10 Proven Tips to Reduce Food Waste in Your Restaurant
By Dallas Henderson
Food waste is a huge problem in our country. Approximately 35 percent of the U.S. food supply is tossed out, and our total waste has tripled since 1960, according to a report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Today, we discard more than 1,000 calories per person per day – that’s enough to feed more than 150 million people annually! The United States throws away more food than any other country in the world: nearly 80 billion pounds per year. In an attempt to curb this massive problem, the EPA and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) have set a goal to cut waste in half by 2030.
After two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, an escalating Russian-Ukrainian conflict, soaring prices, and a failing supply chain, it’s more important than ever to reduce food waste – as well as the expense, time, energy, and other resources associated with discarded food. At a time when every dollar counts – and supplies are difficult or expensive to get – it’s in your best interest to reduce food waste in your restaurant. Here are some proven tips to accomplish this:
- Rely on data. Many restaurants are inadvertently practicing wasteful behaviors, and a huge part of the problem is the lack of accurate, comprehensive data. Many restaurants still rely on manual systems (like spreadsheets) or disjointed tech stacks that require redundant, time-consuming, error-prone data entry. These approaches won’t provide a full, accurate picture of your business, which means you’re relying on gut instinct rather than data. Digital tools allow you to look at data for a better understanding of food order patterns, individual dish sell rates, etc., which helps you make smarter decisions. For instance, a POS system tracks inventory to ensure you’re only buying what you need and helps staff track products and use-by dates to prevent wastage.
- Use food more efficiently. Use every scrap of food to reduce waste. Excess greens can be reinvented as pesto. “Ugly” produce can turn into sauce or salsa. Vegetable scraps, as well as chicken, fish, and meat bones, make delicious homemade stocks and broths. Day-old bread is perfect for croutons or breadcrumbs. Challenge your team to develop daily specials that use leftovers and excess ingredients in new ways. This empowers them to be solutions-focused and feel invested your waste reduction efforts.
- Modify your menu. Look at data and reports to determine your best-selling items, and then eliminate less popular dishes to reduce waste. A more streamlined menu means you can use your inventory faster and more efficiently. You’ll also need to buy fewer ingredients and can turn over these items before they spoil. Also, consider other menu modifications, such as offering different portion sizes (such as a half-size option) for guests with smaller appetites.
- Be thoughtful about your suppliers. Pick your vendors and suppliers carefully, ensuring that they’re ethical and committed to safe and eco-friendly business practices. There are now affordable, accessible tech solutions that allow restaurants to track supplier certifications to ensure vendors are consistently practicing proper food safety and quality protocols. Work only with suppliers that deliver good, fresh, safe, high-quality products.
- Practice good stock control. Organize your inventory so the oldest ingredients are up front so they’re the easiest to grab and the first to be used. Proper stock rotation will help minimize food spoilage and waste.
- Stop over buying, prepping, and cooking. Use data to determine how much food you’ll need to buy and prepare for any given time period. Tech tools can help you identify historical patterns, including which shifts are busiest (and slowest), and which menu items are best (and worst) sellers. Rely on reports to determine how much food to buy and prepare.
- Store food safely. Monitor your refrigerators and freezers to be certain they’re staying at the proper temperatures for safe food storage. Install digital sensors that alert employees if the equipment veers out of the safe range so they can immediately rectify the situation (and save the food from spoiling). Invest in a generator that will run your refrigerator and freezers in the event of a power outage, so you won’t have to discard any food afterwards.
- Donate unused food. Food insecurity is a huge problem in our country, and the pandemic exacerbated this problem for many. Increasingly, restaurants are donating their leftovers to local food banks. In most cities, there are organizations that will pick up unused foods to share with the food insecure in the local community. Organizations like Goodr, a food waste management company, connect restaurants with excess food with non-profits that will gladly accept their surplus to give to those in need. · Recycle and compost. Food takes up more space in US landfills than anything else. Recycle what you can so your waste doesn’t end up in landfills. And compost your food scraps, like fruit and vegetable peelings, old bread, eggshells, and coffee grounds. Local farmers and gardeners will gladly accept your nutrient-rich compost! Farmers will also welcome food scraps to feed their livestock.
- Implement a waste reduction mindset. Train your staff about food safety, including how to store foods correctly, cook to proper temperatures, and monitor equipment (such as walk-ins) to avoid costly food spoilage. Use tech solutions, like Quality Management Systems, to reduce waste. Make decisions and implement protocols with waste reduction always top-of-mind. Be sure that managers implement eco-friendly practices for employees to replicate, and that company leaders practice what they preach.
- Recognize that all waste matters. Food waste is not the only problem plaguing today’s restaurants. Work to reduce single-use plastics by using silverware instead of plasticware. Incentivize customers to bring their own takeout containers and refillable cups. Use reusable napkins rather than paper, eliminate straws, stop using paper menus. Think of different ways to reduce waste throughout your restaurant and you’ll save money and the environment.
There are numerous (and important) benefits of waste reduction at your restaurant. You’ll cut costs, improve profit margins, help feed the food insecure, and have a positive impact on the environment. This is a win-win proposition, so be proactive in your efforts to reduce (or eliminate) food waste. These proven tips will help you run your restaurant more efficiently, profitably, and sustainably.
Dallas Henderson, a 25-year veteran of the service industry, is an Account Manager at RizePoint. RizePoint is disrupting traditional market software with their innovative, new product platform Ignite™ Supplier Certification Management, which helps small to medium sized businesses simplify the supplier certification and maintenance process. To discuss RizePoint’s solutions, contact Dallas at [email protected].
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