The food and beverage industry often attracts people who think well on their feet and deal with problems as they come up. But there’s one area where playing it fast and loose is a major a mistake: inventory management.
Wing it there and you run the risk of ingredient shortages, spoiling food, undetected theft, and other losses.
Still, it can be a slog. Below, you’ll find tips for making inventory management as effective and painless as possible.
Tip #1: Be consistent
You’ll get the most use out of your data if you count inventory at regular intervals—not just when you have time or when your stockroom starts to look like a nightmare, but at a scheduled day and time once a week.
Make it outside business hours, so you get a picture of inventory at a standstill, not as it flies off the shelf. Perform it at roughly the same time of day. For example, if you do it once before business hours, always do it before business hours. Otherwise, your ability to find meaningful patterns will be compromised.
Count the same way every time. Develop a system and have everyone stick to it. Count items in the same way, in the same order, every time. Making it routine will allow your staff to run through it faster. And having a specific method will also allow you to rotate staff through the task with minimal discrepancy from person to person.
Also, make sure your method takes accuracy into account. You don’t have to literally count every bean, but you should find some method that you can do consistently from person to person and that’s practical for the usage of that item.
Tip #2: Be organized
An organized stockroom makes everything easier to find, whether it’s during the flow of business or during inventory count. Consider the logical place for various ingredients from the standpoints of both usage and inventory. Get everyone in the habit of putting items in designated locations.
Stock to avoid spoilage—use a First In, First Out system and add the newest inventory to the back so that the oldest is most readily accessible. Mark your items with their arrival and estimated use-by dates.
It’s inevitable for everything to be a mess at the end of the night, but some daily cleanup will go a long way to maintaining the system. Designate someone to be in charge of ensuring the stockroom is organized—they don’t always have to do the cleanup, but the buck should stop with them.
Tip #3: Identify and remedy the source of losses
Keeping inventory doesn’t matter unless you use the information. It isn’t about eliminating loss entirely (which is impossible) or going on a witchhunt (which kills morale). It’s about finding constructive ways to minimize losses that are preventable.
First, you have to know what type of loss is occurring. Ask line cooks and back-of-house staff to make note of significant errors, spillage, or rotten food, shortly after it happens. Have a system for what needs to be reported, how, and who is responsible.
DON’T punish individual mistakes, or you’ll never get accurate reporting.
You should also keep record of staff meals—not as a source of loss, but to account for the use of ingredients. It’s important to know what’s used as a legitimate staff perk so you don’t attribute the “missing” inventory to something like theft.
Look for patterns. Are certain ingredients regularly spoiling? Is something routinely being spilled or overpoured? Find constructive solutions. Maybe you’re over-ordering. Maybe you need to train staff in consistent pouring. Maybe the layout of your kitchen is resulting in collisions and accidents. Maybe being understaffed is forcing a rush that makes people sloppy.
Reward results. Set reasonable goals to reduce or maintain current loss rates and use positive reinforcement. Obviously in cases of serious theft or poor performance, disciplinary measures will be appropriate, but rewards are more effective for errors or accidental losses. Your inventory runs through a lot of hands. Gaining willing cooperation from your employees is really your only shot at efficiency.
Tip #4: Adapt your system as needed
While consistency is king, it might take you a while to fine-tune your system into one that works for your business. If you’ve neglected your inventory in the past, all of these changes are going to cause growing pains. Both you and your staff will need time to adjust.
But keep an eye out for policies that are causing genuine problems. Don’t let your back-of-the-house loss reporting disrupt employees’ ability to do their jobs. Don’t let your “logical” stockroom organization make common ingredients harder to access.
Periodically assess and adjust. Get feedback from your staff—what’s made their lives easier, and what’s made it harder? Some complaints are inevitable, but you should listen, then balance your ability to get useful numbers with your staff’s ability to do their job well.
A system your staff can’t adhere to is a system that’s bound to fail.
Tip #5: Don’t make it a punishment
If you punish staff for performance issues by making them take inventory, you’re begging them to do a sloppy job—especially if you’re asking them to come in without supervision.
Inventory should be a routine part of your staff’s job, whether you choose to involve everyone or just a dedicated few. Some people are more suited to taking inventory than others—pay attention to who is detail oriented and who isn’t, who struggles and who gets the count done quickly and well. Choose who you trust with this task deliberately and make it clear that their work is valued.
Double up for each count. People are fallible, even at their best—always staff inventory with two people. Have them take an independent count, compare, and resolve discrepancies. Partner inexperienced staff members with seasoned ones.