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How to Manage Restaurant Equipment Inventory

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Equipment is the bones of a restaurant, and no restaurant functions without it.

Equipment is the bones of a restaurant, and no restaurant functions without it.

Restaurant Inventory

Inventory is what a restaurant is all about. Restaurants move inventory all day, every day. They receive goods and store goods, then process them into new food products and serve them out the front door. What many restaurant managers do not consider is that your equipment is part of your inventory and must be managed the same as the food, beverage, and dry goods.

Small Wares vs. Large Equipment

Restaurant equipment inventory can be divided into two major categories: small wares and large equipment. Small wares can be anything from forks and plates to large pots, blenders, and food processors—basically, anything that can be considered to be unrepairable or have a short life span. Large equipment includes all the coolers, freezers, ovens, ranges, air conditioners, and other large items that are repairable and have a long lifespan.

Managing Small Wares Inventory

Small wares make up the bulk of your equipment inventory in a number of objects, if not outright value. A small 75-seat operation may have as many as 500 or more pieces of silverware, not counting service utensils, glasses, plates, pots, and pans. There are two things to keep in mind when you begin small wares inventory management: you must have an inventory, and you must have a budget to maintain it.


Some small wares are bound to break and need to be replaced regularly. Glassware, silverware, and other little bits of service ware are obvious examples of things prone to breakage. Some of the items are even collectible to your customers. Anything with a logo or that is unique is subject to being "collected" by patrons.

Back-Up Inventory

Anything that is regularly replaced is better tracked as a dollar value than a number. Keeping track of the day-to-day variance of the number of forks on the floor is a waste of time for you and your staff. You can keep better track of things like silverware by setting a budget and maintaining some replacement inventory off the floor.

When you need more spoons or tongs, subtract them from the small wares budget. I always keep a stash with things like silverware, glassware, shakers, wine keys, pens, and other odds and ends. If I notice that I am going through my backup glassware or kitchen tongs faster than usual, then something is wrong, and it's time to fix it.

Keeping a Small Wares Inventory

Everything the restaurant needs in terms of small wares should be on a list. The list can be broken up in a number of ways, but the most common are front of the house, back of the house, and maintenance. The front-of-house inventory will list all of the small wares in storage and service, including the glasses, silverware, linens, dishes, and other service items. It should also include things like teapots and brooms.

The back-of-house inventory will list things like the pots and pans but also tongs, measuring cups, sheet pans, terrine molds, and other odds and ends of the culinary art. These lists should be checked on a weekly or monthly basis to make sure that you have all that you need. The cost should be lumped together as small wares purchases and come from the previously set budget.

Managing Large Restaurant Equipment

Managing large equipment is a different story. First, the cost of each piece is much larger than for a small ware. And second, the expected lifespan is much longer. The management of this equipment begins with what you have. First, you need to inspect the kitchens, dining rooms, bathrooms, and other vital parts of the property to see what you have and assess what your needs may be.

Old or New, Your Equipment Must Be Managed

What are you starting with? A rare few of us are fortunate enough to work in a totally new facility. My advice for this is to beware! A new operation can have just as many problems with equipment as an old one. For the rest, see what you have, check out its condition, and any repair logs available. Once you have a baseline of your equipment, prepare a needs analysis and a budget that will help you meet those needs.

The Cost of Large Equipment

Your large equipment obviously comes with a higher cost. In order to make the most out of your investments, you must include the ongoing costs of maintenance. I recommend that preventive maintenance always be included in any budget. If there is one thing that is true in a restaurant, it is that your equipment will break. I like to include the plumbing and the HVAC in this category as well because they will both need regular maintenance to ensure proper functioning. These two costs are usually counted as building repair on the p&l but are easily incorporated into any equipment maintenance schedule.

Maintenance Schedules

Creating and maintaining maintenance schedules is an important part of turning a profit.

  • Daily maintenance—create a schedule of daily maintenance tasks that will help ensure the proper functioning of your equipment. This can include cleaning and properly covering prep coolers, logging reach-in temperatures, emptying grease catchers, and clearing drains.
  • Weekly maintenance—these tasks include things like checking and clearing cooler fans and drip tubes, emptying condensation trays, and checking for loose or broken parts. Also included are changing air conditioner filters, water filters, and any hood maintenance.
  • Preventive maintenance—in most areas, restaurant managers can contract with local technicians to do regularly scheduled maintenance checks. I highly recommend this. Having the refrigeration repairman come out and fix problems before they arise will pay for itself the first season you don't lose a walk-in full of product to a blown condenser unit or other malfunction. Refrigeration and HVAC repairmen are common sources of preventive maintenance.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.