3 Tips for Optimal Restaurant Inventory Tracking

By: on March 10, 2017

The greatest enemy to all restaurant owners, operators and managers may be Old Father Time.

Preparing and serving food, setting up and breaking down and dealing with late employees are all time-consuming tasks.

wednesday meme

Servers will be late; it’s always going to happen


But perhaps the most valuable form of time management for a restaurant is tracking how long food products are servable: the time until they go bad and must be thrown away.

In this article, we highlight three critical tips to keep in mind when doing your restaurant inventory tracking. Use these strategies to reduce food waste and stop throwing money away.

1. Keep It Clean And Organized

Before you even begin to worry about numbers, you need an efficient cleaning and organizing plan in place for your kitchen. Cleanliness and organization are key, no matter what system you use for inventory counts.


Peppers from July 16th (Source: Gordon Food Service)


Tips for ensuring proper inventory cleanliness and organization include:

  • Divide up refrigerator and other storage space according to the station the products are used at. This way, you’ll have a “grill cooler” and a “fry cooler” in which you can expect to find only products for that respective station.
  • Designate a “home area” within a cooler or other storage space where certain items will always live. This is also a good idea for utensils and other tools that are used every day. Keeping them in a distinct area ensures they can be easily counted and/or found for use during service.
  • Create a single name for every product so that no matter who is doing counts, the products will always be referred to exactly the same way.
  • Define what a unit of each product is. Make it clear to your staff what one unit of a product looks like so items are always counted accurately.
  • Label, label, label. Anyone who puts away a product should ensure it’s properly labeled. This includes the defined name of the product as well as the date it was made.

As you can see in the photo above, labels should also include a “use by” date, as well as the name of the employee who labeled it. This helps ensure products can be quickly identified.

Using these tips will expedite your inventory counting while helping to ensure accuracy. Make sure all of your employees know the right steps and processes to follow in order to keep things organized at all times.

2. Take Counts at the End of Every Service

The last thing you ever want to do is go into a shift and immediately have to “86” a menu item. But this will inevitably happen if your inventory levels aren’t counted on a daily basis.

For example, imagine that you start the night fully stocked with all of the items needed for a dish on the menu, and then you sell out. Talk about a profitable night! Now imagine that happens, but no one takes an inventory count after that shift to determine what needs to be restocked, so the next shift starts without the necessary items to serve the dish again.

To prevent this from happening, Chef’s Resources recommends creating an inventory management checklist to ensure inventory accuracy and hold staff accountable.

Three steps to include in your post-inventory counting checklist:

  1. Double check all the “nones” and “zeros” on the count sheet. “It’s easy to accidently skip something, so you want to double check to be sure that you really did not have any of that product in-house,” says Chefs Resources creator David Buchanan.
  2. Confirm your team is using the correct units of measure. “Spot check a number of items to verify that the correct unit of measure was used, so that things which are inventoried by the pound were indeed counted by the pound, items counted by the case were counted by the case, and so on,” Buchanan says.
  3. Double-check any unexpectedly large numbers. “Sometimes a large number may reflect that somebody has inventoried an item by the ‘each’ instead of by the case (e.g., you have 16 ‘eaches’ but it was counted as 16 cases),” Buchanan explains.

3. Automate Inventory With Software

Having your staff get comfortable with proper inventory counting tactics is crucial. But there’s also another way to stay up to date on what you need to order each day: investing in an inventory management solution.

By instantly updating inventory levels with every sale, inventory management software products automate the tedious manual process of counting inventory. You need only input your counts into the system once, then simply upload new product orders to get an accurate count of your inventory.

Many restaurant POS systems come equipped with basic inventory management functions. These may include the ability to input product counts and have them automatically updated each time a corresponding menu item is ordered.

Most systems also let you manage supplier information for the products you’re monitoring. Some even track product costs so that you can monitor supplier prices over time.

More advanced restaurant inventory systems can send automatic warnings and notifications to servers and the back of house when product levels run low. These systems feature a customizable number that, once reached, triggers the notification.

Next Steps

It’s essential to make sure your staff can efficiently and accurately handle inventory counts. Even if you currently have some sort of inventory control system in place, you’ll want to ensure your staff is trained on how to properly count product levels.

Having the right products in place is absolutely essential to keep things running smoothly—running out of something can both frustrate customers and hurt business.

If you’re ready to consider switching to an automated system by investing in inventory management software, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Get an accurate count of ALL products you have in-house.
    • Ensure you’re accounting for every ingredient that goes into a dish.
      • Take the time to input detailed supplier information for easy product updates in the future.

      With the availability and affordability of restaurant software, there’s no reason for you to miss out on profits due to inventory issues. Likewise, there’s no reason to keep your staff around late into the night doing counts when they can be done for you automatically.

      If you’re struggling to find the right inventory or general restaurant software for your business, we can help!

      Check out our restaurant POS buyer’s guide, where you can read real software reviews from your peers in the industry, get pricing details and even demo products.

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