Restaurants and bars attract workers who are great at solving problems on the fly. It’s tempting to apply this strategy to inventory management, but that’s a big mistake.
Unless you want to risk spoilages, shortages, and misuse of resources, you need to apply an organized system to your inventory. It can be full restaurant management software or a simple par inventory sheet, but the most important tip for managing inventory is to manage inventory.
However well your kitchen runs without structured inventory management, you’ll realize gains in efficiency (and profit!) when you have it.
We’ll reveal the secrets to an effective, painless process below.
Keeping stockrooms organized doesn’t only help with inventory—it’ll make your kitchen run smoother, too.
- Everything in its place. Every ingredient should have a designated place, and staff should know exactly where to find the items they’re looking for, every time.
- Make it logical. Consider day-to-day usage and workflow, not just sorting like-with-like or what looks good.
- Organize to prevent spoilage. Keep your oldest stock toward the front and add your newest stock at the back. Note arrival dates and best-by dates on the packaging.
- Tidy up daily. Your stock will get disorganized on the regular—deliveries get dumped in storage during a rush and things get knocked off shelves. A little daily attention is needed to keep your system in place. Make sure someone is in charge of neatening up every day.
Staff It Smart
This is definitely an area where you want the right person for the job. Select staff deliberately for this task.
- It’s not punishment. If you make someone resent the job by weaponizing it, your results…won’t be good. It should be a regular part of your staff’s duties, not something handed down for being late or being a butterfingers.
- Choose detail-oriented individuals. Some people are just better at this type of work, so use your staff’s individual strengths.
- Use strategic redundancy. Always do inventory in teams of two. Have each person count independently, then work out any discrepancies afterwards. This also gives you an opportunity to have experienced staff train or supervise.
Don’t wait until your inventory is out of control to take stock, and don’t put it off until you can fit it in. Setting a regular interval and sticking to it will yield more useful data and help normalize the process for your staff.
- Schedule a regular day and time, then take an organized inventory count every week.
- Do it after closing. Or before opening, or on a day the business is closed. Trying to take inventory while the kitchen is open will lead to confusion. Not to mention, you’ll be in the way of staff trying to do their jobs.
- Count the same way, every time. You can take stock by quantity or dollar value, as long as you’re consistent. You should provide guidelines on how to determine partial boxes or bottles consistently. Otherwise, each individual taking inventory will have their own method.
- Count in the same order. Develop a routine for how you move through the inventory and keep it. Staff will move faster if it’s habit. Plus, consistency allows you to sort items on the accounting list in the order that staff will see them—no hunting through the list or in the stockroom.
It’s all a bunch of literal bean-counting unless you use your inventory records to identify and fix losses. Don’t expect to reduce error rates to zero, and absolutely don’t make it about blame. Identify exactly why your losses are occurring and find a productive solution.
- Crowdsource your answers. Your back-of-house staff are best suited to tell you when and how certain losses are happening. Create a system for documenting notable mistakes, spills, or spoilages as they occur.
- Don’t assign blame. If you hand out punishment or blame to people who report errors, they’ll stop reporting them. Mistakes happen, and in most cases, it’s not productive to come down on someone in the moment.
- Account for staff meals. If this is a perk for your employees, you want to keep track. It’s not a loss, per se—it’s part of doing business—but it will affect your inventory.
- Find constructive ways to prevent repeated losses. If the same problem is coming up over and over again, you need to address it. Maybe certain produce is spoiling routinely because of improper storage or over-ordering. Maybe you’re blowing through certain ingredients erratically because your staff varies in how much they pour. Poor workflow could be causing bumps and spills, or overworked staff could be getting sloppy because you need another line cook.
- Use positive reinforcement. It’s easy to focus on the negative but make an effort to reward your staff for keeping losses under control. Some actions do call for punishment, but for the most part, you’ll get better results by encouraging improvement. Set clear but reasonable goals and reward compliance.
Evolution is Survival
The more changes you have to make, the more upheaval you’re going to cause—everyone will need time to adjust to the new system. Humans, as a species, dislike change. Habits make our lives easier, so upending the apple cart is going to cause complaints.
That doesn’t mean some of them aren’t legitimate.
- Ask staff to bear with you for a while. Reassure them that you’ll take their feedback into account, but they need to give the changes a fair try. They’ll be more likely to ride it out if they know they’ll have a chance to give input later.
- Get feedback. Ask trusted staff about problems they’ve noticed or flaws in the system. Ask them what has improved or made their lives easier.
- Address real flaws. If the organizational system of your dreams has made the most common ingredients harder to get to, you’ll have to make changes. If inventory counts or spill reports are disruptive or confusing, you’ll need to make them feasible.
- Strike a balance. You shouldn’t let your inventory system get in the way of delivering excellent service, but you shouldn’t dump it at the first sign of trouble, either. Find a practical balance, with procedures your staff can adhere to. Otherwise, your system is bound to fail.