Restaurant operating costs are up across the board. And around 90% of restaurateurs (according to the National Restaurant Association) still see inflation as well as food and labor costs as significant challenges. To maintain a healthy profit margin, you need to find ways to curb spending.
Restaurant inventory software helps businesses accurately measure food waste and food costs, improve efficiency, and optimize supplier interactions to identify opportunities to boost margins.
We explored the restaurant tech world to learn the latest features to look for and the best inventory management software available.
In this article, we delve into:
What restaurant inventory management software can do for your business
Features to consider when choosing the right software
Recommendations for the best restaurant inventory management software
You’ll come away with a comprehensive understanding of the options available, enabling you to make an informed decision on the best software to optimize inventory management and boost profitability.
Restaurant Inventory Management Software: More Than Just Digital Stock Counts
Historically, inventory management was a tedious process involving spreadsheets, manual stock counts, and a whole lot of patience.
Restaurant operators started using digital enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems to keep track of inventory levels, but these were usually built for retail businesses and didn’t always provide the specific features restaurants needed.
Restaurant inventory generally moves faster than retail, has a shorter shelf life, and is used in complex ways in recipes to produce new items of inventory. There are a bunch of different ways to quantify ingredients too — and different units of measurement tend to be converted as ingredients are stored and prepared in different ways.
Legacy ERP systems couldn’t cope with this complexity, so restaurant staff would just revert back to pen-and-paper counts.
In contrast, modern restaurant inventory management software uses real-time data, giving you immediate insights into your current inventory situation. It can also automatically convert different units and measures.
The best software processes complex data, including:
Current Stock Levels — Information about what you have in stock and when you'll need to reorder.
PAR (Periodic Automatic Replacement) Levels — A calculation of the stock that should be on hand once deliveries have arrived.
Supplier Prices — Real-time data about how much each ingredient costs.
Sales Data — Information about which dishes are selling well and which aren’t.
Waste Tracking — Data about which ingredients are being wasted and why.
When implemented strategically, the software can automate manual tasks like tedious stock counts, purchase ordering, and the creation of kitchen prep lists. Plus, it provides you with accurate insights into food costs, food waste, and menu profitability.
This leads to a host of game-changing benefits:
Time and Cost Efficiency — Automated inventory management can save significant staff time and reduce manual errors.
Profit Optimization — Understanding your inventory in real time helps prevent over-ordering and under-ordering, reducing waste and saving money.
Enhanced Decision-Making — Real-time data can support more informed decisions about menu items, pricing, and special promotions.
Advanced Features of the Best Restaurant Inventory Software
For businesses looking to implement inventory management software, here are some of the more advanced features that set the top players apart.
1. Centralized Recipe Data
Recipes are the soul of a restaurant. They inform the content of the chef’s prep list, the ingredients that need to be purchased, and the best way to optimize the menu.
Because of this, it makes sense to include recipes in your restaurant data. With recipe data organized consistently and accessibly in one system, inventory management software can work miracles.
Here are some of the functions that restaurant inventory software unlocks:
Automated kitchen prep lists
Unit conversions, portion control, and complex inventory counts
Dish consistency across locations
Accurately calculated food costs and waste
2. Advanced Supplier Management
Modern restaurants have complex supply chains involving multiple vendors that specialize in different ingredient types, like dry goods, meat, fish, vegetables, packaging, and drinks. Restaurants will often use multiple suppliers within each of these categories.
Different vendors have different delivery schedules, ordering systems, and processes, which means chefs have to remember which day to make an order, whether by phone or email, and when the deliveries will arrive.
The best inventory management software connects with your suppliers to automate much of this complicated manual work.
Look out for these features:
PAR level calculations, taking into account when deliveries are made
Real-time supplier pricing
Automated procurement planning
3. Integration with Your POS and Other Systems
The best software should integrate seamlessly with your existing systems, such as POS, accounting, and procurement software. Taking in data from every system allows your inventory management software to be as useful as possible.
Choose software with robust integrations that can share data with other systems, including:
Sales data to provide demand forecasts
Accounting data to calculate profit margins and food costs
Real-time supplier prices to optimize purchasing decisions
Look for restaurant inventory software that can run on multiple devices, such as tablets and smartphones. This allows employees to perform inventory counts digitally and record stock movements with ease.
Rather than walking around with a clipboard, they can punch inventory information directly into the system or use barcode scanners to track items. The software can then perform real-time calculations to give you accurate inventory counts, PAR levels, and suggested purchase orders, saving precious time and preserving limited patience.
5. Built-In Demand Forecasting
If only you had a magic 8-ball that predicts the future, you could make the perfect inventory management decisions and always ensure supply meets demand.
Guess what? The best inventory management software has demand forecasting features that attempt to do just that. They take historical sales data, current inventory levels, and even future events and weather forecasts into account to predict future demand.
Accurate forecasting helps you optimize inventory levels and staff schedules to cut costs and improve margins.
When your software is taking in sales data, supplier prices, and recipe data, it has everything needed to give you critical insights into the functioning of your business.
Look for software that distills all of this data into comprehensible reporting dashboards that update in real time — even better if you’re able to create custom reports to give you the information you need at a glance.
The best reporting engines give you a quick overview of the performance of the whole business and also enable you to dive deeper to get granular insights. For example, your software should allow you to quickly pull up a dashboard to see total sales, food costs, and profit margins — and let you create custom reports to compare sales at different stores by hour, by day, and by channel.
The Best Restaurant Inventory Software Providers for 2023
Galley Solutions is a restaurant data platform or culinary operating system that helps restaurants automate inventory and purchasing tasks, calculate and reduce food costs, and improve efficiency in the kitchen.
Galley is the pioneer of the recipe-first approach to food data. It takes your recipes and creates modular recipe blocks that take into account different units of measurement with automated conversions.
Large food service brands like Aramark and DoorDash trust Galley with their food data and inventory management.
Kitchen CUT is a supply chain management platform with advanced inventory management capabilities. It links with your suppliers to provide real-time pricing and enables ordering via multiple channels from its F+B Engine dashboard.
Kitchen CUT works with big brands across the hospitality sector, including BrewDog and Accor Hotels, as well as hospitality groups Flight Club, Topgolf, and The McManus Pub Company.
Orca’s inventory and ordering software was built to automate inventory management and integrate multiple back-of-house processes to improve efficiency for restaurants.
Orca automates audits for staff inventory counts and has specific recipe, plate, and food costing features. It integrates with POS systems and even weather services to give more accurate sales forecasts.
Orca assists a diverse range of clients with inventory management, from networking giant Sysco to Saddle Ranch Chop House to the infamous Spearmint Rhino.
Apicbase is a restaurant management platform headquartered in the Netherlands and focused on back-of-house operations. Its inventory management tools — which include an inventory barcode scanning system and real-time food costing — work in sync with Apicbase’s menu engineering, menu planning, and production management software.
Apicbase works with companies across the hospitality and food service industry, such as Netherlands ghost kitchen operator Bright Kitchen, restaurant group The Avocado Show, and Radboud University in the Netherlands.
MarketMan’s cloud-based restaurant management system originated as a tool to better connect restaurants with their suppliers. It offers mobile inventory counts, waste tracking, menu engineering, and food costing dashboards to make back-of-house operations more efficient.
MarketMan integrates with the leading POS systems and accounting tools in order to provide its food and recipe costing features. It’s the platform of choice for a number of F&B groups, including Taco Del Mar, Hard Rock Cafe, and Captain Lawrence Brewing Company.
Grow Your Margins Despite Cost Challenges
Restaurant inventory management software has the power to transform the way you count stock, forecast demand, and make purchase decisions. It takes the guesswork—and the legwork—out of order-making and gives you the data to make better choices.
The right software for your restaurant depends on the size of your business and the scale of your needs. But if you want recipe-level data as your core source of truth, specialized restaurant inventory software is the way to go.
Galley’s culinary operating system was developed to centralize recipe data and make inventory management more efficient.
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