An Insider’s Guide To The Art Of Inventory
Taking stock may sound elementary, even tedious, but is arguably the linchpin of every restaurant’s success. Do it right and you’ll not run out of necessities at the eleventh hour or end up with duplicate perishables good only for compost fodder. You’ll also experience welcome boosts to your bottom line in terms of savings in food spend, predictable recipe costing and fewer losses from theft as well as enhanced food safety. We’ll get you started with expert advice and straightforward practices that you may not have thought about since basic training days, but hold the key to advancing your operation.
Certified Executive Chef Scott Smith, who serves as department chair for Johnson & Wales University's food service management program, uses this time-honored visualization (see next page) to help divide all purchased products into categories. “It’s an easy way to see how to balance perishability and cost,” he says, “and can be reconfigured by individual operators to categorize those products they most need to track.” If you serve alcohol in your restaurant, place it in the grid as well as a low perishability/high cost item.
How to begin taking inventory? While a number of excellent programs for the tech savvy are readily available, if you prefer to keep it simple, a sharp eye and a working knowledge of Microsoft® Excel can yield the results you need.
The first step is to establish a par stock level, says foodservice expert Ron Santibanez, specialist in restaurant start-ups and turnarounds. This all-important measure is defined as the established level of food you need in the restaurant at all times, and helps you determine the frequency of inventorying required. “This prevents over-ordering but ensures you have enough to carry you through to the next delivery.” He emphasizes that using the par level method ties purchases directly to sales, not storage capacity or levels based on maximum usage plus a safety factor. “With knowledge of your par levels, anyone on your staff can handle the food order properly,” says Santibanez.
Keeping older products upfront is also key to preventing overstocking and food waste. “Training employees in charge of stocking to rotate the food correctly and generally follow the first in-first out concept will result in significant savings," according to Santibanez. Additionally, keep in mind the short shelf life of leafy greens, especially spinach, and don’t order more than three days quantity at a time, he cautions. “When you put a bundle of spinach in a refrigeration unit and don’t fully cover it, the blowing air will dry it out; this happens frequently. Use the 72-hour rule for anything prepared with fresh vegetables as well, such as guacamole or pico de gallo."
Smith recommends using a daily inventory sheet to check all in-storage items for quantities on hand. The sheet consists of a list of all items held in storage areas, their unit of purchase, and their par values. Note what’s on hand, what is a special order, and the order amount.
Finally, if this sounds like a lot of work, it needn’t be, and the results are well worth it. “Approach inventory taking with the same intensity and attention given to counting each day’s sales receipts,” advises Santibanez. “The process of counting everything on hand should not take more than two hours, depending on the size of the restaurant. There are no shortcuts for accuracy in inventory. But the more you take inventory, the quicker it goes, the easier it is for the chef and kitchen staff to find items, and the more accurate and cost-controlled your purchasing becomes.” You can count on it.