Taking inventory is an unpopular task at most restaurants, but one that is critical to controlling food costs and improving profitability. Yet, when we speak with restaurant owners, many admit that they either do a poor job at it, or do it infrequently. In most cases, the underlying issue is a lack of structure around the inventory-taking process.

With that in mind, here are ten tips to help improve inventory accuracy at your restaurant:

  1. Take inventory frequently. For some items it should be done daily, for others twice a week. At a minimum, it needs to be completed before placing weekly orders.
  1. Take inventory after the restaurant has closed, or before it opens. You cannot take accurate inventory while goods are being sold. Whatever time you pick, stick with it. If you always take inventory on Tuesdays, but sometimes you do it at night and sometimes in the morning, there will be fluctuations in week to week results.
  1. Take inventory before a new shipment arrives and then add the new stock to your counts. Do not attempt to take inventory while deliveries are being made. Items will end up being double-counted.
  1. Clean out and organize your stock areas before taking inventory. Throw out items that have expired, move similar items to the same shelf and in general, tidy up.
  1. Use Inventory Count Sheets. Have one for daily, one for weekly and one for monthly counts (or whatever periods you use) and standardize the items included and the unit (pounds, number of items, boxes etc) each item is tracked in. Changes in what items are tracked can cause large fluctuations in recorded inventory. Use a product like LiveInventory to create these sheets and track results over time.
  1. When taking inventory, make part of the practice ensuring that items are being used on a First In, First Out (FIFO) basis. Older goods should be rotated to the front of shelves so they are used first. Additionally, try to keep the amount of items you have on hand as low as possible to reduce theft and spoilage.
  1. Use two people to take inventory. They should count items separately and then compare results for anomalies. Pairing reduces errors and the temptation to manipulate results or pocket goods.
  1. Use the same staff to take inventory. They will not only get faster at it, but they will tend to be more consistent.
    If you use scales to weigh inventory and measure portions, calibrate them weekly.
  1. Standardize what your unit cost is. The price of many items (like ground beef) changes week to week.
  1. Use the latest price paid as the standard. It is the easiest to find and remember.

The most critical piece of the inventory puzzle is consistency. Using the same staff, taking inventory at the same time and counting the same items are some of the easiest ways to improve your accuracy.

This article originally appeared on Livelenz.