Taming the Inventory Monster

For many restaurant managers their weekly or monthly inventory day is a dreaded time on their schedule. The simple drudgery of counting every single cup, fork, ketchup packet and ounce of flour in the building looms large over your head and makes that day seem like it lasts for 14 hours at the very least. That is, this happens if you don’t have a system.

Many managers simply start their inventory at the back of the store, working their way down the shelves or dragging boxes out of the freezer and walk-in. They walk back and forth throughout the store all day, adding partial counts together from multiple boxes in multiple areas. All this disorganized movement will eventually get a relatively accurate count, but it may take all day and sometimes part of an evening.

Vow to yourself that you will no longer be one of those managers. It’s a waste of time, effort and money to take all day doing a task poorly when you can finish it in a fraction of the time. Beginning to set up your new inventory system may take an entire day, but it will save you dozens of hour in the future. Once your system is in place, enforce the upkeep with your staff and your inventory time will be cut drastically.

Invest in some gallon-sized zip top bags, zip top sandwich bags, zip ties and a permanent marker. Break every inventory item on your list down into smaller amounts and package them up. For 1000 ct. cases of ketchup packets, make bags of 100 packets. Mark the number 100 on each bag so there is no question about amounts on inventory day. For items that already come packaged into segments like cups in sleeves, mark the amount in each package on the shelf below it.

Store all spare items in the shelf below the display and use area. If you have a station that holds condiment packets, make a place for all condiment packet cases below that station. Store sleeves of cups below soda machines, napkin cases below napkin holders and straw boxes underneath the straw dispensers. Avoid storing extra cases in other rooms of the building if at all possible, to save time running around making partial counts.

Change your inventory sheets to reflect the order in which you have your store set up. Often you are given a generic inventory sheet from the corporate office that doesn’t have anything to do with how you’ve set up your place. Every restaurant is different, even in a chain. You may have paper goods to the front of the store and condiments in a different order than your immediate neighbors. Go through your entire building in a circle and write down every single inventory item in the order in which it is counted. Print out multiple copies of your new list and make notes for changes along the way, if necessary.

Enforce all inventory procedures very strictly. Never allow an employee to open a package unless the previous package is completely empty. Partial packages are the bane of any quick inventory system, and should be avoided at all possible. Consider making guilty offenders do some of the counting for you, to help deter further incidents.

Inventory day doesn’t have to be a day of drudgery. It’s the rare manager who actually enjoys counting inventory but with some logical systems in place you, your day will be as painless as possible.