Ten percent. Though it’s an estimate, that’s the figure you’ll often hear when talking about restaurant food waste. One in every ten pounds of food that the average restaurant purchases never makes it to a plate. It’s likely even higher at buffet-style setups—though a few restaurants, like this impressive UK eatery, have figured out how to make it much, much lower.
This waste adds up, meaning that millions upon millions of pounds of food end up in landfills every year. Besides the many ethical and environmental implications, all of that wasted food also means a whole lot of wasted money. According to LeanPath, which develops technology to help restaurants reduce food waste, operators pay for that waste five times over, including the cost of the ingredients, the labor it took to prepare them and the fees associated with disposing of them.
While a zero-waste restaurant is not a reality for most operators (at least not yet), there are plenty of simple steps you can take to reduce your food waste. Here are ten:
- Work on knife skills
Sloppy peeling, chopping and fabricating leads to waste. Be sure your team is properly trained to maximize the yield of every piece of produce and protein, and that only the most experience cooks are handling expensive items like seafood.
- Get creative with scraps
Dan Barber, the man behind acclaimed farm-to-table spot Blue Hill, recently held a pop-up in which every dish was made from food that would typically be trashed. While that may be a bit extreme, consider giving scraps new life. Could the bar use those leftover egg whites for a cocktail? Can that limp celery go in the stockpot? Might those beef trimmings be perfect for family meal?
- Rethink portion size
Plenty of waste happens in the front of house as well. Spend a night monitoring everything servers scrape into trash cans. If one dish is repeatedly coming back half-finished, consider adjusting the size of that portion.
- Limit batch cooking
While cooking sauces and sides in huge batches seems to save on labor, it only wastes money if you end up throwing a lot of it away. Train cooks to make smaller batches more frequently—besides reducing waste, customers will appreciate the fresher food.
- Be specific (and stern) with your vendors
Avoid waste (and wastes of your time) by telling your vendors exactly what you need. Always check in all orders thoroughly, and don’t accept anything with any spoilage or questionable imperfections.
- Label and organize
Be sure all food is properly labeled and dated, and that all staff members are obeying the “first in, first out” rule. Organization is key—an older quart of sauce that gets hidden behind newer ones is often pointlessly wasted.
- Follow proper food safety procedures
Food is often wasted due to cross-contamination or improper handling. Be sure you are cooling and storing all items according to USDA guidelines.
- Set pars carefully, but don’t be afraid to run out
This can be a tough one. Though customers have grown accustomed to the “anything at anytime” model, this leads to over-prepping and inevitable waste. Operators should keep a close eye on sales to estimate the most accurate possible pars. But don’t pad those numbers for fear of running out—if the salmon is occasionally 86’d towards the end of service, then so be it.
- Donate excess food when possible
According to the EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy, the best way to fight food waste is to simply stop producing so much extra food. The next best, however, is to get that food to people who need it. Connect with a food bank or soup kitchen, or see if there is a local organization that will facilitate that connection for you. Here in Pittsburgh, 412 Food Rescue works to bridge that gap between surplus and need.
- Store and hold food at the proper temperature
The surest way to waste a whole lot of food is by keeping it at the wrong temperature. A wonky lowboy or a finicky steam table allows food to enter the danger zone, encouraging bacteria growth and faster spoilage. Worse still, a walk-in failure over a weekend could immediately cost you thousands of dollars in lost product.
FreshTemp lets you take immediate, accurate readings, ensuring that everything is held at the optimal temperature. The FreshTemp system allows you to monitor all of your data, whether you own one restaurant or a dozen, in real time from any device. So should a piece of equipment fail, you can respond immediately and prevent a potential catastrophe.
Food waste is a massive problem around the world. But with a few simple changes, restaurants can be part of the solution.