Inventory Nightmares: 7 Real-Life Restaurant Horror Stories

By: AJ Beltis

7 Minute Read

Jul 05, 2018

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Prepare yourself for restaurant horror stories like no other - Inventory Nightmares.

Planning, organizing, and ordering inventory can be tough. For this article, we compiled seven of the most terrifying restaurant horror stories - real examples submitted by restaurant owners and employees about inventory gone wrong.

What better way to scare yourself silly than these true and cringe-worthy stories about restaurant inventory?

Inventory Nightmare #1: Bedlam Without Butter

Submitted by Jazmin Campbell of Flour Bakery + Cafe

"As a bakery we use butter, a lot of butter. Not just any kind of butter, but a specific kind that gives our pastries the best flavor and look. So when our receiver noticed we were running low, and our supplier informed us they didn't have enough for our next shipment...well, things got a little scary.

We called every bakery, store, supplier, and anyone else we could think of to supply us with enough of this particular butter until our supplier had enough in stock. Through many phone calls - and all around begging - we were able to procure enough butter to last us to our next shipment."

It's fortunate that Flour Bakery was able to make ends meet, though it seems an inventory tracking system that showed when the back room was low on butter would have saved the day with a lot less stress.

This submission was our first #InventoryNightmare on Facebook! Check out the video below! 


Inventory Nightmare #2: The Stray Shrimp Situation

Submitted by Restaurant Consultant Peter Christie

Peter Christie told me a story of a time when he owned restaurants. One time, he noticed a few concerning issues like:

  • restaurant horror storiesLiquor percentage costs going up 3% in one month
  • Rising food costs
  • Missing bottles of alcohol
  • A stray shrimp on the floor the morning after a thorough cleaning.

One night around closing, Peter received a call from his co-worker that an employee was hiding in a small storage space.

He returned to the restaurant, where the employee confessed the truth: he would frequently hide in the secluded storage space until everyone left the restaurant. He'd then unlock the back door and gather his friends inside for free booze and food.

That same night, it was discovered another line cook was involved in the fiasco, and was asked to come down to the restaurant as well. In the trunk of the cook's car were six of the missing bottles of alcohol which had been stolen from the restaurant’s bar.

Had Peter not been closely and accurately tracking inventory and food cost, he would have continued to lose profit and supplies while his employees orchestrated their theft.

Peter’s advice on inventory for restaurant owners: “Shelf to sheet is best.” He also encourages clarity on unit measurement.

Inventory Nightmare #3: Wings Gone Wrong

Submitted by Jonathan Schroeter of IL Primo Pizza & Wings

Jonathan's inventory nightmare about his restaurant's chicken wings is so bad, it helped push him to switching food distributors. For the five-location pizzeria and wing restaurant, an order was placed for 110 cases to get the business through three days.

This time, Jonathan's business received 110 cases of bad chicken wings. He wasn't sure if either the distributor received bad chicken wings that weren't at temperature or if they sat on the supplier's dock for too long. When the wings finally ended up at IL Primo, "they were discolored and didn't smell too good."

After a heated conversation with his District Service Manager, the supplier came "back that day to pick up the bad wings and drop off brand new ones." The new ones Jonathan received - while fresh - were not even his regular wings. 

The moral of this story? Working with trusted inventory suppliers and carrying just-in-case inventory are crucial. Sounds like it was a good move on IL Primo's part to sever the relationship to avoid future restaurant horror stories.

Inventory Nightmare #4: The Syrian Bread Surplus

This is one of my own restaurant horror stories.

In high school, I worked at a pizza place in my town, and every day we would get a call from our bread supplier for our order. At this particular bakery, Syrian bread came in bags of six. When the pizzeria's manager would tell me what to order, he would make the order in "bags." For example, he would ask for six "bags" of Syrian. The owner, however, would have me make that same order as "three dozen Syrian." Both, however, wanted a total of 36 Syrians.

As a part-time high school cashier, this distinction between "bags" and "dozen" was never made clear to me by my manager or the owner. I wasn't told how many Syrian pockets were in each bag, so I just assumed the terms were interchangeable.

So on days when I was instructed to order six bags of Syrian (i.e. three dozen), I would sometimes order six dozen (i.e. 12 bags). Since this didn't happen every day, it took a few months for the owner and manager to pin down the source of this occasional discrepancy - me.

After that, my bosses were always totally clear on the terminology they used for inventory planning, ordering, and management.

Inventory Nightmare #5: The Celery Scare

Submitted by Garner Blume of Toast

"Most of our inventory mishaps occur when a purveyor sends us the wrong unit of an item we ordered of the same product.

Usually, this isn't a huge issue, and we have great relationships with our vendors who are happy to correct such mistakes, but when we had ordered 8 heads of celery for a Saturday delivery, [we] were sent 8 giant cases instead.

We could barely move in the walk in all weekend as we waited for it to be picked up for a credit on Monday. Thankfully, we use a better system and order software which now sends our orders electronically, which reduces such human errors."

Good thing The Townshend started using a more automated inventory tracking and ordering system to save them future headaches!

Inventory Nightmare #6: The Dairy Disaster

Submitted by Dan Hanken of The Advocate

"When I first became chef, I changed some dishes on the menu and was using half of the dairy of the previous Chef, but I kept having trouble getting my standing order changed. [Our suppliers] kept showing up with the original order plus the adjusted order.

When I told them about it they just said "keep it for free, we'll give you credit." [It] was fine, but this happened for four weeks, twice a week. I had a walk-in stuffed with dozens of gallons of milk, dozens of half gallons of heavy cream, seven crates of eggs, and I literally couldn't give it away fast enough. We just got through the butter 3 months later."

The Advocate clearly suffered here from miscommunication between Dan and the suppliers. This is proof that too much restaurant inventory isn't always a good thing.

This was our second Inventory Nightmare video on Facebook. Watch it below!


Inventory Nightmare #7: Mushroom Madness

Submitted by Elise A. on Facebook

"We ran out of mushrooms once. Luckily we were right next door to a grocery store. I ran over and spent $25 on a mediocre amount of mushrooms to tide us over until help arrived. They were good quality mushrooms, it was the amount of mushrooms I got for the amount of money I paid that disappointed me."

This restaurant clearly fell into a slump of routine ordering supplies. While the data can usually help predict, it's important to keep just-in-case inventory and to check your depletion regularly to see when you need to re-order supplies.

Wake Up From Your Inventory Nightmares

Okay, so not all restaurants have had an issue this bad, but all restaurants will struggle with inventory at one point or another. To avoid being another casualty of restaurant horror stories, don't forget to check out our inventory management feature to help you avoid inventory nightmares!


Thanks to Cassy Lee, Shivank Taksali, and Phil Wesson for their help in the Inventory Nightmares campaign!

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