restaurant supply chain

As a restaurant owner or manager, you can’t control the restaurant supply chain, but you can prepare yourself for its ups and downs by using restaurant technology to manage, predict, and streamline the process. 

Using Technology For Restaurant Supply Chain Management

1. Use Restaurant Analytics to Plan Ahead

Just like you prepare for holidays by adding extra staff to the schedule, you’ll want to look at your restaurant analytics from the previous year, week, and/or month to best estimate the inventory you’ll need to order. Even if you have an ever-evolving menu, looking back on the most popular (and profitable) dishes you served in the time period prior will give you a better idea of what types of dishes guests are looking for based on the season, day, and even the weather.

It’s important to look at your data from all possible angles in order to make the most informed decision about your restaurant supply chain. If you’re ordering for the upcoming weekend and comparing it to the same weekend last year, a drop in sales last year may not mean the same for this year. Was there a severe rainstorm that possibly kept people from wanting to dine in or pick up takeout orders? If there is better weather predicted for this weekend, you will want to prepare for more business by ordering more inventory. If you can’t determine what to order based on last year’s sales, take a look at the last couple of weeks to identify trends.

Optimal Inventory Level

2. Manage and Diversify Your Vendors

Ordering from one or two vendors for your restaurant supplies may be easier, but you are putting yourself at risk if your one produce supplier experiences a shortage. Diversifying your vendors will ensure you have backups in case one is low on stock and it also allows you to better negotiate with each supplier to get the best prices possible. By using restaurant inventory technology that allows you to order from all your vendors with one click, you can simplify the process of ordering from and keeping track of multiple suppliers.

3. Reduce Waste With Accurate Inventory Management

Traditional pen-and-paper methods of tracking inventory are time-consuming, tedious, and more prone to errors than tracking using an inventory management system. Upserve Inventory helps automate this otherwise time-consuming task. Every time you sell an item from your menu, Upserve Inventory deducts those ingredients from your stock in real-time. Plus, you’ll get alerts when inventory levels are running low, and can manage suppliers and invoices all in one location. Having your inventory tied to your POS sales is key to streamlining your system, preventing food waste, and making your restaurant supply chain as efficient as possible

Read more: How Technology Helped a Sandwich Shop Grow to a Full-Service Restaurant

4. Get Creative With Extra Inventory

Even with all the best analytics and management tools, ordering restaurant inventory will always have some degree of unpredictability. Whether your guests’ behaviors change or a supplier sends you the wrong item, sometimes you will just have to roll with the punches. When you have an excess or lack of ingredients, let the kitchen and bar staff get creative by coming up with new specials, desserts, or cocktails utilizing the ingredients you have on hand that need to be used up.

How Coronavirus Impacted Restaurant Supply Chains

On top of everything else restaurateurs are dealing with, COVID-19 has thrown the already precarious balance of the food supply chain out of whack. The virus has hit the state of California particularly bad, “where more than a third of the country’s vegetables and two-thirds of its fruits and nuts are grown,” according to the Los Angeles Times

farmers market

A report from National Geographic shows that the hardest-hit food suppliers are:

  • Beef: While the demand for beef in supermarkets shot up by 92%, different producers supply beef to restaurants versus supermarkets, and pivoting is not as simple as one may think. “We say ‘beef is beef, but beef is not beef,’” says Ben Brown, an agricultural risk management expert from Ohio State University. So despite the increase in supermarket demand, cattle ranchers who supply restaurants are facing a projected $13 billion in losses through 2021.
  • Milk: Due to a combination of supermarkets limiting milk purchases to deter hoarding, schools switching to remote learning, a shortage of packaging supplies, and other factors, dairy farmers had to dump thousands of gallons of milk. This was also due to a decrease in restaurants being closed and lower demand for ice cream and cheese, but now that restaurants are reopening, milk sales are on the rise.
  • Eggs: Another area that suffered due to restrictions leaving them unable to move from restaurant to grocery sales was the egg industry. A Minnesota farm that provided eggs to be used for liquid egg products had to euthanize 61,000 chickens because it wasn’t able to move to whole egg sales. Brown explains that, once again, it wasn’t the demand that caused these farmers to not be able to sell their product, but rather a combination of regulations and packaging shortages.
  • Potatoes: Being that they are the most popular vegetable sold in restaurants, there was a steep decline in potato sales for farmers when restaurants closed. Some local farmers even gave away most of their supply to local communities because there was so much surplus. Now that more restaurants are opening, sales are on the rise.
  • Produce: According to National Geographic, about 40% of produce in the U.S. is sold to restaurants. When restaurants, schools, and hotels all closed down, produce farmers were hit hard and are still struggling due to the extreme losses. 

While the reopening of restaurants across the country is helping these farmers and suppliers get back on their feet, they are still struggling to recover from the devastation. It could take months or even years for the restaurant supply chain to return to some semblance of “normal,” so restaurants need to be prepared with backup plans when future shortages occur.

Get prepared to re-open or reassess your business strategy and pivot for the post-coronavirus landscape with our Restaurant Recovery Handbook.

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Written by   |  
Stephanie is a Providence, RI native and eight-year food industry veteran. As Upserve's Content Marketing Coordinator she creates materials that help restaurateurs, managers, and service professionals succeed. When she's not writing, Stephanie is most likely traveling, cooking, or trying new restaurants.