How inventories can make or break your restaurant

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.

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About Chef Forfeng

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2 Responses to How inventories can make or break your restaurant

  1. Grace says:

    Hi, I’m grace of Philippines, and i’m in charge of inventory of one of the restaurants here in the Philippines, I’m new new here, and don’t Know what to do about the stuff here.. Like, what is the treatment of meat trimmings in the inventory?.. as to whether what is the cost would be for the meat trimmings or scrap items from a pork ham leg, its market price or the cost should be lower down co’z some says it should be lower than its market price, because the scrap items can’t be used for other menu and these are considered spoilage? is it considered as spoilage? these scrap items are always in my inventory.. and considered in the line items of inventory sheet as scrap. For 2 months I labeled it as scrap. What would be the treatment of this as to cost.

    Thank you.



    • Chef Forfeng says:

      Hi Grace, generally scrap is considered scrap and is accounted into your food cost by doing yield analysis of the product being butchered. So lamb chops for instance at $4.00 per pound, with a usable yield of 80% (as a high example) would make your food cost per product or per portion (if you are costing it that way) equal to $5.OO per pound. The term spoilage is used when the product is actually bad and unusable completely. Meat scraps and bones, along with vegetable scraps can be used to make meat stock and recoup some of the cost of the product yields. If you would like more information in general about food costing, I would highly recommend reading and following Joe Dunbar is the king of food costing information.

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