“We want to turn our inventory faster than our people.”

-James Sinegal


Time to take inventory? UGH.

Don’t worry, that’s a common emotion for chefs and restaurant owners when it comes to this back-of-house task. It’s time-consuming, it’s manual, and it’s just not what you want to be doing right now.

As an owner, you know taking inventory is important, but admit it – you often delay it, phone it in, or punt it to other staff members.

As a chef, if you’re tasked with inventory, often the result is a best guess. You’ve got a kitchen to run and dinner to prep… the last thing you want to do is take a count and look up last invoice prices.

Despite inventory being one of the most despised restaurant tasks, the fact is food and supplies represent a full third of your budget. Not taking an accurate inventory on a consistent basis means you’re losing money as a restaurant owner. And as a chef who wants to own his or her own restaurant someday, you’re creating habits that will shoot your restaurant in the foot before the doors even open.

But just because inventory is a must-have process doesn’t mean it has to be painful. With a little planning, a dash of process, and application of technology, restaurant inventory management can be easy, accurate, and totally painless.

Here’s how…

1. Create a Consistent Inventory Schedule & Process

When you create a schedule and process for taking inventory – who does what and when – you are essentially putting together a playbook for everything to run smoothly. No matter who takes inventory, the process will be completed following the same steps.

Who should take inventory?

Ideally, two staff members should be trained to take inventory, and they should be the ones to complete the task every time. This will ensure even more consistency and, as the team members repeat the task, will become a faster process over time.

The team members trained to take inventory don’t have to be the owner or the chef… it could be a kitchen manager and sous chef. But the owner and chef should understand the inventory process in order to properly review results and handle the task if an assigned staff member is unavailable.

When and how often should inventory be taken?

You should take inventory weekly. The best day to perform this task is when the assigned team members are working, preferably on the slowest day every week for your restaurant. Complete inventory before doors open or after hours… it’s too chaotic to perform this task during operating hours.

2. Prep The Stockroom

Wherever you stock your food, make sure the area is organized so the inventory process goes as quickly as possible. This is beneficial in another way, too, as you’ll be better prepared to receive a delivery.

Best practices include:

  • Consolidating items: If two boxes of one item are open, move all the items to one box. Combine condiments into as few bottles as possible.
  • Discard rotten or expired items: No need to keep these. But do make a note if there’s a significant amount of an item left over so you can order less of it in the future.
  • Move old items: Move older, not-yet-expired items to the front of shelves so when new items arrive, they can easily be stored back-of-shelf.

These stockroom prep tasks can be done right before you take an inventory, or as an ongoing part of everyone’s job on your team. Either way, prepping the stockroom is essential to taking an accurate inventory.

3. Curb Manual Inventory Processes with Technology

Probably one of the most painful parts of taking inventory is all the manual lookup and data entry it requires. After spending hours taking a count, you have to rifle through invoices to find the latest prices of items and then enter all that information into spreadsheets. It’s the bane of an owner’s existence and a chef’s nightmare.

But inventory management software is changing the game for restaurants.

This software is eliminating the time-wasting parts of taking inventory through automation. There are many restaurant inventory apps that let you tap in a quick count in an online sheet. That means your staff members take a quicker inventory, and you get a bird’s eye view of the results.

Some restaurant inventory software even pulls in last price based on invoice line-item detail automatically. With that detail, owners can see reports like Cost of Goods Sold, days on hand, and usage… and busy chefs can get out of the back office.

Easier Inventory Management for Everyone

By prioritizing inventory management, restaurant owners receive actionable insights to make smarter business decisions. For something that eats up a third of your budget, you need to be conscientious of what you have on hand to control waste and not over-order.

And for entrepreneurial chefs who will be owners someday, practicing good inventory habits now will set you up for success in the future. When you start out, you won’t have past profits to lean on so avoiding overspending on food will be critical to your success.

Now or then, owner or chef… no matter what your goals or position, managing a consistent and accurate inventory process should be the most important task on your to-do list.

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Joy Ugi

Joy Ugi

Joy Ugi writes about restaurant technology, operational efficiency, and food purchasing trends for Orderly - the #1 restaurant app for paperless invoicing, painless inventory, and online ordering.

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