Restaurant Food Waste: 5 Tips to Minimize This Massive Problem

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Food is money. Yet $1.6 billion of it is thrown away each year by US restaurants alone.

How much money is lost on restaurant food waste?

As if that weren’t enough, food waste is costing restaurants $6.4 billion due to added labor and disposal costs. Food waste is a large expense for many businesses, but it doesn’t have to be.

How do you minimize restaurant food waste?

If you’re wondering how to reduce food waste in restaurants, you’ve come to the right place. Seeing how much food restaurants waste is enough to make any restaurant owner’s stomach churn. How do you minimize restaurant food wastage? Thinking about the portion size of meals is key, but beyond that, you’ll want to ensure proper inventory management, take a look at your menu, and make sure your staff is properly trained.

What are five tips to reduce restaurant food waste?

1. Assess Your Menu Offerings
2. Adjust Your Purchasing
3. Track Your Food Waste
4. Ensure Proper Storage
5. Train Your Staff Properly

1. Assess Your Menu Offerings

Did you know that 4-10% of food at your restaurant doesn’t even make it to a plate? The main reasons for this include overstocking, overproduction, and spoilage. Fortunately, all of these problems can be minimized. The first step to reducing food waste is to assess your menu offerings. Using data collected from your point of sale and back office software, you can evaluate dishes in terms of demand, volume, and profitability. You should focus on meals that can be produced effectively and with strong margins, and remove those that result in wasted batches.

2. Adjust Your Purchasing

Once you know which dishes to serve, you should adjust your purchasing accordingly. Your restaurant can minimize food waste by carrying only what you need in the quantities that are necessary. This can be determined using back office software like SynergySuite, which offers intelligent automated ordering features and shows live inventory depletion. Tip: placing smaller product orders more frequently will actually prove to be more cost-effective than purchasing (and ultimately wasting) large amounts of food.

3. Track Your Food Waste

The trash is probably the last place you would think to look, but it is actually a good source of insight. Many restaurant operators adopted a practice known as waste auditing in which a day’s worth of restaurant trash is collected and sorted for analysis. As a team, the kitchen staff records and evaluates the contents, quantities, and reasons for disposal of each item. Though it may seem tedious, the savings and insight gained from a waste audit is well worth it. Restaurants often discover that they are throwing out food that could actually be repurposed, recycled, or saved for later use. In fact, typically 84% of unused food goes to waste in American restaurants.

Avoid wasted food and wasted time by establishing a system for collecting, storing, and using ingredients. Restaurants can minimize problems from the start by carefully inspecting all products received from suppliers for spoilage or damage. Ensuring the order is correct and of good quality will reduce the amount of unusable ingredients coming into the restaurant and help maintain an accurate and stable inventory. Managers can also coordinate with vendors to receive goods at varying levels of ripeness according to when they will need each ingredient.

4. Ensure Proper Storage

Once the food has been accepted, it is critical that it be stored properly. Careful attention to storage procedures, time, and temperatures will maximize the shelf life of ingredients and prevent foods from going bad. Platforms like SynergySuite allow restaurants to streamline this process by monitoring food and equipment temperatures, alerting management to issues before they become a problem.

Organization is key to effective inventory management. All food–whether in the fridge, freezer, or dry storage–should be properly labeled and dated upon collection. This way, it is clear if ingredients are good for use or past their expiration. Kitchen staff should also adopt a first in, first out method for inventory costing using ingredients in order to utilize older inventory first. Developing a kitchen SOP, or standard operating procedure, will help to ensure food safety and cost-effective use of product.

5. Train Your Staff Properly

Reducing food waste is not a one person job. The restaurant manager, as well as the entire restaurant staff, need to be on board. Workers should be trained to prepare food properly in order to maximize yield and avoid mistakes. Assigning more experienced chefs to handle dishes with expensive ingredients will help to minimize waste and costs. Familiarity with recipes will also enable staff to utilize leftover food in other dishes, rather than throwing them away.

Change starts from within. Educating workers on the cost of food may lead them to use ingredients more mindfully, as if they were purchased with their own money. Adopting a food-conscious mentality at the restaurant may also result in less post-consumer food waste. Waiters can suggest orders that are optimal for the number of people dining as well as encourage guests to take home leftovers.

Start With Your Restaurant, Improve the World

Reducing food waste can yield significant results not only for restaurants, but also the environment. A study by Unilever revealed that 72% of US diners care about how food waste is handled and almost half would be willing to spend more to dine at a waste-conscious restaurant. Simply making small changes to the way purchasing and staff are managed can lead to big payoffs that will benefit everyone.

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Leverage Technology to Manage Restaurant Labor Costs

Between increased costs, labor shortages, and socio-economic complexities - staying on top of labor costs is more important than ever for franchise owners.

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