One of the biggest challenges I had found as a Chef was walking into a new restaurant and talking over the kitchen.
My biggest takeaway from doing this is, before you do ANYTHING else, go through and inventory everything! Don’t take the word of inventory sheets (if there were ones) of prior chefs and/or owners.
If a box or container is labeled something, check it! Check that cases are full cases and not partials, if inventory says 32 lbs of red bell peppers, weigh it!
Go through the refrigerators and especially the freezers and inventory and make sure labeled items are really what they say they are.
If freezer items are labeled, but not dated, try to find out from other employees, if possible, when they were frozen. When in doubt, defrost it and use it for something (a special if you have to) or turn it into a soup. Counting it on inventory and not knowing for sure what it is and if it’s usable product can bite you down the road.
If you don’t know what you have, your food cost is literally bull hockey.
Having come in to run at least 4 restaurants where the former chefs were already AWOL and in addition, having done dozens of consults on restaurants experiencing major management turnover or owner turnover I know the consequences of inventory oddities. Check it! The discrepancies found between what is logged and what can actually be there can be a very dramatic difference.
I’ll use the freezers as one of the most important areas to target, as this is the easiest place to hide discrepancies.
Some of the assorted things I have come across in freezers (a very small sampling of the total)
- Fish heads, tails and trimmings (well wrapped so you couldn’t see it) labeled salmon fillets.
- Frozen badly rotten haddock (to the tune of over 60 lbs) at market value and being written off as “good” inventory.
- Beef trimmings to the tune of about 140 lbs. Labeled beef for stew, the “trimmings” were all fat and silverskin. They would have made a pretty inedible stew. Apparently every time a ribeye was prepped, the oddments were frozen (and of course written off on inventory as usable product).
- Cases of butter that were way past due date, BTW, bad butter reeks!
- Flap meat labeled Filet mignon.
- Surimi (imitation crab) labeled fresh/frozen crab meat
The list goes on.
For dry good and perishables, check it, open it if possible (if its not sealed) and check dates.
Counting on inventory 6 cases of Kellogg’s Corn Flake mini boxes if they have been expired for over a year is not a realistic inventory item, nor is a 20 lb. tote of green lentils labeled De Puy lentils (a bit of a price difference there)
Checking goes for not just food, but also your liquor inventory
Make sure your booze isn’t watered (this can also be a tip off you have a closet drinker on the staff) and make sure your top shelf liquors really contain the real thing instead of well stock.
I did a consult a few years ago, where the bartender had emptied many of the top shelf gins and subbed well brands. During service he would have two bottles of the top shelf on hand, a person’s first drink got the real stuff and the following got the subbed well liquors. Even the best connoisseur of branded liquor after the first drink loses some of their taste sensitivity, especially if they are eating a meal or snacking on bar snacks.
I once took over a restaurant and the entire freezer inventory with the exception of a ½ case of layout bacon (counted on inventory as a full case) was completely bogus. Inventoried costs for the freezers were to the tune of over 12K, can we say a tad bit of fudging there?
This type of thing does not happen all the time, most people are inherently (or so I would like to believe) honest people, but if you are a new chef, one taking over an existing kitchen or an owner buying a already running restaurant, this is something that needs to be addressed ASAP.
If you find nothing wrong that’s terrific but if you don’t check, its you that gets screwed in the long run. Check it! It’s your food cost, your bottom line and your responsibility.
Just like buying a used car, you shouldn’t take someone’s word that the oil was changed regularly and the maintenance done, when in doubt, have it checked out.