Restaurants Save up to 10% on Food Costs by Reducing Waste

Half uneaten steaks and vegetables on wooden plates. Finished meal with leftovers in a restaurant.

Restaurants Save up to 10% on Food Costs by Reducing Waste

85% of Food in Restaurants Is Wasted

According to the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, in the restaurant industry, about 85% of food ends up in the trash. This translates to a substantial profit loss as money that is invested in food does not in fact produce a profit. This is one of the trickiest parts of restaurant managing because food waste can be hard to track and evaluate. 

A simple fact, however, is that reducing waste is guaranteed to increase your restaurant’s net profit. A recent study by the Champions 12.3 coalition found that for every $1 a restaurant invested in reducing food waste it made a return of $7. Even a small time and effort investment in this area will pay off within the first month.

Reducing food waste can do more than help you save a few bucks. It has various environmental benefits like keeping food out of landfills, and even social benefits thanks to charities that fight hunger. 

So whether you’re looking to increase your margins, help out the environment or both, this is where you can start. 

Types of Food Waste

There are many tricks, protocols and systems you can implement to significantly reduce waste at your establishment. But before we dive in, let’s understand what is waste, exactly. Generally, restaurants produce three types of waste.

  • Pre-Consumer Food Waste: food that spoiled, expired, was improperly cooked or served, spilled by employees, staff meals, theft, remedied customer complaints, or otherwise thrown away. This is the only category where the control over how much is being wasted is entirely in your hands. 
  • Post-Consumer Food Waste: food that diners left on their plates. Whether they were too full or that the food wasn’t to their liking, the bottom line is that these perfectly edible leftovers ended up in the trash.
  • Disposables: all waste that is not food. Plastic bags, packaging, napkins, disposable plates and utensils, and so on. 

Categorizing, weighing and marking your waste makes it easier to keep track of it and reuse it later.

First Things First: Waste Audit

Without conducting a waste audit you will not know the amount of food waste you produce. Doing this is not about eliminating waste altogether, which would be impossible. Accidents happen, customers aren’t always happy and the fact is that not every bit of food always makes it to the plate and from there to the diner’s belly. But not knowing how much of your supplies are being wasted and for what reason means you can never know exactly what you’re losing and what you can be earning.

Get into the habit of sorting the waste every day based on how you dispose of it. Separate paper, plastic, glass and cardboard, which are recyclable, food that can be redirected as compost, or simply landfill.  

Weigh and record all the different categories. Keep a journal and write down the results of daily waste audits. Make sure that your food log system includes weights, categories and the reason for throwing it out. This would make it that much easier to spot when rotten or expired food gets thrown away.

Another useful thing is automated inventory tracking systems. These help keep track of what’s sold and actually consumed every shift and what products sit until they go bad. An automated system connected to a supplier that can work with it and modify your orders accordingly will help reduce over ordering and waste. It can be tempting to buy in bulk and your supplier might even push it on you if they are offering a good deal. But it is important to be firm and only purchase ingredients your restaurant actually uses. Most importantly, work with a supplier that can adapt to your needs and not lead you to buy food or quantities that are then left to spoil in storage.

You Wouldn’t Believe How Much Proper Storage Can Save You

Storing foods under the appropriate conditions is crucial for preserving their quality, shelf life and for ensuring they can be used when an order comes in.

Starting with your freezer and fridge, make sure the temperature is suitable for the meat and frozen food you keep in stock (0° F). A different temperature will be needed for vegetables and fruits, of course (35°-38° F). Temperature control is vital for the prevention of pathogenic bacteria. Pay attention to food safety both for the sake of your diners’ health and to avoid unnecessary waste.

When receiving deliveries, pay attention to the label of products. Check the expiration dates, lot and batch numbers before you stock them. Perishables in airtight containers should be marked by date of arrival and expiry. The good news for these foods is that they can be sun-dried or dehydrated for future use in desserts, salads and more. In any case, keep low risk foods on higher shelves and your perishables more visible so there’s a higher chance they’ll get used first. 

Get Your Employees Onboard

Like anything in the restaurant business, it’s nearly impossible to do it alone. You’ll need your kitchen staff, waiters and back of house employees to be onboard with your waste reduction initiative, otherwise it won’t take off. 

Nominate a team who will be in charge of managing (sorting and logging) the trash. It is important to get them into the habit of recording waste during and at the end of every shift. If there’s no one responsible for doing this food audits will be inconsistent at best, and impossible to perform at worst.

Next, train your staff. Starting with your cooks, who can be taught how to cut, dice, strip and so on to minimize waste and to preserve vegetables, fruits or meat longer. A great method to implement is FIFO – First In, First Out, a stock rotation system which ensures that whatever food was purchased first gets used first. Another thing they need to be taught is portion control. Don’t just leave it up to the cooks to size up dishes randomly as this often results in oversized portions and jumbo side dishes that customers are most likely to leave on the plate. Instead, teach them to work with recipes and give them proper measurement tools to help them keep portions in check.

Observe your waiters. How much food is being spilled or left standing on the counter until it arrives cold to the customer, who then sends it back? Training new waiters and investing in proper server trays can help reduce waste as well. Do the same with busboys, sanitation employees and other staff who might be producing waste. And when hiring new employees, get them on your waste reduction culture right away. 

Pay more attention to your customers. Do the ramekins for sides of condiments come back full? If so, you might want to start asking them what condiments your guests would like with their burger or salad, if at all. Are the customers eating everything on the plate? If not, do these come back to the kitchen half eaten or do the customers usually ask for leftover boxes? If they ask to take the food home with them, then the problem is probably not with the quality of the food but with the portions. Do what you can to reduce portion sizes without letting your guests go hungry.

Waste Is Unavoidable, But It Can Be Put to Good Use

While eliminating waste altogether is not possible, reducing it is not as hard as some restaurateurs might think. The smallest change, like switching from paper napkins to cloth ones can help you reduce waste and save more than a few bucks. 

But what about the waste that is produced? There are many ways in which it can be reappropriated to save costs or at least help the environment. Visit the blog to learn more about how to turn leftovers into a profit.

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