7 Tips for Managing Restaurant Inventory

restaurant lawyer, restaurant attorney, small business lawyer, small business attorney, startup lawyerThe following is a guest post by Felicia Schwartz. You can find out more about submitting guest posts here.

If you own a restaurant, or are thinking of buying a restaurant business, you know that food itself can be the largest item in any restaurant’s budget.

While it costs the most, it also offers the opportunity for the biggest savings. If you manage your inventory properly, you have the chance to add real savings to your restaurant’s purchases.

This can be the difference between breaking even and actually making a profit in your business. Paying close attention to inventory details will allow you to reap substantial savings every month.

In order to achieve the biggest savings in your restaurant budget, follow these strategies:

The 7 Tips for Managing Restaurant Inventory

1. Use a just-in-time ordering system.

Keep track of your sales and food usage throughout the month. If your supplier offers two deliveries or more each week, take advantage of this system.

Order only what you project you will sell in the next three or four days to keep the meats and produce fresh and rotated out of the building as quickly as possible. Food that sits around can go bad, so only ordering exactly what you need will reduce the possibility of spoilage.

2. Use Commercial Refrigeration Units

Purchase a commercial refrigeration unit to store your meats, produce and leftovers.

If you are on a strict budget you may think used home refrigerators will do the job, but go with the better equipment and you’ll save money in the long run.

3. Seek Out Rewards Programs

Work with your distributor to find out if he offers any kind of rewards program for regular customers. Companies often give discounts if you buy a certain amount of food, and manufacturers sometimes hold sales to entice new customers to try their goods.

Take advantage of these programs if the product is compatible with your menu.

4. Use the “First In, First Out” Storage Method

Use the first in, first out, or FIFO, method of storage. Every time you put a new inventory item on the shelf, place it in the back and pull the older items toward the front.

This encourages crew members to use the older items on the shelf first, reducing the chance of spoilage due to an item going past its expiration date.

Using industrial shelving units like the ones sold by Schaefer Systems can be very beneficial when it comes to storing food and kitchen supplies.

5. Use a Date Labeling System

Label every item on your shelf and in your refrigerator. Make a habit of insisting that every item in your kitchen have a label indicating the date it was brought in to the building and the expiration date.

Mark the dates in bold marker and have a system that everyone uses every single time they handle food.

6. Break Up Larger Containers

Break large containers of food into measured, single-serving packages. Work with your cooks to figure out exact recipes, along with measurements for each ingredient.

When the bulk packages come in, use a food scale to package up single servings of each ingredient. This will eliminate any chance of waste from employees using too much of any one ingredient.

7. Check Food Deliveries Personally

Always check your food deliveries personally when they come in the building. Never take the driver’s word when he says the shipment is complete.

Once you sign the invoice, you have no recourse if you are short some items in your order. Take the invoice and mark each item off as it comes in the door.

Note from John: If you do have a dispute with a vendor over the quality or quantity of what was actually delivered, you will have a much stronger argument if you have a regular, documented system of checking deliveries as they arrive. Be sure to document any discrepancies.

Check each refrigerated and frozen item with a thermometer, making sure all refrigerated items are below 40 degrees and frozen items are below 10 degrees.

If there are any missing or unsatisfactory items, make sure the driver takes them off the invoice and call your representative to inform him of the problem.


If you’re able to apply these tips to your everyday routine, you’ll find that managing your inventory will become easier and more cost effective.


Felicia Schwartz, startup, business revenue, small business, easy business ideas, startup ideas, business lawFelicia Schwartz is a writer and startup partner living in Indianapolis. She writes on behalf of Colorado Technical University.

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Photo credit: Flickr/Unique Hotels Group


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