As a chef I have had actual nightmares about running out of food. The kind of nightmares that wake you up in a sweat, with your heart beating out of your chest. The panic, the fear, the thought of facing angry customers because you are out of a menu favorite. Yep, the fear is real for chefs. With the relatively new voice of the consumer via social media—Yelp, Instagram, Facebook, blogs etc.—the chef and the restaurant are under constant scrutiny. And for many chefs, the backlash that can come from the public for an item being out on a menu far outweighs the logical thinking of just ordering what you need.
There are multiple reasons that a restaurant might have to “86” a menu item. Sometimes, there are restaurant menu items that aren’t supposed to last all service. It could be an new item on the restaurant’s menu that they are assessing if it sells, they may have gotten a great deal from a vendor on a limited amount of a product, or the item is seasonal and in limited supply. These types of menu items are usually communicated to the wait staff prior to service so they know for example if there are only 20 orders of this or 30 orders of that. As the service progresses, and these items are ordered, chances are the guests coming in later in the service won’t have the option to order these items.
Sometimes—and this does happen more that you would think—the product that was delivered is either spoiled or not up to the quality standards the restaurant expects. The chef has already planned the menu for the service and the product is not up to par and they are either faced with a quick menu change or just to tell guests that product is not available. If the chef can’t run to the store quickly to get a replacement, he/she is forced to do the latter.
A final reason the restaurant might run out of a particular menu item is one of the rarest cases, but it does happen--poor planning. No chef ever wants to run out, but it does happen. They misorder something or forget to order something. Or, just out of the blue, the reservations just come in quicker than expected and there is no time to order or prep a particular item. Overall poor kitchen management, but definitely possible in any restaurant.
All of this leads to a situation that no chef wants to face—an angry or disappointed guest because the item they want is unavailable. The amount a flak a restaurant can receive via social media for being out of an item is incredible, and in very rare circumstances, can cost a chef their job. This type of pressure leads to a typical practice of overbuying product so as not to EVER be out of an item on the menu. Overbuying typically leads to excess food waste. The chef would rather have wasted food than not have enough. It’s a vicious cycle and a fine line that the chef must walk as to not run out, but then again not have too much.
So what can a chef do to lessen the possibility of running out of product?
Here are some practices that every chef can put into place to help with the balance of running out versus overbuying: