Restaurants exist to serve safe, delicious meals to their guests.

That’s a simple way of summing up everything a restaurant does, from when the doors open to when guests dig into their meals. There’s prepping. There’s cooking. However, long before anything touches a cutting board or even a guest’s plate, food and supply deliveries have to be safely and properly received (and stored) by the restaurant.

For this reason, your receiving door has rightly been called “one of the most vulnerable areas in your restaurant” by knowledgeable industry insiders.

The potential for money to walk out that door are quite high, depending on the quality of your receiving practices. With up to 10% of all food purchased by restaurants being wasted before it ever makes its way to your guests, your bottom line is significantly impacted by how you receive those deliveries.

Tightening up your receiving practices can yield a massive return for your restaurant’s profit margins.

Have you ever been busy when your delivery arrives? Ever had to deal with the headache of arriving for a night shift to see the morning order was not stored properly, if at all? Have you come across rotten food that was just delivered the day before?

Likely. It’s extremely frustrating.

So how do you fix this?

What to consider before receiving an order at your restaurant

  • Does your restaurant have a food receiving procedure in place?
  • How about a food receiving checklist?
  • When a delivery pulls up to the kitchen’s back door, who checks it over to see if it’s acceptable?
  • Does that person follow standard receiving procedures?

When it comes to receiving food deliveries, there’s a lot that can go wrong, from rotten produce and other quality issues, to food that’s stored at unsafe temperatures. Before you store your shipment using the first in, first out (FIFO) method, your restaurant needs to carefully check shipments for quality and food safety.

How to put a receiving process in place at your restaurant

Apart from the safety concerns, there’s also the financial impact that proper receiving practices can have on your bottom line. If you lose part of your order due to a lack of these practices, you also lose on the profits that would have resulted from these products. Let’s dive into why your restaurant should have proper receiving practices in place and what it takes to implement one.

Where does food receiving fit into your restaurant’s flow? 

From receiving to serving, food follows a number of steps in any restaurant, called the flow of food. A few common flow of food charts look like this:

Flow of food charts have a lot of variables and moving pieces.

But one thing is consistent: Receiving is the first step when food comes into your restaurant, and serving is the last. This is how you need to think about receiving as you build your practices around it: It’s the foundation for a chain of events that ends with food being served to your guests. It’s important. It lays the groundwork for everything that comes after it.

This is why it’s vital to create repeatable, proper receiving practices. If there’s a problem with receiving, it will affect everything else that comes down the line until, ultimately, it affects the quality of the food that’s served to your guests.

Make ordering your supplies easy. Learn how you can manage your entire supply chain at your fingertips.

Who’s In charge of receiving food deliveries? 

The first step in any receiving process in food service should be having the right person or people in charge of receiving. A manager or chef would be the best choice, since they will have the most expertise about what the order is supposed to include and what the food is supposed to look, feel, smell and taste like. Whoever is put in charge of this task should be someone who is trusted with food quality and has a Food Handlers Certificate.  Check for your city’s certifications process with a quick Google search. For those in Toronto and Chicago, you can find the links here:

Try to limit the number of people responsible for receiving, so there’s consistency in the way shipments are checked. That way, training the responsible parties to conduct receiving checks stays as simple as possible. However, don’t limit this to just one person for those days when that individual is sick or absent from work for other reasons.

What should be on your food receiving checklist? 

Once you’ve determined who’s in charge of receiving, you need to give them a comprehensive list of things to check when receiving food deliveries. With notch, this team member can pull up orders on their phone or tablet and go through the shipment line-by-line. In the case where there are items missing or products that aren’t up to standard, this allows them to dispute as they  go.

If they follow the checklist, all deliveries should be up to your restaurant’s safety and quality standards, every time.

1. Checking the driver and vehicle

Before you even look at any of the delivered food, do a quick inspection of the driver and the vehicle it arrived on. You want to ensure that both the driver and vehicle are clean and hygienic. Here’s a quick checklist:

The vehicle
  • How rusty is it? Is it in working order?
  • Are all its surfaces clean?
  • Is there a problematic smell coming from?
  • Are there pests inside the vehicle?
  • Are food and non-food items stored separately? (Particularly when cleaning supplies/chemicals are in the vehicle)
The driver
  • Is the driver wearing clean, work-appropriate clothing?
  • Does the driver handle the food items with care?
  • Is the driver operating the vehicle safely?
  • Does the driver know the contents of the order and proper storage procedures for each item?

If the driver and truck seem to be in order, move on to the next step.

2. Checking temperatures

Temperature compliance is one of the most important things to check in a delivery.

The “danger zone” for foodborne pathogens is 41°F-140°F (5°C-60°C).

The longer foods are within that temperature range, the greater the chances pathogens can grow which can lead to foodborne illnesses for your guests.

When delivering hot goods, they should be delivered at 60°C / 140°F or above.

When receiving refrigerated goods, they should be delivered at 4°C / 40°F or below.

When receiving frozen goods, they should be delivered at -18°C / 0°F or below.

Ice cream is the exception to this; though delivered frozen, it should be held between -14°C to -12°C / 7°F to 10°F at delivery.

This may seem like common sense, but don’t guess at food temperatures, and don’t always trust the thermometer on the truck. When receiving delivery, have your own calibrated thermometer handy to double check every temperature.

3. Checking with your senses

When receiving shipments, your senses of sight, smell, taste and touch are invaluable tools.

You should look for:
  • Anything that’s a strange or abnormal color
  • Freshness, is there mold or products that look like they’re going bad
  • Large ice crystals on frozen foods
  • Broken, leaking, dented or otherwise damaged packaging
  • Broken seals on containers
  • Pests, droppings or other signs of pests
  • Thawed goods that should be frozen
  • Moisture stains on dry goods packaging
  • Expiry Dates
  • Problems below the first layer of any fresh product, to ensure the entire shipment is good quality — the best products will likely be displayed on the top layer
You should smell for:
  • Anything that doesn’t smell right, like rotten or musty food
  • Meat, poultry or fish that doesn’t smell fresh
You should feel for:
  • Anything that’s wet that should be dry, like the bottom of your produce box
  • Anything that should be cold or frozen and is not
  • Anything that’s soft that should be firm (particularly produce)
  • Texture of fresh meat and seafood
  • The weight of boxes are as expected (E.x. a 25 lb box of chicken wings should feel like just that)
You should taste for:
  • Anything that tastes off. There’s no rule you can’t taste a bit of a shipment to make sure it’s fresh and good quality.

4. Checking labels and paperwork

Once the product itself is determined to be acceptable, move on to the labels and paperwork, which contain some vital information.

Check for:

  • The expiry dates, to ensure that product is not out of date when you receive it, or likely to go out of date before you’re able to use it all
  • Labels containing ingredient information (necessary for allergy safety)
  • If there has been a recall, check the lot codes to help determine if your product is safe or not
  • Government or regulatory body stamps on any regulated foods
  • Tags on any tagged seafood (and make sure you keep the tags for at least 90 days)

If all the paperwork is in order, the shipment has been thoroughly checked and is ready to be accepted and stored.

Make sure you hang onto copies of all invoices and receipts for your restaurant’s records!

Any food that is unacceptable by the person or people in charge of receiving should simply be returned to the supplier for exchange or credit. Keeping track online is easiest – here’s how you can say goodbye to paper invoices, and simplify your records.

It takes some time, training and dedication to check every shipment as thoroughly as it needs to be checked. The safety and satisfaction of your guests depends on it, and fresh, high quality shipments create the foundation for amazing meals you can serve.

Want to learn more about streamlining your restaurant’s operations and inventory? Read our guide to Restaurant Accounting & Inventory