How to reduce food waste in your restaurant

By Andreas Mettler|May 2, 2023|12:14 pm CDT

Reducing food waste in your restaurant can greatly lower your production costs. But doing so isn’t always easy. In the US, a staggering 22-33 billion pounds of food are wasted yearly by restaurants—costing American businesses $74bn for food waste alone. While 9.5 million tons of food waste are produced yearly in the UK, followed by Australia at 7.6 million. But what are the types of food wasted in restaurants?

The most common types of food waste in restaurants

As you could already imagine, a large amount of food is wasted daily. According to Move for Hunger, half a pound of food gets wasted per meal in restaurants, and 85% of food that isn’t commonly used in American restaurants is thrown away.

Only a small percentage of food is donated or recycled, if at all. These are the common types of food waste in restaurants:

  1. Leftovers or uneaten food

Leftovers are usually excess food that remains unconsumed after preparation in restaurants, households, and other establishments. In restaurants, the food waste ranges from food returned to the kitchen and half-eaten meals to produce no longer needed for the day. It’s estimated that the American restaurant industry—along with grocery stores and food service companies—make up 40% of food waste in the US. This also adds to wasted resources like water and croplands used to grow the wasted food.

Roadmap to 2030: Reducing U.S. Food Waste by 50% and the ReFED Insights Engine

In the United States alone, surplus food is responsible for:

Source: ReFed

  1. Food that has expired or gone bad

Around 10% of food bought by restaurants is discarded due to extensive menus requiring a larger inventory that doesn’t get used before food expires, for example. Moreover, inappropriate storage and under-utilized food trimmings and scraps lead to food spoilage, resulting in added food waste in restaurants. This is very common at buffets where leftovers can’t be reused or donated due to legal restrictions and risks with involuntarily giving away expired food. Not to mention buffets often ensure there’s enough food and stock every day regardless of how busy it may get. But without access to available technologies that accurately forecast demand and inventory needs, this adds to overall production costs. So, what are the strategies you need to know about food waste reduction?

Proven ways to reduce food waste in restaurants

Much of the food wasted is often edible. Reasons include overproduction, overstocking, inaccurate forecasting, processing issues, and more. This amounts to over 900 million tons of food wasted globally, according to UNEP Food Waste Index Report. It’s clear that these numbers are all too high and below are the steps you can take to reduce food waste:

1. Conduct regular waste audits in your restaurant

A food waste audit identifies the amount and types of waste produced to plan the proper actions and waste management systems to implement. In our experience, the latter is crucial since restaurants and other businesses that don’t have effective waste management systems can lose between 1% and 6% in potential sales. While restaurants that have systems in place experience, at least, a 2% increase in profit according to World Research Institute.

Here’s how to conduct a food waste audit in your restaurant:

2. Implement an inventory control program

As mentioned earlier, investing in an inventory management solution is one of your first steps to reducing food waste. But this alone can’t solve all your problems. Having a robust inventory control program is also key to reducing food waste. Inventory control refers to a controlled process that ensures the availability of all products and supplies based on consumer demands. It aims to reduce warehouse space, order accurate amounts of supplies, and create better vendor relationships. Below are the steps to get started:

3. Set zero waste policies

Setting up zero waste policies could significantly reduce the waste produced in your restaurant by composting, reusing, and recycling resources. The aim is to prevent 90% of your restaurant waste from landing in landfills while turning your restaurant into a more profitable and sustainable business. According to National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) report, American diners don’t only care about good food but also sustainable options. Of course, British restaurants and diners love this idea too.

Inside London’s ‘zero waste’ restaurant – FT Food Revolution

Source: Financial Times

There are ways to get started on your zero-waste policies. For example, you can measure what and how much food you throw out. Below are a few steps that can help you get closer to setting up zero-waste policies in your restaurant:

4. Implement a consistent recipe management procedure

Implementing a recipe management process can help you maintain food consistency, reduce costs, and set accurate menu prices. Doing so will reduce food waste and prevent unwanted changes to your recipe. Having a recipe management process in place is—without a doubt—a must-have for restaurant operators and a comprehensive recipe and menu management software is what makes it all possible. But what does a recipe management program involve?

The traditional methods of recipe management include listing all ingredients, counting the prices and quantities needed, and adding the total cost including labor. It’s a laborious manual process that also leaves many opportunities for errors. But with an innovative recipe and menu management solution, you’ll be able to create menus, ensure consistency and quality and maximize profit without limiting your creativity. Below are the qualities you should look for when looking for a solution to complement your recipe management process. It should:

The road to reducing food waste through tech

While no method eliminates all food waste in restaurants, implementing processes and technologies that help manage your inventory and recipe needs are recommended first steps to food waste reduction. But to be a profitable and sustainable restaurant, you’ll need to understand how much food waste you and the restaurant industry produce and what you can do to help.

Food waste FAQ

  • How do restaurants reduce food waste?
    • Reducing food waste in restaurants should start in the kitchen and with your staff. You could conduct regular food waste audits and implement zero waste policies for a starter. Moreover, you could make it a common practice in your restaurant to offer guests a doggy bag to take leftover food home with them, so they could eat it later.
  • What happens to food waste in restaurants?
    • Food waste from restaurants and other sources that aren’t recycled or composted will go to landfills and contribute to the production of methane, which is a biogas that goes straight to the atmosphere and speeds up the process of climate change.
  • Why is food waste a problem in restaurants?
    • Food waste is a global issue that has an environmental, human, and economic impact. For restaurants, it can negatively affect profits and increase costs associated with labor and inventory.

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