An effective restaurant inventory management system is crucial for the day-to-day operations of your restaurant. A good management system will help you keep track of kitchen ingredients and maintain good food safety standards. This will both reduce the risk of spreading foodborne illness and help you run a more profitable establishment.

So in this blog, we are going to look at 5 tips for managing your restaurant inventory effectively:

1. Organize food storage areas

Improperly labelled food is one of the leading causes of food poisoning in Australia, so it is important that your kitchen is organised in such a way that food is displayed and labelled properly and the purchase and expiry dates are recorded.

At a minimum, the following data should be collected for all ingredients which enter the kitchen:

Food item
Time and date received
Expiry date
Quantity or weight
Unit price

You should also ensure that all food storage and preparation areas are kept clean and tidy. All perishable food which is not being used should be returned to the refrigerator and all work surfaces should be kept clean. All persons handling food should also be properly trained and have the appropriate food handling certificate.

A properly organized kitchen can also help reduce food waste. You should keep a record of the food which is thrown away. This data can then be used to amend buying quantities which will help reduce food waste and improve profitability.

2. Implement the First In, First Out (FIFO) method

The First in, First Out (FIFO) method is one of the most effective ways of managing ingredients. This method records the date food enters the kitchen and ensures it is used first. All storage areas including walk-in refrigerators, dry storage areas and liquor cabinets should implement the FIFO method.

The following are good examples of FIFO best practices:

Make sure items received first are used first
Items must be organised so that food nearing its expiry date is moved to the front
Boxes should be consolidated to keep things organised and reduce waste
Any item which is not stored in its original packaging should be clearly labelled
Best before dates should be regularly checked (once a week is a good practice)
Any item which is showing signs of spoilage should be discarded

3. Keep a record of inventory

Any restaurant inventory system you implement will only be effective if it contains accurate data. Therefore, maintaining a record of what comes in and out of your kitchen is critical to the safe and efficient running of your establishment.

Accurate records will help identify foods which are nearing or past their expiry date and identify foods which are overstocked. You can then integrate overstocked items into new menu dishes before they reach the expiry date.

Ideally, inventory should be checked by the nominated food safety supervisor, whose job is to make sure all food is handled in compliance with the latest health and safety standards.

We recommend the following best practices for keeping accurate records:

Record stock levels regularly, once a week is best practice
Carry out inventory checks outside of opening hours
The best time to count is the day before a big stock delivery
Special attention should be paid to items which are nearing their expiry date

4. Compare actual items with expected items

Most restaurant owners carry out regular inventory checks but many fail to take the next step. Comparing what’s on the shelves to what’s recorded in your system can help identify problems early.

Missing items can be attributed to several things including rushed orders, menu items sent back and remade or expired food which has been thrown out but not recorded properly.

With the kitchen being a fast-paced hectic working environment, most restaurants will experience small discrepancies from time to time. But if the number is way out it may point to a bigger issue such as staff not being trained properly or incorrect data being recorded.

5. Identify patterns that may indicate bigger problems

If you notice a large discrepancy between actual numbers and physical numbers you should investigate. Often the cause of the discrepancy will be something simple. For example, a consistent shortage of chicken breasts may point to over-portioning by the chef. While excess food waste may indicate kitchen staff are not following FIFO best practice.

So if you identify a consistent pattern of overstocked items or excess food waste, always carry out a quick investigation to establish the cause.

There are serious health risks associated with not managing your kitchen properly, not to mention the damage a case of food poisoning can cause to your reputation. So make sure you implement a proper inventory management system and ensure all kitchen staff have the appropriate food handling training. This will reduce the risk of food poisoning and help you run a more profitable business.

If you would like more information about the range of accredited food handling training courses we provide, check out our online courses or complete the contact form here. Alternatively, give our team a call on 1300 662 750, we’re in the office Monday to Friday 09:00-17:00 AEST. We are always happy to help.