Managing Inventory in the Days of COVID-19

Whether you are closing temporarily or switching to a takeout/delivery model, here are some tips to help

Unprecedented times call for creative solutions. We don’t have all the answers. But we do know that creativity abounds in this industry. Restaurants around the world are leaning on that creativity – reimagining their dine-in concepts as the world stays home, and finding new ways to reach customers. As operators deal with unprecedented challenges, we are heartened by all of their creative efforts to generate revenue while serving local communities.

The news is full of inspiring stories of operators making the best of a bad situation.  For example, Lazy Dog Cafe is offering a “home essentials” package for curbside pickup. There’s high demand for their $40 pantry staples (which include chicken, rice, eggs, milk – even toilet paper)! Several fine-dining establishments are preparing at-home meal kits. This gives customers a chance to recreate their favorite dishes at home. Other operators are donating excess inventory, helping serve their community where they can.

Whether you are temporarily closing operations or adapting your inventory for a delivery/to-go model, here are some tips from our Solutions team:

For Businesses Open for Delivery, Takeout/Carry-Out

Keep calm/carry on.

While demand has spiked, supply is still available. Where panic buying has caused some ingredient shortages, you can plan menus around what you already have (or ingredients you can easily access). Check with your suppliers. In some places, grocery stores/supermarkets may be getting priority on deliveries. Engineer your recipes accordingly.

Consider culling down menus.

Offering a smaller menu gives you more control over your current inventory situation and helps streamline operational processes. It will enable more efficient ordering, while also minimizing the number of “touches” per dish.

Look ahead to get the most out of your orders.

Lean on your back-office systems to track inventory volume and what’s selling. This will help inform ordering decisions. With added pressure on vendors, delivery delays, and increased exposure risk with ad hoc purchasing, tracking purchasing trends and inventory movement can help you keep a step ahead. That way, you can maintain a full stock of essentials without running out of critical ingredients.

Track what you have to keep track of costs.

To help minimize spend, avoiding waste is more critical than ever. Take full advantage of tools that add expiration dates to fresh goods. Tracking on-hand stock levels and fluctuating ingredient costs can help you use up the right goods first, and helps contain costs. Limiting as many manual back-office tasks as possible will also allow you to focus on running your operations during this challenging time.

Minimize minimums.

Do you already offer delivery/takeout? Consider waiving your order minimums, especially for nearby deliveries.

Add some comic relief.

Some restaurants are offering fun incentives to diners. With purchase minimums, they’re throwing in a roll of toilet paper. Without guests coming in, this inventory item can be reimagined into a bonus for customers. Plus, it provides a playful incentive to spend more.

Offer curbside/contactless pick up.

Bringing takeout orders out to customers idling in their cars keeps the number of people inside your restaurant to an absolute minimum. Plus, contactless pickup or delivery gives customers reassurance in these uncertain times.


Remind guests how you’re keeping them safe with updated cleaning procedures. Send out daily menus for mouth-watering dishes available for delivery or pickup. Encourage social sharing to drive engagement with your brand.

Discover new ordering platforms.

If you don’t have delivery infrastructure in place already, leveraging your social media and email presence can help. Some restaurants are now accepting order requests on social media. Just make sure you have dedicated support to manage incoming orders and responses!

Bring on the booze.

Include wine, beer, or even cocktail pairing suggestions with your dishes. Where cities are lifting delivery restrictions on alcohol, this can be a great way to add value to customers. Plus, it helps generate additional revenue.

Manage your invoices.

Keep track of what was ordered vs. actually delivered. 3-way invoice matching can help. It highlights discrepancies among the goods received notes, invoice, and actual order, so you avoid paying for what wasn’t delivered. With delivery delays and short orders, it’s important to track vendor spend, and pay only for what actually arrived. This will further help control costs. Tracking all spend to cross check it against any profit from delivery will help compile an accurate P&L, too.

For Temporarily Halting Operations

The restaurant and hospitality industry is deeply affected by COVID-19. Many restaurants simply can’t afford to stay open right now. Luckily, some inventory can keep until hopefully brighter days ahead. But what about your perishables?  How can you help recoup some of your costs, while minimizing food waste?

Move your fresh/expiring inventory.
  • Donate. Sharing inventory with food shelters can provide tax relief while giving back during this time. To find your local food bank, please visit Feeding America’s resource center. Also consider donating to health workers, hospitals, and nursing homes. Your generosity can have a huge impact for those helping to contain this crisis.
  • Give to your employees. Many employees are losing their livelihood. Sharing inventory minimizes food waste, while giving back to the people who have worked so hard for your business. 
  • Help customers buy in bulk. While your dishes have always been sold directly to consumers, there’s no reason inventory can’t be shared with them directly, too. Some businesses are selling inventory in bulk to customers through social media.
Return what you can.

In some places, like Texas, certain provisions have been waived. Now, certain operators can sell back unopened product. Reach out to your vendors to see what’s possible.

Reconcile invoices and track spend.

Make sure you have a clear understanding of all outstanding balances. Consolidating F&B related costs through a back office solution can help keep it straight. With a clear view of expenditure, you’ll be able to create payment plans to get vendors paid.


Stay tuned. We’re here for you. Along the way, we’ll be sharing tips, tricks, and resources. If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch. Have another creative solution that’s working for your restaurant? We’d love to hear more!

Are you an existing HotSchedules/Fourth customer? Let us know if you have any questions about managing inventory. We’re happy to help you leverage features like expiration date tracking, ordering, recipe and menu engineering, and 3-way invoice matching during this time.

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