I’m not telling you anything new when I tell you that inventory control is very important in any restaurant. But I think it’s surprising just how few restaurants view the use of scales as a way to manage shrink and really control how food product is used. In fact, scales should be the central tool in any restaurant manager’s quest to make sure everything that comes in the restaurant goes out as a finished product a customer is paying for.
The best place to start is with a receiving scale. As product rolls in the back door off the truck, weigh each bulk item and record the weight. That way you know exactly how much of each kind of ingredient you have available. This helps you in two ways:
- You’ll know exactly when it’s time to order more product
- If you’re out of product, but you only sold X number of entrees that use that product (i.e. not enough of them to be out), inventory shrink is happening, and it’s time to hunt down the culprit
Portion scales are a necessary compliment to your receiving scale. After all, if you’re measuring what’s coming in but not what’s going out, you’ll have a hard time managing your inventory. There are two kinds of portion scales: mechanical scales and digital scales.
Mechanical portion scales indicate weights on a large, easy-to-read dial. These scales are ideal for measuring bulky items that you’re cooking in large quantities, like french fries or chicken wings. You sacrifice a little bit of accuracy for speed and convenience, which makes sense if you’re just pounding out apps on Super Bowl Sunday.
Digital portion scales are much more accurate and allow you to measure ingredients with precision. Use these scales for measuring out the ingredients to your restaurant’s world famous secret sauce, anything that needs to be baked, and other multi-ingredient recipes. The nice thing about digital scales is that you can reset the tare and calculate ingredient proportions very easily.
For those of you who don’t know, the tare on a scale is a feature that tells the scale to ignore the current weight on the scale and measure additional weight from zero. In other words, the mixing bowl you put on the scale will weigh zero once you press the tare button and the scale will only register the weight of the ingredients you add to it.
You can measure ingredient proportions on a digital scale easily and much more accurately than with measuring cups because different ingredients compact differently in a measuring cup. Flour is the best example. A cup of flour can weigh between 4 and 6 ounces, depending on how compacted it is in the cup. If you extrapolate that out to 4 cups of flour, you’ve got up to a 50% difference in the weight of the flour.
You can also calculate proportions more easily with a portion scale because you know how much ingredients that are hard to measure with a cup weigh, like eggs. A recipe for pasta might call for three parts flour to two parts egg. If two eggs weigh four ounces, then you know you need six ounces of flour.
Finally, scales can help you manage another extremely important inventory item in your restaurant: alcohol. Use a liquor scale to measure the remaining amount of alcohol in each bottle at the end of the day and record the amount. I’ve seen managers go through this exercise countless times, but never with a scale. Usually they just look at the bottle and estimate how much is left.
You depend on alcohol sales to contribute to your bottom line entirely too much for such an inaccurate evaluation of inventory. A liquor scale takes the guesswork out of the equation and allows you to compare hard numbers with your sales so that you can spot shrink and put a stop to it quickly.
Scales mean accuracy. Accuracy means less waste. Less waste means less cost. Less cost equals more profit. The equation is as simple as that.