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And when she got there, the cupboard was bare

Inventory management is always important, but so is server training in how to handle menu items that have "sold out."  It's important to remember that items should never "run out."

During the busy summer season, you want to have plenty of product on hand.

But problems can occur when prepped items are not sold and must be carried over to the following day—A.K.A. Inventory Rotation. You know what I'm talking about—those three chicken breasts wrapped in plastic with a post-it note that says, "use me first." But the reality is that line cooks and chefs like to use freshly prepped product. So those chicken breasts probably won't make it to the dining room during the next shift. Waste occurs, and waste means higher food costs.

It's my strong belief that menus and daily specials should be programmed to automatically "sell out." If you expect to sell 25 orders of an item, I suggest prepping 20 orders. With lower inventories, your menu items will always be fresh and of the highest possible quality. The goal is to avoid or minimize the handling, wrapping, and preservation of a menu item until the next day.

To be effective, this practice must be a joint effort with the waitstaff. Waiters and waitresses must be trained to consistently reaffirm the restaurant's commitment to quality and freshness.

Servers should be instructed to inform guests that menu items or specials have "sold out," never that the restaurant has "run out." There's a big difference in the mind of the guest. When an item "sells out," the implication is that the item is popular and extremely fresh. If a customer is told the restaurant has "run out" of an item, the connotation is negative—poor preparation and disorganization on the part of the restaurant.

Be proactive when addressing the situation. See below for two sample scripts you can use to train your waitstaff. It's easy for the server to explain the policy of only preparing menu items in limited quantities to ensure and protect the restaurant's dedication to delivering the freshest food products available.

Managers, kitchen staff and servers alike must concentrate on the "sell out" philosophy. A positive approach is essential if the philosophy is to be successful. But the extra effort is worth it. In the final analysis, I don't think there's a better way to control costs while simultaneously establishing a restaurant's commitment to value, quality and freshness.

Sample dialog #1

"While you're looking over the menu, I'd like to mention that we have sold out of two items this evening—the fresh halibut and the marinated pork tenderloin."

Sample dialog #2

"I'm sorry, that item has sold out. Our commitment is to the highest quality and freshest product available. Sometimes that means limited quantities. Might I suggest the grilled swordfish as an alternative?"

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