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Restaurant Waste Reduction: What You Need to Know

Restaurant owners and managers face many challenges when it comes to food waste management. These tips on how to minimize wasted food and reduce the waste management costs for your business can help you meet steadily increasing goals for waste reduction in your local community.

In the United States, studies estimate that 70 billion tons of food are wasted each year,1 which is concerning on many levels. As many as 80% of restaurant patrons stated that it matters to them how much food waste is generated, and nearly 50% said they would be willing to pay more to eat at a restaurant that is actively trying to reduce waste.2 Adding these customer preferences into the equation, your business could potentially save money and attract more diners by putting effort into reducing restaurant waste.

Analyzing Your Restaurant’s Waste Stream

A lot of dirty plates with scraps in the hands of the staff

One of the first steps to successful restaurant waste management is understanding what kind of waste is created and where. There are three main categories of commercial kitchen waste:

  • Pre-consumer sources. Food which does not make it out of the kitchen is considered pre-consumer waste. Trimming, spoilage, and spillage are examples.
  • Post-consumer sources. Food which is paid for by a customer but is not consumed. Uneaten food left on the plate falls into this category.
  • Disposable sources. Items intended to be thrown away, which become part of the restaurant waste disposal stream. This includes paper napkins, plastic utensils, straws, disposable cups, and the like.

Performing a Waste Stream Audit

Knowledge is power when it comes to waste management in the food industry. Understanding how much waste is produced in each of these categories will allow you to create a food waste management plan to reduce the volume and cost to your business.

Some ways to start analyzing your restaurant waste production with an eye to reduction include:

  • Holding an employee meeting to raise awareness and ask for input on where waste is being generated and why.
  • Separating different types of garbage into different containers and weighing each weekly to identify areas where improvement would be most beneficial.
  • Reviewing purchase orders and invoices related to perishable foods, disposables, and waste management costs.
  • Incentivizing employees to actively participate in new food waste and recycling initiatives your restaurant puts in place.

Reducing Restaurant Food Waste in the Kitchen

styrofoam plates and cups disposed in plastic garbage bag

Managing food stores and inventory proactively can prevent a significant amount of loss as part of restaurant food waste management. Some ways to offer only the freshest and highest quality menu items while keeping waste to a minimum include:

  • Evaluate your inventory and train staff to follow the FIFO – first in, first out – rule when selecting ingredients from storage. Make sure that chefs are trimming professionally but not wasting edible food.
  • Purchase flexible ingredients that are used in many dishes, and review menu items that use perishable specialty ingredients. Either change recipes to eliminate items rarely used or add those ingredients into other dishes on the menu to make sure stock turns over regularly.
  • Store food inventory to maximize freshness. Keep dry goods in a cool, dark, dry place, and refrigerators at 38-40 degrees F to preserve fresh food under ideal conditions.
  • Re-purpose ingredients, by making soups, croutons, garlic toast, salads, or hot sandwiches. Offer pre-packed, takeaway menu items for customers to encourage selection of foods already prepared.
  • Weekly specials and promotions are an excellent way to attract customers, make good use of a large purchase of seasonal fresh food, or use up items which may soon start to lose quality.
  • Offer employee meals and takeaway as a perk of employment, allowing them to choose from already prepared options or available weekly specials.
  • Consider donating food that is nearing its shelf life or engage employees to deliver prepared food, which would otherwise go to waste, to a shelter or nonprofit group.

Reducing Restaurant Waste in the Dining Room

Next, look at what comes back from the dining room. Which items are consistently still on the plate when your customers leave satisfied? How big is the pile of trash and how much could have been avoided with new food waste management strategies?

Some ways to reduce the post-consumer category of restaurant garbage disposal may be:

  • If portion sizes are so large that food is consistently left behind, try changing your plates and glassware to a slightly smaller size, which makes for smaller portions on a plate that is still full.
  • Offer choices of side dishes so that diners can order things they expect to eat and encourage waitstaff to ask questions and take down detailed orders which are unlikely to be sent back to the kitchen.
  • Provide eco-friendly takeaway food containers and encourage guests to take leftovers home with them.

Improving Recycling and Food Waste Management

leftover food after party

This brings us to the final stage, effective restaurant waste disposal practices. Getting involved with community composting and organic waste disposal centers can have a big impact on reducing your garbage hauling costs.

Restaurant recycling is mandatory in many localities and a great way to improve your green reputation. Organic waste recycling, restaurant oil recycling, and local composting programs provide a way to keep food waste out of landfills and return these valuable materials to the earth.

Are you wondering how to create a restaurant waste management plan that will carry you into the future and work toward the zero-waste initiatives that are springing up across the country? Contact Global Trash Solutions for a consultation, waste audit, and guidance in choosing cost-effective services and equipment to maximize profit while minimizing waste. Your green image and your bottom line can benefit almost immediately!

Sources:

  1. https://www.feedingamerica.org/our-work/our-approach/reduce-food-waste
  2. https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2011/11/28/142663686/food-giant-unilever-says-restaurants-need-to-cut-food-waste