Having too much or too little on hand can lead to costly problems. Here are some smart management techniques to keep inventory under control.
Perishable inventory must be treated like piles of cash on fire.
This little tip comes from Jacksonville (Fla.) Golf and Country Club’s former Executive Chef, Mike Ramsey, who would recite this line to all of his sous chefs every chance he got.
“You can’t stop the piles from burning, but you can keep it to a smolder by managing it effectively,” he says. “Rotate it. Create specials with it. Freeze it, if needed. But above all else, keep it moving.”
Effective inventory management approaches like these are critical to the success of club and resort kitchens. Knowing how much you have on hand, how much you need and what you’ll do with the leftovers is the only way to keep the fires under control.
Upper Montclair Country Club, Clifton, N.J.
Annual F&B Revenue: $9.5M
Food Cost: 36.5%
If you look at the numbers, Ryan Foo, CEC, Executive Chef of Upper Montclair Country Club (UMCC) in Clifton, N.J., carries a massive amount of inventory. But that’s because the club has its own dry-age room that holds at least $20,000 in product.
Dig further, and you’ll find that UMCC actually carries very little in inventory, as the culinary team diligently turns the bulk of its products every few days.
Foo—an Excel junkie—keeps careful track of everything coming and going by relying on the “shelf to sheet” method. Each week, either Foo or his Chef de Cuisine, Kirk Richardson, will walk through dry storage, freezers and walk-ins, to ensure that what’s on the shelf matches what’s listed as inventory on the par sheets.
“Having a comprehensive history is really important on the par system,” says Foo. “It allows us to compare year over year, and helps to prevent over-purchasing.”
Over the course of his career, Foo, who has found that chefs often don’t make time or have the bandwidth to stay on top of inventory, has helped a number of clubs get things back under control.
His first step is to record every single piece of inventory in Excel. Then, over three to four months, he tracks what moves and what doesn’t. He pulls these products to the front of the storage rooms, so they are easily accessible. Then he plans specials, buffets and staff meals around the product that still needs to move.
“On Mondays, [Richardson] and I will walk through the freezer with my receiving steward, Helber Saurez, and brainstorm what needs to move and how we can use it—whether it’s for a family meal, in a sauce or a soup, or as part of a special,” says Foo.
When prices change, Foo notes, is when things can start to slip. “If the pricing, pack size or quantity is wrong, your numbers will not be correct,” he says. “If you don’t update your sheets, the numbers will reflect that.”
Foo urges chefs to stay on top of inventory, to know their prices and to update records at least monthly, though every two weeks is ideal.
“When your vendors know you’re on top of it, they’ll let you know when a price changes instead of the other way around,” says Foo. “Pay attention to actual market conditions, too, to make sure you’re getting the best price.”
For example, Foo reads the cattle report to stay abreast of market conditions.
“I see a lot of chefs bring in a vendor because they’re a friend,” he says. “But at the end of the day, you need to make sure your numbers are correct. If your ‘friend’ gives you the best price, that’s great. But your job is to be a good steward of price.”
Foo’s system does require a substantial amount of office work. Fortunately, UMCC’s front-desk assistant helps with input.
“It’s easy for inventory to spiral out of control when your primary job is to please members,” says Foo. “Be smart about your purchasing. Sometimes it’s less expensive to buy one unit of a product than a whole case.
“Set up proper controls,” he adds. “Create a system of cross-utilization. And stay on top of it.”
Saddle & Cycle Club, Chicago, Ill.
Annual F&B Revenue: $2.7M
Food Cost: 38.3%
Marshall Violante, Executive Chef of Chicago’s Saddle & Cycle Club (S&C), incorporates expert inventory management within his menu engineering. This is most evident during March of each year, when S&C has its annual shutdown. Violante spends the weeks leading up to the club’s closing carefully planning menus, specials and events, so he doesn’t begin the shutdown with excess product sitting on his shelves.
“We don’t want high-end, center-of-the-plate proteins sitting in the freezer for four to six weeks,” he says. “That’s a waste. We have to wind down, so we cross-utilize product and only buy what we know we will use.”
Being clean, organized and tidy is imperative, Violante adds. “How will you know what you have if you aren’t?” he asks.
The S&C staff uses POS handhelds for digital inventories in the club’s bar. But that system doesn’t work as well with food. Instead, Violante and his sous chefs take inventory weekly on Sundays, when the club is slower. But for dairy and produce, it’s done daily.
“This way, we don’t have any surprises,” says Violante. “We know what we have. We know what we spent. And what we need to move.”
Violante relies on two universal labels for all products: “Use First” and “FIFO,” which stands for “first in, first out.” The team also marks everything with weights and dates. Dry storage, walk-ins and freezers are organized for success, too.
“We put big and bulky stuff in the back,” says Violante. “We put the products that are small toward the front. Specialty products, like truffle peelings or cleaned snail shells, are in the back in a specialty area. We also have an area dedicated to pastry. Heavy stuff is on the bottoms, and small jars are on the top.”
Rolling carts for cans and for pre-portioned proteins are also useful for staying organized and tidy.
Chartwell Golf & Country Club, Severna Park, Md.
Annual F&B Revenue: $2.5M
Food Cost: 41%
Andrew Maggitti, Executive Chef of Chartwell Golf & Country Club (CG&CC) in Severna Park, Md., works with 22 different purveyors.
“I don’t want to be married to any one supplier,” he says. “Because I’m not locked in, I can find the best product at the best price.”
To keep all of the moving parts organized, Maggitti uses a timeline to help him know what he needs to order, when, and from whom. Then, CG&CC’s executive sous chef, PM sous chef and AM sous chef are each given responsibility for ordering a specific category, whether it’s for meat, fish, bread or cheese.
The bulk of Maggitti’s deliveries arrive on Tuesday, so he and his Exec Sous will go through each order with the order sheet, to make sure what they purchased is there and is acceptable.
“This system works best for me,” says Maggitti. “It’s a little long-winded. But I’m all about the quality of food. I don’t accept sub-par.
“I like having 22 purveyors,” he adds. “I have a cheesemonger, a fishmonger, and people who specialize in their products. And because I stay on top of our inventory levels, costs don’t spiral out of control.”
Maggitti relies on utilization sheets and offers daily chef’s specials and family meals to keep product moving. He also loops in his sous chefs to help write the specials, so they are also aware of what product needs to move.
“It doesn’t work if you don’t have good communication and organization,” he says. “Make sure your counts are correct and that you’re aware of what’s happening in the market. And make sure you’re getting the best quality at the best price.”