Ryan Williams
Jeremy Julian

10 Steps to Create a Critical Inventory System

February 11, 2015

10 Steps to Create a Critical Inventory SystemRestaurant managers know that after labor, food costs are the largest expense on your balance sheet.

This means that monitoring inventory is extremely important for controlling costs and keeping your business in the black. Managers are choosing inventory systems that can be updated constantly and even anticipate when new supplies need to be ordered.

These 10 steps to create a critical inventory system are a guide for restaurant managers to keeping your shelves stocked and your restaurant running smoothly. After all, if your cooks run out of eggs, the ‘yolk’ is on you!

10 Steps to Create a Critical Inventory System

1) Start From Scratch.

If you are a new restaurant manager, taking over a new restaurant, or instituting new inventory policies, it’s a good idea to do the dirty work and count the inventory yourself – at least the first time. It is important to establish a baseline of knowledge, and get to know your supplies in the real world.

Even if you plan to turn the job over to an inventory manager, physically overseeing your products will make it easier to maintain appropriate levels of supplies when you’re stuck staring at a spreadsheet. Firsthand knowledge of inventory also makes it easy to keep an eye on how and where everything is stored.

2) Pick Your System.

Just because the 21st century hasn’t brought us flying cars or jetpacks doesn’t give you an excuse to live in the past. Modern restaurants need an easy-to-use inventory control system that makes your job simpler, so you can focus on the rest of your never-ending to-do list.

Today’s restaurant management systems can automatically generate inventory purchase orders based on par levels and minimum order points, streamline the receiving process and easily track backordered items. And that’s just one segment of the larger system.

Don’t believe us? Check out this program and start working smarter, not harder.

3) Tidy Up.

If your stock room or walk-in is a mess, taking an accurate inventory is going to be all but impossible. Before you count everything up, put everything in its place. Shelves, floors and everything in between should be organized and clean.

Hopefully you and your staff are doing this already. The benefits of a clean and organized kitchen are painfully obvious, so if your back of the house needs attention, see to that first. We’ll wait here.

4) Make a Plan.

Employees tasked with inventory should be able to follow a clear and consistent company policy. Usually one person or team is responsible for managing inventory, on a daily or weekly basis.

Make sure that these wonderful folks know exactly what is expected of them, how they are supposed to go about tracking levels, and why your procedure works the way it does. (Explaining ‘why’ makes it easier to stick to your established policy when doing inventory starts to become tedious.)

5) Stick to a Schedule.

As a rule of thumb, most restaurants that are open seven days a week do inventory on Sundays. It’s the logical end to the week, and supplies are usually low since new deliveries will arrive the next day.

Now, the Sunday schedule might not work for you. Maybe your restaurant is closed one day a week, and that is when you count your inventory. Or Sundays are your busiest days, because of sports or other events, and no one wants to do extra work at the end of the day.

If Sundays aren’t a good day for you, don’t worry. The important thing is having a regular schedule for inventory – always on the same day, preferably at the end of business or before the day begins. This makes it easier to identify and track trends, spot irregularities, and plan for the days to come.

6) Divide and Conquer.

While in storage, your products should be grouped logically – meat, seafood, produce, etc. – and labeled as necessary. Not only does this help immeasurably with inventory, your cooks and back of the house staff will appreciate knowing where everything is, and where to find it.

7) Team Up.

Inventory is easiest when two people work together – one for counting, one for writing down the numbers. Dividing up the labor will cut your time spent on inventory considerably, and create redundancy – each person can watch and make sure the other is getting everything right.

8) Follow a Path.

Start your inventory in one area of the restaurant, and move methodically from one section to another to get an accurate count. Zig-zagging from place to place is a great way to waste time and forget where you have been.

If possible, set up your inventory sheet to match your order guide, or to the flow of your movements throughout the supply areas. But if you have to decide between flipping through pages or running around the room like a headless chicken, just flip the pages. It will get easier as you get comfortable with the inventory list, and save time with a bit of practice.

9) Lock it Down.

Once an area’s inventory has been counted, make a note or indicate that those products are not to be touched until the final list has been logged in. This will prevent any double-counting or otherwise inaccurate reports that can throw your inventory levels off.

10) Check Your Work.

Once your inventory system is in place and everything has been counted properly, continually go back and check that your data matches with the items in storage. This will allow you to confirm expected usage levels and track any variances against sales records.

Obviously there will always be fluctuations – when a server has to “comp” a check or a cook drops a bag of produce, for example – but watching out for significant discrepancies will help in preventing theft and ultimately ease the management process.

Thanks to these 10 steps, you’ll be able to cut inventory efforts down from a days-long, all-consuming project to an easy task that should only take a couple of hours. Just remember this simple acronym from the list above: S.P.T.M.S.D.T.F.L.C.

Easy, right?

…okay, yes, that acronym is terrible. But setting up a functional and efficient inventory procedure is not. In fact, these 10 steps to create a critical inventory system could be the best internal improvement you make for your restaurant this year.

And if you’re ready to invest in an inventory system that will help with all of the above, and has countless additional features besides, check out POSitouch from CBS Northstar. This system has everything you will need to improve your inventory control, and can help with labor management, payment methods, delivery, reporting and more.

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