Simple tips for choosing the right tools for your business.

Have you resolved to make inventory a more consistent part of your business?

You should. It’s just too important to ignore. Inventory gives you a handle on your cost of goods sold, on where you’re over ordering and food is going to waste, and even on employee theft.

But even though it’s a necessary part of running your business, inventory is complicated—too complicated for spreadsheets and manual count sheets. This is why savvy restaurant operators are turning to inventory software and apps to help them with the efficiency and accuracy of their inventory taking.

Because of the explosion in restaurant technology over the past five years, there are a lot of choices when it comes to inventory solutions.

More choices are always good, right?

Not necessarily. The truth is, picking the right inventory solution for your business can be overwhelming.

To make the process less stressful, it’s important to understand what you’re looking for, as well as what’s out there. Before you explore your options, consider these important elements and answer these key questions.

Step 1: Evaluating What Your Business Needs

Before you start poking into inventory technology, think about what your business needs. Answering these three key business questions is a good place to start.

What can I afford?

Let’s face it, you don’t have a lot of extra money lying around. How much of your budget can you allocate to an inventory solution every month? Keep in mind that inventory software typically cuts man-hours spent on this task in half. It also saves you money by stopping over-ordering and theft. Ideally, your perfect inventory solution would be one that saves you enough money to pay for itself.

What features do I need?

Bells and whistles. Some will be have-to-haves, others—not so much. The features that will be important to you aren’t necessarily the same ones that are important to the owner of the restaurant down the block. Maybe you want to easily extrapolate information from food usage data. Or perhaps it’s important that you be able to review inventory history with ease. Put some careful thought into which features are non-negotiables. Going into the technology evaluation process with these features in mind will make the process of choosing much smoother.

How do I run my business today?

Inventory solutions are just as unique as the restaurants they serve. In fact, there’s an array of restaurant inventory solutions on the market. Your business size (independent versus multi-unit versus large chain) is important to the inventory solution you choose, and so is the makeup of your staff. Are your employees millennials who live and breathe apps or Baby Boomers who are more comfortable on a desktop?

Answer these three questions before you begin the search process for an inventory solution. You’ll confidently walk into demos with these insights in mind. They’ll help you narrow down the field much more quickly.

Step 2: Picking an Inventory Solution

Ready to adventure into the great unknown of inventory solutions? Don’t be intimidated. As you sit on demos, evaluate your options based on the set of criteria you established in Step 1. You can also ask these questions to get a better understanding of each solution.

1. Is this easy to use? Consider your favorite mobile apps. You don’t have to think too hard about how they work. They’re intuitively set up. The inventory solution you choose should operate the same way. Ask yourself if the navigation makes sense to you. Could you potentially train yourself on how to use the solution? If not, it may be more hassle than it’s worth.

2. Does it have all the features you want? You’ve put careful thought into what features are important to you. As you evaluate solutions, have a checklist of these features close by. Not enough of what you want? Too many of the features you don’t want? No matter how cool an inventory solution looks, ditch it if it doesn’t include everything you’re looking for.

3. How much does it cost? A good inventory solution won’t come free. However, it should come within the price point you want. And it shouldn’t cost you more than you can recoup. In fact, the best restaurant inventory apps pay for themselves by reducing labor costs and limiting food waste.

4. How long does it take to set up? Don’t dismiss an option you like because the setup time seems too long. Factor at least 30 days into the training and setup process. There’s a lot that goes into inventory, after all. That being said, anything that takes 3-6 months to set up may be too complicated and cost more than it’s worth. Weigh your choices carefully.

5. Is there someone there to help? Even the easiest processes and simplest apps can be confusing at times. So you can definietly assume that with any inventory solution, you’ll need help from time to time. As you evaluate your options, make sure there’s someone on the other end of a phone or email address that can help you when you need it. Is there an online help center where you can find answers quickly? Be sure you’re aware of and okay with the available means of support available to you.

Step 3: Doing Your Research

So you’ve narrowed down your list to final inventory solution candidates. You’re ready to make the big purchasing decision. Before you reach for your wallet, there’s one more step: Research each company’s reputation.

A simple Google search is a good place to start. Look specifically for product feedback from other restaurants and reports of good or bad customer service experiences.

Also reach out to other restaurant owners, operators and managers you know. What inventory software are they using and why? Take 15 minutes to get their opinions about the inventory solutions you’re considering.

Finally, be wary of restaurant technology rip-offs. They can be all too common. You don’t want to say yes to a perfect solution and then find out you’ll be nickel and dimed for all those features you thought came standard.

Do your research. The effort and time it takes is well worth the results.

Take a Better Inventory

Although inventory has historically been an area of struggle for operators, it doesn’t have to be anymore. Technology is at its best today. Inventory software and apps provide a powerful alternative to manual spreadsheets and the clunky, expensive hardware of the past.

By using an inventory solution, you can deter theft, reduce waste and increase profits by up to 24 percent a year.

And even though there are tons of inventory solutions out there, the process of choosing one doesn’t have to be stressful. As you begin, or re-evaluate, inventory solutions, let this list of key questions be your guide to choosing the right one for your business.

It will help you increase the efficiency and accuracy of your inventory as you put the right process and technology to work.

Expert Takes, Feature