How To Manage Restaurant Inventory Across Multiple Channels

A customer ordering from a restaurant using the Square Terminal

When managing a restaurant you’re always playing a game of catch-up. With customers to serve, phones to answer, and deliveries at your back door, a fast-paced sense of chaos is always to be expected, to some extent. However, that chaos doesn’t need to spill over into your operations and, ultimately, your customers, where it can start affecting your bottom line.

With so many changes over the last year and an increase in demand for takeaway and delivery, restaurants have seen a higher demand for more ways to serve their customers across different channels. In the UK, takeaway and delivery household spending is expected to reach £11.2 billion in 2021, as more restaurants create online ordering hubs on their own websites in order to increase the number of channels and decrease their dependence on third-party ordering sites.

By providing multiple channels for customers to order, you’re helping your restaurant to meet customers wherever they are. But without the proper multichannel inventory management tools, too many channels can quickly become too much to handle.

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How to manage restaurant inventory across multiple channels

A connected experience that provides customers with exactly what they want, when they want it, is no longer a nice-to-have — it’s the expectation.

These expectations are driving an increased need for restaurants to adopt a multi-channel view. Your customers expect the same level of service and quality regardless of the way they choose to interact with your restaurant on a given day.

“We’re seeing more of a hub-and-spoke model, with the kitchen at the center of it all,” says Bruce Bell, GM of Square for Restaurants. “Restaurants are embracing new channels for customers to interact with their business, effectively meeting them wherever they are. Each of these channels represents a revenue stream for the restaurant, and they connect to the same kitchen and are all managed by the same centralised POS system.”

Restaurant customers want to order, pay, and receive their meals quickly and through their preferred channel. That can be online, through an app, with a QR code, over the phone, delivered to their door, click and collect, or enjoyed on-premise.

As a restaurant, you’re responsible for managing orders coming in from all of these channels, all at once. You need to be prepared to offer them a quick, convenient, reliable, personalised, and dependable service.
Multichannel ordering also has benefits for your business. It increases the ability to reach new customers and tap into new demographics. It diversifies your revenue streams, creating a big picture that sets your business up for success.

However, it does bring new challenges. Managing orders across all of these channels is difficult, especially when orders are flooding in and customers are expecting their food quickly. This brings the need for new levels of management across all aspects of your restaurant, especially your inventory. The last thing you want is to run out of an item, only to have that reflected on your ordering channels after 10 customers have placed their orders. This leads to unhappy customers.

Here’s what your restaurant needs to do to manage inventory across multiple channels for a seamless restaurant back of house and to keep customers satisfied.

A restaurant POS that integrates with all of your systems for multichannel inventory management

Your kitchen is the centre of the restaurant’s heart and your POS is the centre of the restaurant’s brain. With the right restaurant POS system you are able to process and track your orders and transactions in an efficient and consistent way.

By using a POS system that allows you to integrate all of your ordering channels and kitchen management systems, you can get a centralised view of how your restaurant runs and what your customers are looking for. Additional channels and tools that you can manage through one centralised system include:

The insights you glean from a centralised view will enable you to make more informed inventory orders, reducing the chance of under-ordering a popular item or over-ordering and letting food go to waste.

A well-organised stock room

It might not seem like a top priority for restaurant management, but the setup of your stock room can have a major impact on the effectiveness of your kitchen. With a busy kitchen and a lot of people coming in and out of your stock room, it can be a daily process to keep things in their place and accounted for. Three tips to live by for a well-organised stock room are:

Live by the rule of first in, first out (FIFO): Every time you get a new delivery, place the new products behind the existing products to make sure the older items are used first. This helps to make sure items are used before their expiration date, reducing food waste.

Label everything: If you’ve ever wanted to go crazy with a label maker, this is your opportunity. Treat your stock room like it’s your own personal grocery shop with a place on the shelf for everything. By labelling everything, you’ll be able to tell at a glance what’s run out and how quickly, to make for more efficient ordering. Labels also help create a better, faster system for restocking.

Place popular items to the front: If there are certain ingredients that you know your kitchen staff is reaching for multiple times a day, place them near the front. This makes it easier for your staff to grab what they need without spending too much time replenishing their ingredients.

A centralised kitchen management system for accurate inventory

Even with the best organised stock room, if you’re not digitally tracking your inventory across channels, you’ll quickly lose track. With orders coming through multiple channels, you’ll quickly find yourself with inaccurate counts and inefficient inventory orders if you don’t have the proper kitchen management system and POS. By having all of your orders come through one tool that is connected with your POS and inventory management system, your inventory will update in real time. This enables you to instantly list an item as out of stock before a customer orders it.

With an inventory management system that syncs with the orders coming through the kitchen in real time, you’ll prevent cancelled orders or delivery delays, both of which result in unhappy customers.

A solution for real-time communication

The most common breakdown of communication can be between the front of house and back of house. A restaurant management system with built-in communication tools reduces chaos and keeps all parts of the restaurant in the loop.

Communication doesn’t just apply to in-house staff, it also applies to the tools you use and is vital when it comes to managing orders across multiple channels. Your tools need to be in sync with each other. If your inventory is updated on one channel, it needs to be reflected across all channels.

A restaurant EPOS with omnichannel integrations syncs all of your tools — across every channel — in one place, giving you the most up-to-date reflection of your inventory at any given time.

It might seem like a daunting task to add more ordering channels, especially if you’re running a tight ship with a slimmed-down staff, but with a centralised system, all of your channels can stay connected and run with the same efficiency.

“One channel might be the dining room, one channel might be first-party delivery, one channel might be meal kits and so on,” adds Bell. “Having the kitchen run as efficiently as possible extends that efficiency into all of those channels.”

With the right tools and technology, your customers will enjoy a consistent experience. Your channels will run themselves and provide you with the insights you need to make better inventory ordering projections, ultimately saving you money.