It’s no secret that food waste is an issue in America, and unfortunately, restaurants are a big part of the problem. According to NPR, for every meal served in a restaurant, a half a pound of food waste is created. While you can’t control when your customers’ eyes are bigger than their stomachs—we’ve all been guilty of ordering a side of pancakes at brunch that go untouched—you can take important steps to reduce food waste.
Start by putting an effective inventory management process in place. With food spend totaling one-third of the costs of your restaurant, a customized inventory strategy has the power to make or break your business.
If you haven’t yet found your restaurant’s secret sauce for inventory management, or you’re looking for an extra boost in productivity, have no fear: We talked to a couple experts that have mastered inventory for their businesses about their money-saving tips and the tough lessons they’ve learned along the way.
With food spend totaling one-third of the costs of your restaurant, a customized inventory strategy has the power to make or break your business.
Time-Saving Inventory Tricks
At Savona Restaurant in Philadelphia, beverage director Michele Konopi has a wine list bigger than most restaurants’ menus. With over 1,000 selections of wine on three different levels of the restaurant, plus a fully stocked bar, she relies on a mix of autonomy and teamwork to best manage her inventory.
To stay laser-focused, Konopi recommends coming in early to the restaurant to avoid distractions and using the voice recording feature on your phone to state your inventory. “After everything is voice-recorded, you can sit down in a quiet room with headphones and log everything,” she says. “For maximum efficiency, have your wine stored in the same order it is listed on your menu.”
Konopi also depends on bartenders to pull down liquor from the shelves in the same order the night before inventory is checked. “The morning of, record how much of each bottle is left in the same order. It’s easy to see what bottles you are out of in this method and [it] can save a bunch of time.”
Devin Rizzo, director of operations for Queen Street Hospitality Group in Charleston, South Carolina—representing restaurants 82 Queen, Lowcountry Bistro and Swig & Swine—understands that organization is key. “I save time by making sure the inventory is stored neatly and organized, and done so in coordination with the way it is listed,” he says.
Bryn Butolph, general manager of Nicky Rottens in Coronado, California, relies on the pros at third parties to save time managing inventory. “It frees up my time to be utilized where I am the pro—hospitality,” Butolph says.
“I save time by making sure the inventory is stored neatly and organized, and done so in coordination with the way it is listed.” – Devin Rizzo, Queen Street Hospitality Group
Five Money-Saving Inventory Tips
Konopi, Rizzo, and Butolph agree that time is money. Beyond saving a few minutes—or hours—each day keeping track of inventory with their time-saving tactics, they shared a few of their favorite money-saving hacks for inventory management:
- Properly date inventory and be sure to rotate from back to from when stocking.
- Utilize “use first” stickers on products to easily identify the oldest items.
- Buy in bulk to get discounts on products used on a consistent basis.
- Constantly shop products with various vendors to ensure the best pricing.
- Fix all inventory issues right away to prevent issues in the future.
Inventory Lessons Learned the Hard Way
Greatness doesn’t come without a few bumps in the road.
Konopi cites procrastination as the ultimate inventory challenge. “Don’t put off inventory,” she explains. “If you put it off for even a day, then your counts will not be accurate. You can always go into your restaurant POS system and backtrack, but this gets really tricky if you have not done your liquor.”
Rizzo recommends maintaining a solid duo to manage inventory efficiently. “Never let different people do the same inventory counts,” he says. “Have two people count inventory together. One calls out while the other records. This will help ensure it is done correctly.” He also stresses the importance of weekly inventory tracking, stating that when you count monthly, “you will never notice issues until it’s too late.”
Butolph keeps a close eye on his team and his inventory to make sure he catches a problem before it happens. “Don’t ever assume that your team is not stealing,” he stresses. “It will happen if you don’t keep an eye on it.”
“Spot check everything, and do it often. You’ll be likely to catch the issue early on and avoid much costlier mistakes if you stay proactive within your business.” – Bryn Butolph, general manager of Nicky Rottens
How COPA Saves Time and Money with Upserve Inventory
When Roberto Copa Matos and Elizabeth Turnbull opened their namesake restaurant, COPA, in 2018, they knew that Durham, North Carolina was the perfect spot to bring their soil-to-table concept to life. One thing they didn’t know was how to effectively manage bar inventory. Despite having years of restaurant ownership experience, the husband-and-wife team turned to an inventory management solution that could handle their robust bar and craft cocktail menu with ease.
“One of the things that was important to us from the very beginning was to be able to start tracking that inventory and start logging our orders and understanding the value of the product we had,” Turnbull says, noting that she chose Upserve Inventory for its ease of use and mobile app capabilities. “We knew from our previous experience that when you don’t track inventory, you just have a lot more waste and a lot more loss.”
Here are Turnbull’s five favorite features that she relies on to help reduce the frustrations that come along with managing inventory:
- Reordering with vendors. “I can send those orders directly to the distributors and then they are able to have it all in one concise document. It’s not me sending three different emails.”
- Reducing food waste. “We’re able to track everything that comes into the restaurant. We can have that sync with the sales, and we really know what we’re moving, what’s waste, and what’s loss.”
- Costing recipes. “I can say I want a certain profit margin on the drink, and it helps me price it based on the cost of the products that are already logged into the inventory system.”
- Saving time. “We can organize the inventory based on the different locations and segments so I can just go in and count everything that I have right there.”
- Saving money. “If I’m down to a 12-pack in a case of beer, I don’t automatically order a new case. I can look and say, ‘We didn’t sell more than 12 a week for the last two or three weeks, so I think we’re safe.’”
Bottom line: Finding an effective inventory management strategy for your business will help combat food waste and boost your bottom line. By figuring out what works out best in your restaurant with the staff and tools available to you, you’ll start saving precious time and money as quickly as a college bar kicks a keg of beer.