Managing restaurant inventory is an art and science, a mix of projections and predictions. If you keep too much inventory, you risk spoilage, theft, cash-flow problems and serving food that’s not fresh or runs past its expiration date. If you don’t order enough food and supplies, you run out of menu items and spend more money buying supplies at retail prices. Food costs run higher than most other restaurant expenses, and proper management of inventory helps to limit losses, improve kitchen speed and reduce the time needed to reorder stock.


Inventory Tracking System

Accurate inventory records make taking inventory and ordering supplies more efficient so that restaurant staffs become free for other duties. A good system or inventory app allows dishwashers or support staff to take inventories daily. Taking the time to organize storerooms, freezers and walk-in coolers improves production speed and allows lower-level workers to handle simple counting tasks. Point-of-sale systems and inventory-management software help to make inventory tasks more efficient, identify waste and fraud and organize inventory more efficiently.

  • Accurate inventory lists help chefs plan specials and use perishable produce before it spoils.
  • Inventory-control systems help managers assess the products that the restaurant uses on a daily and weekly basis.
  • A strong inventory system matches food usage with inventory to identify possible thefts, fraud and waste.

Software Based Inventory Management

Information technology has advanced rapidly, and software programs help to organize, track, prioritize and reorder stock efficiently. Modern IT software systems manage inventory, facilitate the production process, save time and increase profitability. From an owner’s viewpoint, once you set your system, it runs like a clock. Everything gets counted when it’s supposed to be counted and ordered when needed.

  • The cost of food never tells the whole story. Steam tables cause food waste when too much food is heated, kitchen errors lead to lost profits and your employees could take advantage of loose inventory systems to steal valuable commodities.
  • Software helps to identify the performance shortcomings of particular chefs, servers and other restaurant staff members.
  • The savings generated by IT systems cover their own costs by saving the money that is lost due to waste, and fraud.
  • A strong inventory system in your restaurant ensures that there’s always enough stock to generate sales.
  • Strong restaurant inventory management helps to make better estimates of food costs so that management can price meals competitively.

Limiting Food Spoilage and Identifying Problems

Your Inventory system should include FIFO methods help to optimize food usage. FIFO stands for first in, first out, and the method prevents neglectful spoilage. Strong inventory systems serve as deterrents to theft because employees understand that all the stock is carefully managed and catalogued. Inventory tracking allows managers to identify excessive waste during shifts, measure food-cost initiatives for success and prevent both BOH and FOH from running out of staples.

Managers can offer incentives and rewards to their staffs for meeting production goals, reducing waste and portioning food properly. Restaurants that take an informal attitude to portioning issues lose profits when they allow kitchens and servers to use their discretion to portion food. Inventory management can help to identify exactly where the stock is going so that managers can target the areas for policy changes or disciplinary actions.


Inventory-Management Benefits Extend to the Front of the House

Tight inventories help to reduce spoilage and waste because they force managers and staffs to use ingredients more efficiently. The staff make fewer errors when they understand they have limited resources. Front-of-the-house service also benefits from strong inventory-control systems for beverages, bread, salads, condiments, desserts and supplies.

  • Beverage costs run less than food, but the cost savings still mean pure profit for restaurant owners.
  • Inventory management could lead to adjusting syrup and carbonated water percentages, coffee-machine volumes and alcohol pours in mixed drinks.
  • Bartenders frequently pocket cash during busy bar times, and strong inventory-management techniques help to catch criminal activity.
  • Servers often need to answer questions from customers about special orders and catering projects. Accurate records help staff members answer questions quickly and accurately, leading to more sales.
  • Paper supplies for carryout and special orders might have fewer demands from customers so that inventory-takers forget to order them. IT management software makes taking inventory mandatory at certain times to avoid coming up short.

Putting Your Inventory System into Action

Obviously, you’ll take inventory before ordering supplies, but that doesn’t mean that you’ve got to wait until you place an order. More periodic counts are often justified, even daily. Daily counts enable you to track your employees with better precision. The point is to set up a system (times and responsibilities) and stick with it.

The true cost of food depends on portion control, spoilage, waste and theft. Analyzing these factors often proves complicated for managers and owners, but strong inventory techniques, IT software and transparent inventory policies help to automate the process. Many managers fail to calculate the cost of food accurately so that the menu prices become too cheap or too expensive, based on food costs. Your inventory system can interact with your costing software to update the cost of each item on your menu, based on the latest food costs.

Remember that owners and managers can’t set systems and forget them. Some human input is always necessary. Inventory figures might credit spoiled, damaged or outdated products. Glitches in software are always possibilities, so use control systems as guides and tools. They’re never intended to replace human supervision.

The savings generated from restaurant inventory-control systems become pure profit for restaurant owners, so taking the time to organize your inventory is worth the effort. Accurate inventory improves customer service, strengthens employee morale and generates greater restaurant profits.