A Day in the Life of Restaurant Food Waste

As a restaurant owner, we are supposed to be thinking about food waste and cutting costs all the time; profit keeps the doors open, losses shut them. 

Did you know that every day we waste enough food to fill the Rose Bowl in Pasadena two times a day?

Here is a simple example of how to save money by reducing waste from bread service. A 100-seat restaurant open five days a week, 360 days a year could save upwards of $30,000 a year by removing and butter from the table and offering other options. And where could that extra money go? Ask a restaurant owner about their marketing budget and the answer is usually “who has money for marketing?" Don’t throw cash in the trash.

While recently in New York, I took note of blatant food waste in restaurants I patronized. 


I ordered two scrambled eggs and one piece of rye toast. I was given two; I wanted one. I ate only one.


Cost: $.06

Waste: $.06 when it went into the trash


While at a coffee bar, I was asked at the register if I wanted half and half and after saying yes. I was given half a cup and used an eighth of a cup.

Cost: $.50

Waste: $.25 went into the trash.


I ordered a slice of pepperoni with black olives. I love black olives and as the customer was very happy as I had close to half a cup on my slice. 


Cost of the Olive? $.75

Could the restaurant have served less and made more on them? Yes

Same Italian Restaurant

Before we ordered pizza, we were given a full basket of focaccia and a lovely plate of bruschetta. 

Cost to customer: $0

Cost to restaurant: At least $1.50

More cost to restaurant: $10 for lost dessert and coffee revenue because we were stuffed with free bread and had no room.

Things to Think About

Why do so many restaurant owners feed their customers for free and when the point of having a restaurant is to sell food?

Are we still living in the days of restaurant history when customers came to “tavernas” to fill up as much as they could for as cheap as they could because they didn’t know when or where they would find their next meal? And the restaurant owner preferred to fil up their customer with unlimited bread which was less expensive than serving seconds and thirds of the entree?

I have not seen a restaurant lately that only has one item on it so why is the bread still free?

Simple Ways to Reduce Loss/Waste and Increase Profits


Do individual service. Put it on the menu. It costs money to make it so charge for it.  Think of ways you can elevate the experience such as Grilled House-made Sourdough with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Aged Balsamic Vinegar, House- made Artisan Bread Selection served with Pesto and Marinated Dipping Sauce or Organic Corn Bread served in a Skillet


Think portion control. No one needs one half cup of ketchup, horseradish or heavy cream. Set up portion cups before service for comonly served items.

Iced Tea

Even though it seems as though there is no real cost for iced tea, stop waitstaff from refilling glasses before asking the customer if they would like more

Cost: extra teabags used if fresh brewed. Even wasting 50 teabags a day at $.10 each = $5 a day times five days a week x 50 weeks a year and that's $1,250 just on teabags!


Stop your waitstaff from filling up a customer’s cup of coffee just because it is empty.


Cost of an Unwanted Poured Cup of Coffee? An average loss of $.31 per cup. Do that for even one quarter of your customers and even 25 a day at $.31 x 360 days a year, that's a savings of $2,790

By giving customers only what they need, your restaurant will have a better chance of surviving and your customers may even appreciate your concern about food waste. You can even put a note on the menu “In efforts to prevent food waste, we conserve on the extras, but are happy to provide you with what you need. “ Every day we waste enough food to fill the Rose Bowl in Pasadena tw times a day.