Cost ReductionStaff

Reducing Food Waste

According to a study conducted at the University of Arizona, 9.55 percent and 11.3 percent of the total amount of purchased food for fast-food and full-service restaurants respectively goes to waste. With food costs being second only to labor for restaurant expenses, finding a way reduce food waste proves not only beneficial to the planet, but good for your bottom line as well.

Fortunately, there is a proven method for determining where you are throwing away dollars and what you can do to change it.  

Step One

Take stock. In order to implement a functional waste management system, you need to find out just what you’re buying that’s ending up in the trash instead of on people’s plates. If you want to be really accurate, waste tracking systems such as LeanPath have been designed with this specific task in mind.

This automated solution includes a built-in scale, camera and touchscreen. Before unused trimmings, expired items, or excessive prep finds its way to the garbage bin, place the food on the scale, let the camera take a picture, answer a few questions, and let the magic of technology do the rest. The computer calculates specific details such as top food wasted, most common reasons, and waste by stations. It then suggests the best options to reduce waste.

If you’re planning on tackling this step on your own, set aside a scale specifically for the purpose and make sure your employees take the time to place food on it before it becomes trash. Instruct them to record why it’s being thrown out.

Step Two

Consider the common reasons for food waste in restaurants:

  • Food gone bad. Spoiled food, whether refrigerated or dry, tells you you’re over-purchasing or have not put in place a FIFO (First-In First-Out) food system that is working. If your employees have been doing their job correctly, you’ll be able to tell just which part of the equation needs some tweaking. For instance, you may notice that your homemade blue cheese dressing or sourdough bread is finding its way to your trash list much more than you expected.

Train staff on a functional FIFO storage system. This means that upon receiving goods they will inspect them for freshness and an expiration date, and then place them in their appropriate place behind older products. 

  • Prep-mania. In an effort to produce quality food in record time, your prep chefs may be cutting, chopping and stirring too much of a good thing. Once you’ve taken stock of where your trash is coming from for a few weeks, you’ll have a strong sense of were to cut back in this area. It could be that your menu needs some re-sculpting, as well.
  • Trimming, whether from produce or meats, is often underused. If your chef is uninspired by what is left behind, consider creating a competition that all your staff can get involved in. The winner is the one that comes up with the most creative and inspired use for the common trimmings you produce. If you find this method more trouble than it’s worth, consider precut items that can end up saving you some money when you consider the part of the product that is actually used and the amount of labor that it takes to get to the heart of the matter.
  • Mile-high plates. I once worked with a chef who was a master at his craft, but had somehow developed the belief that more was better. When wandering through the dining area, you could often hear remarks such as, “I could never eat all this!” or “Oh. I hate the thought of wasting so much good food.” A study conducted by Unilever was very revealing. Almost 50 percent of diners interviewed said that they would spend more in order to eat at a restaurant that actively tried to reduce their food waste. Take a few days to take stock of just what is coming back on your plates at the end of guest’s meals. While you may not be experiencing excessive spoilage or over-stocked goods, your trash cans may be filling up with what should have been left in the refrigerator.

If you think reducing waste in a restaurant is a challenge akin to climbing K2, consider Sandwich Me In, a restaurant in Chicago that has managed to become a no waste producer. I know…amazing. To hear his story, check out this short clip on YouTube:

There are also options as to where food on the edge ends up. Several non-profit organizations are feeding the homeless by picking up otherwise unused food from restaurants. Rescuing Leftover Cuisine, a New York-based organization, has picked up over a million pounds of food and delivered almost 900,000 meals since its humble beginnings in 2013.


Cost ReductionStaff
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