Take daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly inventories in a small restaurant to reap big rewards. Keeping close tabs on your stock expands storage room, keeps food costs down and guarantees that the menu items customers crave will be fresh on hand.

Smart Storage

Don’t make the faulty assumption that you don't need to do inventory because your operation is small. Unaccounted-for items fall through the cracks in restaurants of any size. Large restaurants rely on regular reviews; you should, too. Allocate dedicated storage areas for items based on frequency of use. Accurate, regularly scheduled inventories result in more efficient ordering. You’ll be able to run leaner, with no overstock, which in turn gives you more storage room and cuts waste. Bulk ordering isn’t necessarily a bargain. Obsolete or outdated stock limits your ability to adapt to changes in the market. The overflow takes up valuable space on the shelves and cash out of your pocket.

Daily Duties

Perishable menu items such as cut steaks and other proteins with a short shelf life should be counted every day. The guesswork is eliminated when calculating food costs; you will immediately know what’s selling and what isn’t, allowing you to adjust your menu. A daily inventory of high-ticket items discourages stealing. A truism in the business, “If nobody is keeping score, it’s walking out the door,” sums up the consequences of inventory neglect. Include items that are unexpectedly running short -- from kitchen towels to pepper mills -- on the daily inventory list. Intensified short-term monitoring can pinpoint the cause and lead to a solution.

Weekly Watch

Restaurants aim for inventory turnover four to eight times per month. Orders are delivered at least once per week. Restaurants take advantage of competitive pricing by dealing with multiple suppliers. Ordering lead times and delivery times will be different for each vendor. Tally all new stock as it arrives, before it's put away. Once it's on the shelves, take a count of all food items, liquor, paper goods and cleaning supplies. This will set your baseline. On the following Monday, after the busy weekend, take another full-spectrum inventory. A clear picture of what and how much to order will emerge.

Monthly Matters

An in-depth four-week inventory dives below the surface, perhaps unearthing stuff you didn’t know you had, such as unusual spices, condiments and other ingredients purchased for a one-time occasion or a special that failed to make the grade. As you develop inventory savvy, becoming more aware of use patterns, write-offs diminish. Four-week inventories are an opportune time to get to the bottom of the freezers and wipe out bar coolers.

Pull out the reservation book/calendar for a look ahead at upcoming events. Note ordering needs and where excess inventory can be incorporated into the menu. Speaking of menus, don’t neglect a monthly count of front-of-the-house staples, from wine lists to salt and pepper shakers.

Quarterly Quantities

Take a big-picture inventory in winter, spring, summer and fall, perhaps in conjunction with in-depth cleaning of long-term dry storage areas, dining room wait stations and the mop closet/cleaning supply shelves. In addition to flatware, dishes and other serving equipment, tally linens, uniforms, guest-check books and office supplies -- anything and everything that can be categorized as goods on hand.

Constant Checks

Require staff to keep a running list of out-of-stock, missing, broken or wasted items in all areas of operation. You can't keep accurate inventory records without good communication. Running lean is cost-effective; running out is unthinkable, especially when it comes to basics like credit card machine tape and toilet paper. Maintain a goods-received journal. Most major software suppliers and many vendors have developed helpful inventory software; sometimes the only investment is setting aside the time to learn the program.