Chef's Insight: Inventory Management
Creating dishes and menus is the fun part of being a chef, my friend Chef Jacob Burton says, but the trick to staying a chef is keeping your doors open and your staff paid. He recently gave me a tour of the new hotel where he is working as the executive sous chef.
A Tour with Jacob
As we walked, Jacob talked about the logistics of keeping a place like that open. How many meals or drinks would you need to sell in order to keep the lights on, the staff buzzing, and the food cooking? How many ladles, 9-pans, and spats will you need to keep the cooks serving food efficiently without having a dry storage packed with unused equipment? How many straws will you give away with drinks, where are you going to store all of them, and how will you track them? How much cilantro, oil, or duck breast should you keep on hand all the time?
The real questions that the chefs at businesses like that are more focused on food costs and inventory management than they are on the length of the spot prawn season. Margins in restaurants are tight, and they can get blown up quickly when labor gets busy or when your equipment needs to be repaired. Inventory management is one way that chefs can control their known operating costs, and it’s one of the most important tasks that a chef can’t delegate.
Applying Inventory Management
When we were in culinary school, we learned to set pars and how to assess the stock in your kitchen quickly. Our instructor handed out a table with places to write a food item, the par stock target, the number on-hand, and the number needed to get back to the par. Out in the industry, we used a very similar form and often it sat, rumpled and stained, on the chef’s cluttered desk at the side of the kitchen. We would go find the clipboard and stare at the dry storage racks, cool down in the walk-in (refrigerator), excavate in the freezer, and jab around different low-boys (under counter refrigerators) to get an accounting of the materials we had. Then we would tally the numbers. After the restaurant was calmer, our chef would dial up a sales person’s number and leave a really long, breathless voicemail stating all the items he needed to be delivered. If he got lucky, he could do it in one call. Sometimes he would have to call back more than once to get the whole list done before the voicemail timed out. Then you would wait to see what got delivered.
If our chef had a fancier vendor, they may provide an email or website in which we could retype all of the food items and enter our order count. Transcribing names and numbers late at night wasn’t always the best experience for the chef, I’m sure. Having used several of those systems during regular hours, I know that the programs are mostly data-filled, requiring patience to learn the system, naming conventions, and keyboard shortcuts so you don’t have to scroll through the massive search engine for cipollini onions. If only there were an easier, faster way that didn’t require transcribing and voicemails.
Inventory Management Today
Fast forward several years, and I don’t work on restaurant lines anymore but remember the hard-learned lessons and experiences well. Inventory counting, management, and purchasing was one cluster of tasks that weighed on the chef or sous chef and couldn’t be delegated. Accurately transferring the par count and submitting purchase orders was one very laborious task that often occurred late at night, after the restaurant had quieted and before the vendor orders would be processed for deliveries the next morning. That’s somewhere around 10p - 1am, depending on the food service establishment. Have you tried working with numbers and words at that hour, after you’ve been on your feet, dealing with issues, and trying to get everyone to work faster and cleaner?
Well, the order management issue just got a little simpler. BlueCart was created for the restaurant manager or chef to take inventory and submit orders right on their mobile device. Instead of lugging the clipboard around, now all you need is to download the app and work with their team to upload your different vendors’ items. If you work with large enough suppliers, their products are probably already in the system, because BlueCart has already built relationships with them. Once you’ve populated your par, all you have to do is count, type, and save.
When you’re ready to submit your POs to each of the vendors, you just go into the one app page, make sure your numbers are there, and hit the app’s equivalent of send. They’ll automatically upload it to the databases for POs or send emails to the sales representatives requesting the products.
If you have questions about inventory management for your restaurant or would like to learn more about BlueCart, please visit our website where we also have convenient online chat. If you're ready to join the BlueCart family, please head to the front of the line!
Guest post written by Kimberly Schaub, founder and host of the Peas on Moss podcast.