By Paul Molinari

When scale, accuracy, control, and smarter reporting matter, those old spreadsheets fall short. Inventory software picks up where spreadsheets leave off. 

If your managers have always used spreadsheets to track restaurant inventory, you know they (the spreadsheets) cover the basics pretty well:

  • The layouts can be set up by storage locations, making shelf-to-sheet counts relatively easy
  • They can do the math to calculate costs
  • They can be e-mailed (until they get too big!)
  • You can make charts and graphs, too

Many restaurant companies have managed inventory using spreadsheets for a long time.  But, for companies wanting deeper financial and operational insights, restaurant inventory software is both more accurate and reveals a lot more cost-recovery opportunities. Here's how:

Scale Matters

While extending an inventory is valuable and something spreadsheets do well, they’re not dynamic enough to help you integrate with the underlying inventory transactions that help you identify variances. They also will not help you order product or plan production more effectively.   Having a closed loop inventory system that understands your business is where the battle for inventory management is won.

By having the receipt of goods seamlessly update inventory quantities and product unit costs, you can be assured that the extended value of your inventories will be accurate and compliant with GAAP accounting principles. If this is a manual process, you are fighting a losing battle and you will never achieve the time efficiencies that an integrated system will provide, let alone value inventories correctly.

Another area where spreadsheets really lack utility is integration.  With an integrated back office, you should expect your inventory software to help you order correctly (by reading your on hand inventory and understanding forecasts and historical consumption), electronically integrate with your Vendors (to eliminate phone calls, extra web site visits, and other extraneous steps), and understand the relationship between the different units of measure that vendors might sell you compared to all the different ways you count product.  Inventory systems should also know what price you are supposed to pay based on what you have negotiated to ensure that you pay the correct amount and that inventories are being valued correctly.  Systems that value your entire inventory at last price paid rather than more acceptable GAAP methods are also problematic and will create lots of valuation anomalies.

Greater Accuracy and Control

Your goal must be to measure variances so you can understand whether the counts you have entered are accurate.  Having visibility to waste, POS depletion, production depletion, and the impact of transfers from other locations are a critical part of this equation.   The result is greater control of the process, and greater accountability for the results on the part of managers.

Spreadsheets can rarely tie all of these elements together without lots of additional steps.  One slight change and the formulas at your restaurant can break your spreadsheet and then you have a real mess on your hands.

Smarter Reporting for Smarter Decisions

You need to be able to understand patterns of behavior and performance across all of your restaurants.  Spreadsheets do not scale effectively and cannot provide real-time visibility to whether you are winning or losing the inventory battle.

A proper inventory system will produce information that allows teams to zero-in on large price and quantity variances, view on-hand inventory values, and gain an in-depth view of your suppliers’ performance fill ratios, quality of service, product quality, and price compliance.

Yes, there’s even benefit to your loss prevention efforts, too.  A team can enforce inventory integrity through ‘blind’ inventory counts and secured access to review and approve counts. Checks-and-balances can be created by setting up specific users to receive alerts on high-variance items.

Of course, all of this is mobile, right?  If you want to really optimize your inventory operations, mobility should play an important role.

In the end, spreadsheets are decent basic tools for manually recording what's on hand, and for generating fairly accurate food costs.  However, as we all know, the restaurant industry is a nickel and dime business with very small margins.  You do not have the luxury of using a blunt instrument to hone in on the critical areas of opportunity in your business.  Think about the impact on your bottom line of becoming only 1% more efficient by using the right tools.  True inventory systems go well beyond, by increasing the accuracy of the information available to management and reducing costs – all while providing the required infrastructure your company needs in order to grow.

If you or someone on your team would like to learn more about restaurant software like back office solutions, business intelligence tools or team, inventory and vendor management solutions -- reach out here.