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Most restaurant managers view restaurant inventory management as a necessary evil. On one hand, it’s time-consuming and takes employees away from their daily tasks. On the other hand, it’s the best way to guarantee an accurate count of what you actually have on hand.

Taking regular inventory can tell you things about your restaurant that you can’t see at a glance. It provides a snapshot of what you’re using in a given period, helping you perfect vendor ordering and avoiding waste. By comparing your sitting inventory against projected usage, you can find your company’s depletion rates, allowing you to root out problems like employee theft and negligence.

Though you may dread it, inventorying doesn’t have to be painful — particularly if you follow some basic guidelines to streamline the process. Here are five tips you can use to get your restaurant’s inventory down to a science.

Create a Standard Restaurant Management Inventory Process and Train Employees

Taking inventory is one of those things that seems easier than it actually is. And without proper guidance, employees will resort to whatever method seems best.

However, those assumptions could easily result in inconsistent counts. Maybe an employee accidentally counts items both as they’re being delivered and when they’re on your shelves. Or maybe they forget to check the freezer or the pantry for additional stock.

Creating an inventory process ensures that employees count products the same way every time. Along with standardizing the process, you should establish inventory frequency and timing. It should be done regularly, whether that’s every day, every week, or every month.

Once you have all of that ironed out, train each and every employee on your technique — even those you don’t expect to task with inventorying. You never know when you’ll need a few extra hands on inventory day.

Employ a First In, First Out (FIFO) Policy

FIFO is practically gospel in the F&B industry, and for good reason. FIFO is simply common sense: you use the oldest product first to ensure that good food doesn’t expire. However, in the middle of a rush, it’s easy for employees to grab the item closest to them without checking first.

Label all products with their received date and their expiration date, and teach employees to do the same. Shelve products so that the oldest items are easiest to grab. Enforce this rule as much as possible, giving employees a refresher if inventory reveals a lot of waste.

Check and Recheck Manual Inventories

Manual restaurant inventory management leaves a lot of room for human error. To buffer against these kinds of mistakes, you should have at least two employees performing counts of each item. This will allow you to settle any discrepancies.

Organize inventory sheets around your kitchen so employees can move from bin to bin in an orderly fashion. While these guard against errors, it also makes inventory more efficient and less time-consuming.

Perform Cycle Counts to Make Inventory Easier

Inventory can feel daunting at times, so we recommend performing regular cycle counts between inventories. During a cycle count, you only count a particular set of items — for instance, all the product in the undercounter refrigerators on the cook line.

Having some sense of what you’re using day to day will help you pinpoint the cause of any variance and plan your kitchen prep list throughout the week. You’ll essentially kill two birds with one stone!

Invest in the Right Technology

The right Point of Sale (POS) system can also make your life easier on inventory day. POS systems calculate usage based on item counts from order tickets. Many can integrate with inventory management and vendor ordering technologies, allowing you to automatically submit orders and track inventory using data from your restaurant. They also typically include budgeting tools to ensure that you stay ahead of food costs.

Inventory management systems can even make manual inventories easier. These systems can detect anomalies in manual entries, helping you avoid typos and other costly mistakes that can sink your quality of service. They allow you to easily reorder items to streamline the inventory process. And they typically include a mobile app so you can take inventory from anywhere in your restaurant.

With the right tools for the job and some good standard processes, you won’t dread taking inventory anymore.

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