Five steps to reducing waste

Written by: Jane Handel

5 Steps to Reducing Waste

The Impact of Food Waste

It’s estimated that US Restaurants generate between 22 and 33 billion pounds of food waste every year,  resulting in an enormous environmental impact, and a big dent to profit margins. In fact, the restaurant industry throws away $25 billion worth of food every year.

Waste stretches beyond the physical, say, head of lettuce you’re throwing in the trash. First, the resources required to produce that vegetable have been wasted: consider the energy, water, fertilizer, equipment and labor that takes to produce that ingredient, and the same for any packaging required. Next, add in the space it took up in the crop, and the gas and labor required to transport it first to your vendor, and then to your restaurant. Don’t forget the amount of time your staff spent taking inventory and prepping the ingredient—and, once it goes bad, the cost for waste removal, and all that goes into processing it when it arrives at the dump. Tossing that limp iceberg lettuce is really just, well, the tip of the iceberg when it comes to waste. In addition to the wasted resources and food miles, you end up essentially throwing cash into the trash.
The EPA estimates that food waste is the single largest category in any given landfill. This translates to a big strain on the environment—believe it or not, food waste is directly responsible for generating a potent greenhouse gas.

In landfills, which are tightly packed, there’s no oxygen to help food matter break down, and the nutrients from the wasted food can’t go back into soil. Instead, surrounded by garbage and plastic waste, the trapped food rots and produces methane gas. With so much food waste in landfills, it’s easy to see why it has become such a major source of methane gas in our atmosphere. 

The good news? Much of this waste is avoidable. Investing effort in better waste-reduction practices means a bigger return for your bottom line, as well as the planet. A recent study confirmed that when restaurants prioritize taking action to prevent food waste, they save an average of $7 for every single $1 invested.

Below are five tips to help your restaurant reduce its waste for healthier profits, and a healthier earth.

1. Leverage data to identify waste at the source

It may seem obvious, but the first step in preventing waste is understanding where the waste is coming from.

The right solution will fully integrate your POS with your inventory management system, so you can log food waste both on the POS to automatically update quantities on hand and in the solution itself to complete the tracking for items that get thrown away before they’re even sold. This integration also means you can easily see what’s being ordered by guests (and what isn’t) and correlate that data with, for example, the profitability of a particular dish. With complete and accurate data flowing through the systems, you’ll also be able to see ingredients that are being prepped only to be thrown away, inventory that’s expiring before it can get used, and what dishes guests are unable to finish. 

The key is to have up-to-date, complete and accurate data so you can identify trends and isolate the problem areas with confidence. You’ll gain valuable insight into where changes can be made to maximize your savings and minimize your costs and environmental impact. 

2. Understand the trends and optimize your menu 

Are certain menu items regularly unfinished by your guests? This could suggest your portion size is off. Take another look at the recipe and adjust it accordingly. You can also consider investing in smaller plates, so adjusted portions can still look and feel generous.

Do you find one ingredient is consistently expiring before it can be used? Perhaps too much is being ordered all at once. Or, it may be that the ingredient is only used in a certain dish that may not be as popular on the menu. 

Again, the right technology will help here. The right recipe and menu engineering tool will help you identify these trends (and others), so you can optimize your menu and tweak or remove dishes that are unpopular or unprofitable, or those that use niche ingredients. 

3. Track vendor performance to limit waste from inaccurate deliveries

Many restaurants end up paying for things they didn’t order, or paying for something that wasn’t delivered after all. This results in scrambling to purchase what was needed, or ending up with a surplus of ingredients without a purpose—a recipe for wasted time and wasted food. It all comes down to a simple but frequent error when tracking deliveries.

The key here is to automate the invoice and delivery process: a 3-way invoice match (with the original order, the goods-received note, and the invoice itself) will ensure that your team has everything they requested, and are only paying for what’s actually been delivered. Discrepancies are caught immediately. And, with a tool that allows you to manage these invoices by exception and on the go, your team will be able to figure out what’s missing while there’s still a chance to make it right.

Tracking your vendors’ performance is critical when it comes to protecting your bottom line and reducing waste. Seeing how each vendor performs in terms of on-time deliveries, product quality, order accuracy and correct invoicing can help your restaurant focus on the vendors who deliver the right inventory at the right time at the right price, so you always have what you need. That all adds up to less wasted time and product, while ensuring that guest favorites are always available.

4. Better manage your inventory

Managing your inventory is really the heart of the matter: if you always have what you need, when you need it, you won’t end up with much waste. Over-buying and under-buying are the biggest culprits when it comes to wasted resources in the kitchen and wasted cash with last-minute rogue or ad-hoc purchases. 

With the right analytics tool, you can also forecast demand more accurately. Algorithms that take into account historical data, upcoming holidays, trends, weather, and events will be able to predict what menu items will be ordered, so you can make sure you’re prepared. This not only helps reduce wasted food, but also eliminates wasted prep, helps plan labor more accurately, and ensures that guest favorites are available, further increasing your profitability.

You should also think twice about bulk ordering perishable items. They may seem tempting, but you could end up losing more if you end up throwing away unused ingredients. The right data will help you identify what you’ll be using, so you can buy only what you need, while identifying the right opportunities for buying in larger quantities. 

To reduce unnecessary costs, keep up with current events affecting agriculture (for example, wild fires or droughts) that may impact your supply chain, and drive up costs on things like fresh produce. Being able to easily adjust your menu and recipes to mitigate pricing fluctuations can have a positive impact on your bottom line.

And finally, make sure you properly track product expiration dates. Knowing what you have (labeled clearly) and tracking what to use up first means you are maximizing the availability of each product for your chefs, and minimizing the amount that has to get thrown away.

5. Get creative

Some waste is inevitable. But with the right insights, you can plan around it, and find creative solutions to help minimize it.

On the ingredient level, wastage should be taken into consideration so for every recipe, you can account for planned waste and ingredient shrinkage. That way, the volume that you need will be available, instead of having to scramble and purchase something at the last second. 

For food or ingredients that have been prepped but can’t be repurposed or used, there may be opportunities in your community to donate leftovers. 

But what about the rest, the bits and pieces that result from prep?

Can bones and peels be made into a rich stock? Can scraps be reimagined into new, innovative dishes that can turn a profit? Consumers are gravitating towards environmentally-conscious eateries, and savvy restaurant owners are seizing the opportunity to rethink kitchen waste.

Finally, what can’t be used or repurposed on your menu should then be composted, where it can break down properly, return nutrients to the soil, and stay out of the landfills. 


Reducing food waste may feel like a daunting task but the right technology can help you tackle it. And, a fully-integrated system will help you cut paper waste, too.

To learn how your restaurant can increase profit while decreasing waste, download—don’t print!—our complimentary white paper.

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