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6 Effective Ways to Reduce Food Waste in Your Restaurant

Reducing food waste makes cents and sense.
3/27/2023

Reducing food waste isn’t just good for the earth — it could make your restaurant more profitable, too.

According to a recent study, about half a pound of food is wasted for every single meal made in restaurants — that’s a combo of what’s left uneaten on customers’ plates plus kitchen waste. While you can’t control how much your customers eat, there are things that you can do to become more economical in your kitchen.

In this post, you’ll learn six intelligent ways to reduce food waste in your restaurant:

  1. Develop an Inventory System

A lot of restaurants are lax about managing inventory. They’re reactive rather than proactive, and often find themselves with either too much or too little food. Both can be problematic.

While too much food can obviously create unnecessary waste, too little food can generate waste in the long-term, too. For instance, if you’re running low on an important ingredient like lettuce, you may be forced to buy whatever’s available — you may not have control over the price or the amount you order. This could lead to inventory imbalances and potential waste.

A good inventory tracking system can help you maintain appropriate stock of what you need without much more. There are several different systems on the market, ranging from simple to advanced — consider adding one to your repertoire.

  1. Educate Your Employees on Food Storage + Disposal

Improper food storage and disposal are some of the top contributors to restaurant food waste. Happily, there’s an easy solution: educate your employees on the best ways to store and dispose of food.

While it’s a good idea to train your staff on best practices for food storage and disposal during their initial training, don’t stop there. There are several ways to make it easy for them to remember on an everyday basis.

For instance, you could print flyers  that detail what items should be disposed of and how, including a list of what foods can be composted and what should be thrown in the trash.

Stickers can also help employees differentiate foods that should be discarded versus repurposed. For instance, you could create “Day-old” stickers for pastries and breads, denoting that these items can be sold for a discount or repurposed into other menu items (as in tip 4).

  1. Reconsider Portion Sizes

Huge portion sizes can lead to more food waste — especially if customers don’t want to take a doggie bag. So unless supersized portions are a big part of your restaurant’s branding, you may want to consider ways to reduce the amount of food you put on your plates.

For example, some restaurants offer entrees in small and large sizes. Other restaurants eschew dinner-sized plates entirely in favor of tapas or small-plate style dining and invite customers to make a meal of several small portions.

A tasting menu  is another way to offer customers a dining experience that can reduce waste. Tasting menus can be part of your standard offerings, or they can be reserved for special occasions. For instance, Bing Bing Dim Sum in Philadelphia offers a holiday tasting menu that involves several courses of small servings. Offering a set menu of small portions allows the restaurant to keep inventory in check while offering a fun and festive meal to customers that minimizes waste. 

  1. Repurpose Day-Old Bread + Pastries

Did you know that French toast was actually invented as a way to use up stale bread? The French name, “pain perdu,” translates as “lost bread” — the recipe was developed to find a use for bread that otherwise would have been discarded.

Take a cue from the French! Instead of throwing out day-old bread, muffins, and pastries, consider repurposing them. French toast is obviously a great solution, but it’s not the only one. Here are a few more ideas:

  • Use day-old tortillas to make homemade tortilla chips or use crispy tortilla strips to top salads and soups
  • Make croutons from day-old bread
  • Use day-old bread or pastries to make bread pudding
  • Use cake or cookie crumbs as an ice cream topping
  1. Make Clever Use of Extra Food + Ingredients

Sometimes, you may find yourself with an excess of a specific type of food, whether it’s from a holiday special or an unexpected shift in ordering habits.

More often than not, you don’t have to throw out the food — it can be repurposed into a one-of-a-kind menu item or a daily special. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Got leftover corned beef and cabbage from your St. Patrick’s Day menu? Don’t ditch it — repurpose it into corned beef and cabbage egg rolls.
  • Were orders for your roast chicken suddenly lower this week? Turn chicken into chicken salad for your lunch service, or make chicken noodle soup with it.
  • Do you have a bunch of odds-and-ends vegetables? Make a succotash or slow-cooked ragout.

6. Make Use of All Your Scraps

Even in the most efficient kitchen, there will still be food scraps. However, as the famed Blue Hill at Stone Barns restaurant proves, even food scraps can be put to use. Here are just a few of the ways they put their scraps to work:

  • In addition to bins for waste and recyclables, the restaurant maintains bins for food scraps to be fed to pigs on the property, as well as a bin for compost and a bin of food scraps to ferment for laying hens.
  • Some cooking is done directly in compost.
  • Leftover bones are carbonized and used to create charcoal, which is used for grilling.
  • Other leftover bones are given to a local artisan who makes bone china plates and glassware.

Waste Not…

Food waste isn’t just a drag on the environment — it could be a drain on your restaurant’s finances. Happily, there are plenty of easily actionable ways to combat food waste that can help your restaurant run more efficiently. Put these tips to work today and see for yourself what a difference it makes!

How do you minimize food waste in your restaurant?

About the Author
Mark Plumlee is a copywriter who has helped restaurants and small businesses grow and define their brands. He is a frequent contributor to Hospitality Technology. 

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