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Ordering and receiving: The right way, the wrong way, part 2

In my last blog I wrote a very personal case study. To briefly reiterate: I had just been hired as the chef of an unprofitable restaurant that was set to close in a few months. I was relying on the sous chef for everything since I had no previous restaurant experience. In the first couple of weeks I found out that he had faked inventory reports and was stealing countless dollars of product. When I found him loading our product into the back of a passenger minivan, I fired him on the spot. I then went on a crash course of learning how to order and how to do inventory. The result: the restaurant became profitable and stayed open for years to come.

In no particular order of importance, here is a summary of what I learned. Follow all of these steps (I bet you are already doing some of them) and I guarantee you will save money.

1. Don’t let the same person do the ordering, receiving and inventory. Unless you are the owner, you should divide up the jobs. Seems obvious, but are you really doing it? If you have the same person do all three jobs, there is no system of checks and balances.

2. Use vendors who know you and are loyal to you. If your vendors are too chummy with your staff, then change your vendors. Ask your vendors to contact you if they notice anything unusual.

3. Give the vendors a written list of who can order. Tell them in writing that you are not responsible for anything ordered by anyone else. Tell them that if someone other than the people on the list tries to order, they are to contact you immediately. Likewise, give them a list in writing of people authorized to sign for the receipt of product. Tell them you may protest invoices that were not signed by the designated people.

4. Don’t allow anything to be done in secret or after hours. Ordering, receiving and inventory should, as much as possible, be done in front of everyone during normal business hours.

5. Take a physical inventory no less than once a month. High-volume places may need it more frequently. Reconcile that inventory against what was sold. There is no point in taking a physical inventory unless you are going to use the information to verify that everything is on the up and up.

6. Make sure your staff understands “First In, First Out” and that you have “Use first” labels.

7. Keep your eye on the trashcans inside and outside. Consider giving everyone a small, clear trash container (such as a 4- or 8-quart Cambro) that they have to empty out in view of a manager. (Note: On top of preventing theft, this also forces your staff to minimize waste.) Use clear trash bags for your bigger trashcans and state that they can’t be taken outside unless looked at by a manager. Lock the outside trash containers and give only management and the trash company the key. (Many lobsters and tenderloins have been placed in foil, dumped into a trash container and then picked up later from the trashcans outside the kitchen. Clear trash bags, inspections, and locked outside trash cans minimize the risk of this.)

8. Don’t let just one person (the baker who opens or the dishwasher who closes) alone in the kitchen, unless all valuable product is locked up.

9. When you receive product, check it against the order form, not the invoice. For example, if the order form does not contain seven cases of ball-tip steaks, then your staff should not to receive those cases, even if they are on the invoice. This is also a great way to verify that what you ordered actually made it to your receiving door.

10. Don’t let the invoices and receiving slips be in vendor code. “7csBT” is not recognizable as seven cases of ball-tip steaks. 412839—8 is not obviously eight sheet pans. If you are not personally receiving the product, look at the invoices over a cup of coffee. Make sure that everything you see looks like it should be there.

Now, I know what you are thinking:

"I get everything dropped off and put away before we even open the kitchen.” Well, if your physical inventory counts don’t match your usage, you might want to reconsider this policy.

“My supplier does all of my ordering.” I love my suppliers and their reps; I have worked with them for nearly a decade. I trust them. However, they don’t know my business and my kitchen like I do. I let them concentrate on their end of the business and I concentrate on mine.

“The computer system we have perfectly orders everything.” If you use a computer, how many people have access to the computer or its ordering program? Are you password protected, and if so, how many people have access to the password? How many former employees know the password?

Food for thought: If you are not the owner of the business, make sure that there are other people involved. You might be the most trustworthy person in the world, but if something goes wrong and product goes missing, you will be blamed—even if you were completely honest and above board. At my school, my sous chef writes out the orders, I place them via e-mail and give her a copy. She compares what she wrote versus what I ordered. When the product is delivered, a senior student takes the e-mail and verifies each on the invoice was in fact ordered.

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