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Zero Restaurant Food Waste for the Environment and Lower CoGS

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While true zero-restaurant food waste is extremely rare, it can be a meaningful goal. Implementing a zero-waste initiative can help minimize your carbon footprint and may even attract new customers who embrace your environmental friendliness.

Additionally, limiting your food waste can improve your restaurant’s bottom line. Less food waste means lower Cost of Goods Sold (CoGS), potentially adding to your profitability.

ReFED, a national nonprofit working to end food loss and waste across the U.S. food system, says that in just one year 35% of all food in the United States went unsold or uneaten. That equates to $408 billion worth of food –– with a greenhouse gas footprint equivalent to 4% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

What is pre-consumer waste and post-consumer waste?

Most food waste can be categorized by pre-consumer waste and post-consumer waste. Pre-consumer waste is all food that’s wasted before it gets to the customer, like spoiled inventory and kitchen scraps. Post-consumer waste is everything that’s wasted after it reaches your guests, like leftovers that get thrown out after they’re served.

Use the following tips to work toward zero pre-consumer and post-consumer food waste:

Set a goal for food waste reduction

Is your restaurant group trying to achieve zero food waste or are your food waste reduction efforts less ambitious? Whether your concern is for the environment, reducing CoGS, or both, setting a goal will allow you to measure your success. If reducing food waste is a new initiative for your restaurant business, consider setting incremental goals on your way to your goal. If reaching zero food waste is the end goal, give yourself a time line. If you want to achieve zero food waste in two years, set quarterly food waste percentage goals for each of the next eight quarters.

Track your restaurant food waste manually

Implement waste tracking processes. Track exactly what kind of waste your restaurant generates by category. Separate your trash, recyclables, food waste, etc., at the end of a shift. Then multiply each category weight by a month, quarter, or year, to determine your total waste footprint. This insight will allow you to create a plan for waste reduction and provide a number against which to measure your efforts. 

Use technology to track your actual vs. theoretical food usage

If you’re not already analyzing your actual vs. theoretical (AvT) food costs to lower your cost of goods sold, reducing pre-consumer food waste is another valid reason. By examining your AvT food cost variance, you can learn the “why” of food waste, e.g., prep mistakes, kitchen portioning errors, server errors, etc. AvT can help you track where your biggest food waste is happening. Take a deep dive into the items that have the largest variance to find the cause of waste.

Coach staff members on zero food waste tactics

Your employees are key to working toward zero food waste.  Food waste reduction requires some additional work to properly store, monitor, and use inventory ingredients, so employees must be fully invested in the process. Be sure to emphasize the environmental and social benefits of minimizing restaurant food waste, as well as the benefits to your bottom line.

Keep a food waste journal

A food waste journal can help you and your staff track wasted product.  Whether it’s digital or manual, such a tool helps managers spot food waste patterns and take actions to correct them. Additionally, writing down the waste can help kitchen staff recognize their mistakes and remind them that their actions have a huge impact on food waste.

Offer reduced portion sizes

Discourage post-consumer waste by reducing your portion sizes. You can also offer flexible portion sizes, sides, and à la carte menu options to reduce wasted food.

Change up your menu

Consider using menu engineering tools to change up your menu for optimal food usage. Offering fewer menu items, or using ingredients multiple times in different dishes, can help you run through your inventory faster and ensure a good inventory turnover rate.

Reduce spoilage

Organize your inventory so that the oldest items are used first and newer items are used later. This requires time and effort, including proper labeling and implementing processes for unloading shipments and reorganizing shelves, but is critical for ensuring freshness and reducing waste.

Follow proper food storage guidelines

Much of your food waste is most likely highly perishable products. Consequently, you must follow proper food storage techniques, and train your staff on these techniques to minimize the amount of perishable goods that go to waste. Proper storage guidelines are required to meet health code standards and are critical to lengthening the shelf life of many food items. In addition, keeping up with cooler and freezer maintenance can minimize spoilage and ensure that food remains safe to eat.

Use forecasting tools to prevent waste

Ordering too much inventory can lead to wasted food or dishes that are served past their peak of freshness. Provide your managers with tools they need to project sales levels and the inventory required to meet demand.  Forecasting uses historical sales data from comparable time periods to help you make data-driven purchasing decisions that can minimize food waste.

Monitor inventory days on hand

Inventory days on hand (DOH) represents the average time an ingredient remains in your inventory before you sell it.  Knowing your inventory DOH helps you track movement of ingredients. Aim for inventory that turns over roughly four to six times each month (an average of 5-7 days’ worth of product on hand).

Run daily or weekly specials

Repurpose unused food to avoid food waste. Use your near perishables to create new dishes to increase their shelf life and boost revenue.  High-cost proteins are top candidates for these specials. Also, consider using dynamic pricing options for end-of-day sales, such as late happy hours.

Create new dishes with leftover food and scraps

In addition to running specials, work with your chef to use your kitchen scraps to make new dishes that can help minimize food waste. Using every part of a food item may stretch your chef’s creativity, but the efforts can minimize surplus ingredients. Also consider leveraging imperfect fruits and vegetables to modify existing menu items.

Count inventory regularly

Consistent, accurate inventory management helps you keep tabs on what ingredients are coming in and going out of your kitchen. An accurate inventory count helps prevent ordering too much food.  By analyzing your inventory, you can keep better track of use-by dates, understanding when you need to move a product faster and determining how often you need to purchase specific items. 

Share uneaten leftovers with employees

By using surplus food to share meals with employees, you are both reducing food waste and showing appreciation for your staff.

Make zero food waste part of your culture

Create a culture within your restaurant group that celebrates food waste reduction strategies. When you bring your employees into the decision making of your food waste reduction goals, they are more likely to embrace the steps it will take to implement these strategies. Have your employees vote on the local charity that will benefit from donations of your excess food. Consider having contests between locations for the highest percentage of waste reduction. Ensure that you connect staff efforts to the community and environmental benefits.

Compost all remaining food waste

There may be food waste that you simply cannot repurpose, minimize, or reuse. These food scraps are ideal for composting, which returns the nutrients from organic kitchen waste to farms and soils. Rather than adding your food waste to landfills, your compost is repurposed as nutrients, that in turn, contribute (to growing more produce).

There are numerous options for composting, including composting on site, using a composting facility, or using a local hauler who can pick up your food scraps for delivery to a composting facility.


There can be many benefits of reducing your restaurant food waste, both in terms of food cost reduction and the environment

If you’d like to run your restaurant more efficiently and profitably, including reducing food waste, consider an all-in-one restaurant management system. Restaurant365 incorporates restaurant accounting softwarerestaurant operations softwareinventory management softwarepayroll + HR software, and scheduling software into a cloud-based platform that’s fully integrated with your POS system, as well as to your food and beverage vendors, and bank.

Ask for a free demo of Restaurant365 today.