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How to Save Money by Reducing Food Waste in Your Restaurant Business

Jenny Day
Jenny Day
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How much food is wasted in American restaurants?

According to Restaurant Technology News, US restaurants alone waste an estimated 22 to 33 billion pounds of food each year. Wasting food isn’t only terrible for the environment. It also amounts to a significant financial loss for restaurants. By 2030, food wasted could result in a $1.5 trillion loss.

What are the top causes of restaurant food waste?

While food waste may be caused by many different issues, the top causes of food waste in a restaurant tend to be caused by over purchasing of product, mishandling of perishable goods, improper storage methods, and oversized portions.

How to reduce restaurant food waste

As a restaurant owner or operator, keeping your food costs low is a continual challenge. Food cost is one of the largest expenses for your restaurant, and because it is a controllable cost, you can influence how it impacts your bottom line.

Preventing food waste from happening in the first place is the best thing you can do to save on your food cost. And yet, it’s such a big topic, it can be difficult to understand where to begin. Here are some practical tips to implement with your restaurant staff to grow your food cost savings.

Discuss food waste reduction with your staff daily
First, focus on transparency. Explain to your staff that reducing food waste is a priority and let them know why. Consider having a discussion or special training with your staff on all the benefits of food waste reduction: the “upstream and downstream” impact of not only keeping food out of the landfill, but also respecting the resources it takes to get food to the restaurant in the first place.

When you have your staff motivated to be on board with food waste reduction, all the following tips will be easier to implement.

Train kitchen staff on proper storage
Much of a restaurant’s inventory is highly perishable, so to optimize shelf life for perishable goods, make sure your staff is well-trained on proper storage techniques. This can range from how to store specific produce items to minimize moisture loss to ensuring your proteins are stored to prevent oxidation.

In addition, the classic “first in, first out” (FIFO) method, commonly referred to as FIFO, ensures that you are rotating inventory appropriately. FIFO relies on a staff commitment and a thorough labeling system, but if you can prioritize using older products first, you can achieve less waste over the long term.

Move perishables with nightly specials
Some of your inventory may be highly perishable items, such as proteins or fresh produce, that your team should focus on moving quickly. Whether it’s your nightly special or the base of a daily soup, stay ahead of food waste by using items while they are still at the peak of freshness.

Leverage a competition to encourage reductions in food waste by offering employees with the most sales of the nightly special with a free meal or the option to be first cut on a future shift.

Enforce a waste log policy
A waste log is a spreadsheet or worksheet designed for your staff to use to note wasted product. Whether hanging on a clipboard in the kitchen, or available in a digital format, a waste log contains critical information about food usage.

A waste log serves two purposes. First, it can help your managers spot patterns in food waste. Does most waste come from spoilage? Server errors? Prep errors? With this information in hand, you can evaluate exactly where food waste is coming from, like whether managers are over-ordering or ordering properly with sales forecasting in mind.

In addition, a waste log can help your employees tangibly understand how their actions affect food waste levels. By noting food waste, employees can directly track what is happening with the ingredients coming in and out of the kitchen.

Teach portion control
Train your staff to use scales to measure out the correct portion and consider implementing spot checks to ensure consistency. Apply portion control checks for both your prep cooks and your line cooks to verify every step of the way.

If you offer catering or other types of buffet-style serving, you can also consider changing guest choices. You can regulate how much food guests are eating by offering different portioning options or cooking in smaller batches ahead of time to limit over-production as well as improve food quality.

Train staff to reduce errors
While the focus for food waste reduction usually lies with the back of house (BOH), a significant amount of food waste can also come from front of house (FOH) errors. When a server misunderstands a guest, or accidentally mis-keys a dish into the point of sale (POS) system, order errors can result in food waste.

Consider doing a focused training for servers on the importance of reducing errors. Evaluate your systems: are your servers trained to repeat orders back to guests? Is your POS organization set up intuitively for servers? Are there any process improvements you can add to reduce server mistakes?

Conclusion

Reductions in food cost can come from many different areas of your restaurant, but your kitchen staff is key to food cost savings. If you have a team that is committed to reducing food waste, you can make the changes you need to improve your CoGS and run more streamlined inventory management.