doesn’t have to be as painful as you think – restaurant technology is taking care of some of the steps that used to keep you up at night. Or, you know, late at your restaurant counting inventory.

Here are five best practices that will keep your inventory in tip-top shape for making mad cash for your restaurant.

1. Take That Blindfold Off

Do you eyeball your restaurant’s end-of-day earnings? We didn’t think so.

So why treat your restaurant’s inventory any differently? Make sure you’re counting and recording every single item in your stock room.

You may think you’re saving time by cutting corners, but all you’re really doing is creating more time-consuming problems for you and your staff.

So how much can a not-so-lucky guess cost you?

Let’s say your restaurant is having a three for $20 burger special. You check your stock room and guess that you have 70 burgers left – but you only have 57. After a few days, you run out of patties and you don’t know why.

Just knowing your inventory alone won’t give you a reason for your missing burger – you’ll just know they’re missing. Make sure you’re recording all the comps, service recovery, and other reasons for waste to find out why your restaurant is low on patties.

Accurate inventory counting does two things: it prevents waste by making sure you don’t buy too much, and it prevents the need for service recovery by making sure you don’t buy too little and need to 86 an item. Make sure you’re only buying what you need by carefully counting every item in your stock room.

2. Schedule Your Priorities

Stay on top of your stock by completing frequent and consistent inventory checks.

You want to check your top sellers and perishable foods at least every other day. The last thing you want is to run out of your most popular dish or to have all your tuna go bad before it gets used.

Conduct a thorough inventory investigation at the end of every week. Checking inventory a couple of hours before you close will indicate how you need to stock up before opening the next week.

End-of-week checks will also show you how different items are performing week after week. Notice your grilled cheese is slowly decreasing in popularity? Stop buying as much mozzarella and sliced bread.

Try to do inventory as often as you can – the more you check, the faster you’ll find issues and the quicker you’ll be able to solve them. And if you can’t check your complete stock level, prioritize checking those items your staff use the most. Your top sellers are most likely your biggest drivers of cost and revenue – knowing when they’re running low is a must.

3. No One Likes a Mess

Inventory management moves so much more quickly when your stock is organized. Make sure your stock is in order before inventory day rolls around.

Start by separating items based on category. Keep your veggies in the back of your fridge, your berries in at the front, and your meats in the freezer. Make sure your ingredients don’t mix and you’ll fly through your inventory checks.

Keep all your ingredients visible so your staff don’t need to go digging through items to count them. This will help speed up the process and make sure no item goes unnoticed. You also want to avoid double counting, so make sure once you’ve counted an item it’s far away from those that haven’t been tallied.

4. Less Is More

You won’t need all hands on deck for inventory. Choose two staff members for the job – one for counting and one for recording.

Unfortunately, inventory is susceptible to theft – and the more people you have locked away in your inventory room, the harder it is to spot a thief. With just two people in your stock room, there will always be a second set of eyes to make sure nothing is miscounted or stolen.

Training just two people is also far more efficient and much less time consuming than training a room full of employees.

It may take them a few rounds until they feel comfortable controlling the inventory but after just a few weeks your trainees will become experts. The pair will also develop a consistent routine, which will help them go through inventory faster and faster each time.

5. Technology Is Your New Best Friend

Throw away your pen and paper and get your restaurant an easy-to-use POS for tracking inventory.

You want a POS that’ll support your method for managing inventory – whether it’s tracking each menu item as a whole or counting them by their individual ingredients. Make sure you set your restaurant up with tech that gives you lots of options to track inventory, your way.  

Your POS may even act as a countdown for when you’re in need of a restock. Always know when you’re running low on top sellers by setting a notification when your inventory is almost out.

By having all your inventory counted and secured in a safe database, you’ll be able to spot waste and theft faster than ever. You won’t have to second guess your counting methods when four ice cream cones go missing – you’ll just know when it happens.

There’s no avoiding inventory checks – so make sure you’re taking full advantage of what they can tell you about your restaurant. You’ll save your restaurant time and money by organizing your stock, counting each item multiple times a month, and assigning the right people to do the job.

For a deeper dive on POS feature that can make inventory at your restaurant easier…

Alex is a Marketing Coordinator at TouchBistro where she writes about food and restaurant dining experiences. She’s a lover of all things chocolate covered but her true passion lies in late-night eating.

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