Restaurant Profitability Blog

7 Reasons Why Spreadsheets Are Not Restaurant Management Software

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If someone came into your restaurant and took cash out of the drawer, would you take action?

Of course. That’s your money!

Well, if you’re still using restaurant inventory spreadsheets instead of food costing software, you’re actually stealing from yourself.

“What’s the problem with spreadsheets?” you ask.

After all, spreadsheets are the primary way most restaurants run their businesses… from shift scheduling to reservations, to accounting and everything in between… including inventory.

You grab a paper spreadsheet to take your count. Then you type all that information into a spreadsheet on a computer. You look up prices to enter into that same spreadsheet. And you calculate COGS with a… you guessed it… spreadsheet.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

A lot, actually. The ones that are costing you the most are inefficiency and inaccuracy.

One study found that the overall error rate on spreadsheets was an incredible 947%. This means that there were more individual errors than there were actual formulas in the sheet itself.

Errors of this magnitude waste time and wasted time is wasted money…basically, you might as well have taken some twenties from the cash drawer.

We don’t have a vendetta against spreadsheets.

Spreadsheets can be helpful when used for the right purposes… for things like keeping a list of employee uniform sizes or something similarly unconnected to the financial well-being of your restaurant.

But unless you’re a fan of inefficiency, spreadsheets aren’t a solution for managing your profitability… and if that stat above isn’t enough, here are 7 reasons why you really can’t afford to keep using them.

#1 They Have Errors… Which Often Go Unnoticed

Spreadsheets are notoriously error-prone.

Anyone who has ever manually entered a formula into a spreadsheet has probably witnessed these errors firsthand. You type the formula in and review your columns, finding that your numbers don’t look quite right.

So you review your formula again and see that you missed a pesky dot or… some annoying though equally important… dash.

And one mistake can cause a ripple effect.

If one of those formulas has an error…or an accidental keystroke introduces an error… you suddenly see errors exploding across the spreadsheet.

Why? Because one cell of the spreadsheet may determine what’s in others.

The interconnection of cells also means that the error you see isn’t necessarily the root cause.

It’s kind of like when you pull one peach from the bottom of a perfect pyramid in the produce department and the rest come tumbling down.

And an inventory system that’s riddled with errors is perhaps even worse than having no system at all.

You’ve got a lot riding on the reliability of your inventory control process, so it’s critical you get it right. One sure-fire way to reduce the overall accuracy of your inventory is to depend on a system that’s entirely manual… like an Excel spreadsheet.

Seeing all those neat rows and columns of numbers may make you feel like you have a firm handle on things… but if that information is wrong—it’s lulling you into a false sense of security.

People can and will fudge numbers.

After all, it’s human nature to makes mistakes. Sometimes these errors happen accidentally due to rushing or inattention.

But at other times… it’s intentional.

In fact, a whopping 75% of all inventory shrinkage is the result of theft.

Two quick backroom clicks on a spreadsheet… and you just donated $50 in steaks that’ll be served up fresh—and free—at the backyard barbecue of that “trusted worker” you put in charge of inventory.

Ultimately, when you consider all of the headaches these errors can cause, it becomes clear pretty quickly that it’s not effective to use spreadsheets as inventory software.

#2 They’re a Time Suck

You’ve got time to type in row after row of numbers, right?

Oh, and time to double-check every entry for errors when you’re finished?

Probably not.

Manual maintenance of a spreadsheet will… take… hours. And that’s time you don’t have.

So you’ve decided you’ll just assign someone else to enter the data. Problem solved?

Eh… not so much.

Remember the big-picture goal? It’s to save money (i.e. not steal from yourself) and increase profits.

Even if you’ve designated someone as the “inventory control manager,” paying for another employee’s time to complete the slow, inefficient process of manual spreadsheet entry isn’t in line with that goal.

The key to success is ultimately working smarter—not harder. And that means trading in your manual inventory practices for a painless, systematized and more automated approach.

#3 They Require a Lot of Legwork

There’s no denying that a spreadsheet is a definite step up from those food-spattered paper inventory sheets of the past.

But spreadsheets don’t create themselves.

By default, in fact, a spreadsheet is blank.

Creating an inventory spreadsheet that’s ready to do everything you need it to takes a massive amount of planning, work, and complex formula writing.

And the legwork doesn’t end after the initial spreadsheet setup. Each time you add a new product to your regular inventory cycle, you’ll need to add it to your spreadsheet.

Vendor send you a new pricing sheet?

Or perhaps you’ve discontinued a few menu items?

Delete rows 63, 85 and 124; update cells AA4, B9, and U77 of Sheet1 and remember to adjust Sheet3 accordingly… or something like that.

Have you decided after the fact that you’d like to see your inventory by the vendor or by menu category? Get ready to adjust a dozen or so existing formulas. And you’d better be a wiz at pivot tables.

Each and every change represents another possibility for introducing error (repeat Problem #1 above). And now, you’ve got to find time to make those changes and troubleshoot those errors (repeat Problem #2 above).

Wouldn’t it be great if you had software that gave you the numbers you needed without all the hassle?

Stay tuned… there is.

#4 They Aren’t Easy to Share

“Come on team, gather round. Let’s gaze in delight at this spreadsheet.”

Yeah… probably not gonna happen.

It’s hard to derive much meaning from an endless grid of figures. So where spreadsheets are involved, it’s safe to say that employees will disengage from the conversation pretty quickly.

You need your employees to be knowledgeable about and committed to inventory. If they aren’t, they won’t do their part in working to reduce food waste and prevent theft.

They need to understand that restaurant inventory data matters to them, not just to you… otherwise, they’ll never snuggle up to a screenful of seemingly meaningless figures.

What if you have employees at more than one location and you want to discuss a spreadsheet or two from your workbook?

It’s difficult to make this kind of sharing happen in real time.

And that inability to collaborate or share is yet another roadblock to getting the full buy-in you need to make your inventory review efforts a success.

#5 They Don’t Show You COGS

If you want to drive your restaurant to success, you need to keep up-to-date on your Costs of Goods Sold (COGS).

Just in case you’ve forgotten, that’s the figure that tells you the value (for restaurants, that’s usually your purchase price) of merchandise and materials used to generate sales over a period of time. By comparing your COGS to your revenue during that time, you can accurately determine your profit margin on sales.

Well, if you’ve ever used a spreadsheet for inventory management, you’ve probably noticed something: COGS is rarely reported.

And COGS is just one of the critical figures spreadsheets typically don’t give you.

What about your usage report?

Or your days on hand?

Nope? Looks like we’re 0-for-3 so far.

Sure, you could program some more formulas into your spreadsheet to give you these important figures (or maybe ask Google for an “inventory management spreadsheet template”…although even the best of these still don’t give you COGS).

But given the complexity of that calculation for COGS alone… not to mention the others… doing so would be difficult at best for anyone who doesn’t dream in numbers.

The formula chain to figure COGS is a bit complex:

Beginning Inventory + Purchases = Total Available

Total Available – Ending Inventory = Product Used

Product Used / Sales = Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) %

So yeah… ready to write those formulas into your spreadsheet? And remember: One error in any step means the figure you get is wrong.

What’s more, you don’t just need these figures monthly or even biweekly. You need them in real time.

Think your customers are willing to wait a week or more for their favorite dishes because no one realized you’d reached re-order point (ROP) with a key ingredient… and now you’re completely out?

Without real-time numbers like these, it’s bound to happen.

You make important decisions about your restaurant’s future every day—and those decisions should be based on data.

Not only does that data need to be accurate and current, it needs to be readily accessible if you’re going to monitor trends. (And your accountant will thank you.)

In all points, if you’re still using spreadsheets, you’re flat out of luck.

#6 They Aren’t Forever

In the kitchen, very little is “forever.”

Your fruit goes bad… your bread gets moldy… even your canned goods, which have a relatively long life, will ultimately expire.

But one thing that absolutely should stand the test of time is your inventory management system. If you’re keeping your inventory on an old-school spreadsheet, however, it’s definitely not “forever.”

Here’s why:

First issue… a spreadsheet is usually stored on your hard drive.

That’s all well and good—until someone spills chicken broth all over your laptop. Or you leave it in the car, and it gets stolen. Or it just gets old and dies. Or…? If any of these things happens, R.I.P. spreadsheet.

Second issue… spreadsheets are volatile.

What if a well-meaning employee opens up your inventory spreadsheet, accidentally deletes some stuff…and then hits save. The information that runs your company is suddenly gone. Forever.

To accurately predict future needs and create data-based business plans, you don’t just need the inventory figures you gather today… you need the ones from the past, too.

The importance of having this historical figures makes keeping your profitability in a consistently accessible format essential.

#7 They’re Old School (and Not in a Good Way)

Fondue may come back into style… but 90s technology won’t.

All types of business are embracing new technology. Why should the restaurant industry be any different?

Other small businesses don’t use spreadsheets to manage their most important data. They use the smartest technology available.

Of course… why wouldn’t they?

Maybe they’re paying for this tech… or maybe they’re getting it for free. There are millions of apps out there… even free ones that are perfect for the commonly hectic food and beverage industry.

There’s no reason any modern-day restaurateur should stay shackled to a spreadsheet.

Conclusion: Tell Your Spreadsheet Bye-Bye

Breaking up is hard to do.

But if there’s one relationship you need to end, it’s the one you have with your spreadsheet.

By ending this past-its-expiration-date relationship, you can reap some serious benefits. You’ll see fewer errors… and you won’t have to waste time we both know you don’t have.

By moving away from the old-school approach, you’ll have access to real-time food cost tracking information, like COGS, whenever you want… now and forever.

The real question is, why are you still using a spreadsheet?

You do have an alternative, after all.

There are tons of management solutions out there. But what if we were to tell you there was one that eliminated the need to take inventory altogether?

The Orderly App lets you manage your profitability from anywhere. It’s on your phone, so you can move around the stockroom, unencumbered by cords or the need to break your workflow.

Easily snap photos of your invoices, then share your sales. Then, you’ll receive an accurate COGS without having to do any math yourself.

Sounds like your spreadsheets are really unnecessary now, huh?

Put restaurant management software or, better yet, an app-based solution to work for you. They’re accurate, they’re automatic, and they can be implemented quickly.

Come on… stop stealing from yourself and give it a try.

What do you have to lose?


At Orderly, we’re big fans of ditching the spreadsheets. That’s why we created the Orderly App. It’s the easy-to-use, do-it-for-me app for restaurant profitability.

Start snapping invoices right away, and we’ll start collecting data. Soon, you’ll have your accurate COGS.

No spreadsheets. No data entry. Half the time.

And it’s 100% free.

Orderly7 Reasons Why Spreadsheets Are Not Restaurant Management Software

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