How to conduct a food waste audit to help reduce waste

By Andreas Mettler|May 2, 2023|12:15 pm CDT

Are your margins impacted by the cost of food waste? Food waste is a problem that affects everyone, and the restaurant industry is one of the biggest contributors to waste generation. For example, around 85% of uneaten food in American restaurants is thrown away, and only 14% is recycled. Moreover, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, one-third of all food produced globally is lost or wasted.

Food waste in hotels is also an issue and the information below can be helpful for hotel operators as well.

Luckily, you can address this issue by conducting a restaurant food waste audit. A food waste audit is a procedure that pinpoints the types and amounts of discarded food to develop effective waste management strategies. It involves carrying out an initiative to gather, assess, and document data on restaurant food waste.

By doing so, you can identify areas where you can improve your waste management and waste reduction practices.

But why conduct a food waste audit?

Why conduct a food waste audit?

Conducting a food waste audit involves a thorough analysis to determine the causes, types, and quantities of solid waste and food waste produced by a restaurant. In doing so, proper actions can be taken to effectively tackle the problem. There are also many other reasons why conducting a food waste audit is crucial in your restaurant operations. They include:

  1. To identify the source of waste: Conducting a food waste audit allows restaurants to determine the areas where they’re wasting food the most. This could be in the kitchen during food preparation, in the dining room when customers don’t finish their meals, or in the storage area where food expires before it’s used. By understanding the source of food waste, restaurants can take steps to reduce waste and costs. You can also enhance your restaurant food waste audit and promote profitability by adopting inventory management solutions as part of your waste management procedures.
  1. To develop waste management strategies and processes: Other than identifying the source of waste, an audit can also help determine the causes of waste which will enable you to implement processes and policies. For example, your staff can be trained to handle leftovers more effectively. It can also help them determine the right portion size for each dish to reduce the amount of surplus food. Likewise, reducing the food portion served in one order can also help reduce regularly wasting extra servings. Moreover, you could use recipe and menu management solutions to help with maintaining food quality and portion size, eliminate guesswork from menu creation, and set accurate menu prices—therefore, maximizing margins.
  1. To reduce costs and improve your bottom line: Reducing food waste can significantly reduce costs. When a restaurant understands how much food they waste, they can remedy the situation before it gets worse. The cost of food waste is more than just the cost of the food—it also includes labor and energy costs, and other resources used to produce, deliver, and store the food. By reducing solid waste through a food waste audit, restaurants can reduce costs on these extra expenses, which can dramatically improve your bottom line. Moreover, you can further reduce labor costs by streamlining and automating your supply chain management process using ordering and purchase processing technologies to enable effective communications between your teams and suppliers across your inventory lifecycle.
  1. To reduce environmental impact: Food waste has a significant planetary impact. When food is wasted, it ends up in landfills, where it produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas. It also wastes the resources used to produce food like water, energy, and fertilizer. By reducing food waste, restaurants can help reduce their environmental impact and contribute to a more sustainable food system.
  2. To improve customer satisfaction: Both restaurants and customers don’t like to see food thrown out. By reducing food waste, restaurants can improve customer satisfaction by showing their commitment to sustainability and reducing the amount of food that goes uneaten or unused. This can lead to increased customer loyalty and positive word-of-mouth advertising.
  3. To remain compliant: Certain cities and states in the US have regulations in place to reduce food waste. For example, in 2016, California passed a law requiring restaurants to reduce their food waste by 75% in 2030. By running a food waste audit, you can ensure you comply with similar regulations and avoid potential fines.

Steps to conducting a restaurant food waste audit

By now, you should already be aware of some of the reasons why conducting a food waste audit can be a valuable tool for reducing solid waste, saving money, and improving your restaurant operations. But how do you conduct a food waste audit in your restaurant? Below are the steps that you can take to gain insights into your operations, identify opportunities for improvement, and take action to reduce restaurant food waste:

  1. Set goals and objectives: Define what you hope to achieve through the food waste audit like reducing solid waste, saving money, improving sustainability, and more.
  2. Prepare the necessary materials. A big area that allows you to organize multiple bags of food waste is crucial. It’s recommended to choose several bags from the same week to have a snapshot of waste generated. You’ll also need a large table, different buckets to split your waste by type, protective equipment, and a scale to measure the weight of the waste.
  3. Build a team and assign champions: Choose a team of individuals responsible for conducting the audit, including staff members from various teams like the kitchen staff, serving staff, and management.
  4. Gather data: Collect data on the amount and types of excess food in various areas of the restaurant, including the kitchen, dining room, and storage areas.
  5. Label waste: Categorize the waste into different types like spoilage, overproduction, trimmings, and leftovers.
  6. Analyze the data: Analyze the data collected to identify trends and patterns in your waste generation like the most wasted food items, the time of day or week when waste is highest, and the reasons for excess food.
  7. Find opportunities for improvement: Use data analysis to identify areas where waste can be reduced or avoided. This may involve applying new policies or procedures like zero waste policies, changing portion sizes and/or menu items, or training employees in waste reduction best practices.
  8. Create an action plan: Develop an action plan to implement the changes identified, including timelines and responsibilities for each step.
  9. Monitor progress: Regularly monitor progress to assess the effectiveness of the food waste reduction strategies and adjust them accordingly.
  10. Consider using inventory management technologies: Consider utilizing comprehensive inventory and purchase-to-pay management solutions that aid in recipe management and provide insights into the financial impact of food waste on your profit margins. These tools enable you to manage tail spending and enhance your cash flow—resulting in improved profitability, operations, and more.
  11. Use food waste apps: Food waste apps, such as Mimica Touch helps users indicate the freshness of a food item. The labels they produce use temperature-sensitive indicator technology on their labels which uses gelatin to mimic the decay process in food. When food is no longer suitable for consumption, the label forms bumps as it breaks down.

Download the Steps to conducting a restaurant food waste audit.

Calculating restaurant food waste and food loss

In addition to conducting a food waste audit, you could also benefit from measuring the amount of food loss and food waste. Below are some of the steps you could take:

Source: Food and Agriculture Organization 2011

  1. Pick a trial period: The first step is to choose a trial period to calculate food waste. Instead of conducting a complete change of your restaurant’s inventory management processes, start by monitoring your waste for specific periods at a time.
  2. Throw restaurant food waste into specific trash cans: Restaurant food waste comes from three main sources: expired food, customer plates, and food prep. You’ll need to split it as your restaurant operates through a shift. Purchase three separate garbage cans—one for each food waste source and ask your employees to throw away all food waste accordingly.
  3. Weigh your food waste: At the end of every shift, weigh each of your food waste trash cans using an industrial scale. Record the numbers, ideally in your inventory management system, to organize your results. At the end of the month, you’ll have restaurant food waste totals (by weight) from each category.
  4. Compare your food waste totals: Compare your food waste totals with your inventory and sales numbers to gain an accurate picture of where you stand. According to Food Print, So, your goal should be near that.
  5. Inform your restaurant staff: Inform your employees about the importance of the task. It’ll make sure that the restaurant continues to thrive in the long run, and they’ll be contributing to a lower environmental impact. You’ll need their participation to accurately calculate your restaurant food waste.
  6. Break down your food waste further: Once you have your initial food waste data from your trial month, break down your food waste even further by splitting all your wasted ingredients into categories like meat, dairy, fish, grains, vegetables, spices, and others. This should show where restaurant food waste is coming from. You may be surprised to know some of your dishes are often returned to the kitchen.
  7. Focus on how you can improve the situation, not the numbers: When most restaurant owners and operators measure their food waste for the first time, they’re often shocked by the amount of food that’s thrown away monthly. But don’t worry about these numbers. Instead, focus on what you can do to improve the situation. Research has shown that for every dollar a restaurant spends in preventing food waste, they make around $7 in potential profit.

Conducting a restaurant food waste audit is just the start

Conducting a food waste audit is an important step toward a profitable and sustainable business. Understanding where your food waste is coming from allows you to make a lasting impact that transforms the efficiency and profitability of your business over time. Waste less food and you’ll reduce costs and prepare your restaurant for a future of continued success.

For example, the fine dining restaurant, Lion Fish in San Diego made sustainability a part of its mission. It only uses seafood from local eco-friendly suppliers and has recycling schemes in place to reduce solid waste, do good for the environment, and improve profits.

The casual restaurant, Rhodora in Brooklyn has also created momentum. It aims to become the first zero-waste wine bar nationally, serving natural and organic wines. It only uses ethical suppliers and products that can be composted, recycled, or upcycled. But carrying out a food waste audit is just one of the first steps to wasting less restaurant food. Using the right technology is crucial in transforming your waste management and waste reduction strategies.

Check out Fourth’s inventory and recipe management solutions to discover the innovative technologies you can use to streamline your operations, for a truly profitable and zero-waste restaurant business. If you haven’t yet, you could also read our article about the surprising statistics on restaurant food waste in America.

Food waste audit FAQ

  • How do you assess food waste?
    • Waste management can take many forms. You can take all the necessary steps in a food waste audit, such as identifying your goals, creating an assessment plan, identifying the necessary logistics, collecting data, analyzing the results, and improving your process based on the data gathered.
  • How do you measure food waste?
    • You can start your journey in measuring food waste in your restaurant by setting your scope and defining what food loss and food waste mean to your business. You can then take action by picking a trial period, preparing the necessary equipment, and training your staff on how to best dispose of food waste.

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