More Money in Your Pocket: Why Your Restaurant Needs a Food Waste Audit Now

In today’s restaurant market, margins are slim enough as it is. As businesses work to keep those margins healthy, they focus on what goes to the table and what goes in the till. One area that is too often overlooked is your trash dumpster and believe it or not – you are probably throwing away a lot of money without knowing it. That’s why waste haulers are making so much money. When is the last time you really looked at your trash bill? Performing a waste audit is an essential step to not only making your restaurants more sustainable, but to saving money.

Value of a Waste Audit

One major focus of a restaurant’s waste audit is always going to be food waste. By measuring the food waste your operation produces, you can break down exactly WHERE food is being wasted and WHY. Running a food waste audit allows you to see your food waste numbers broken down by type, weight, and then understand why it was wasted. A food waste audit gives you the exact insight you need to not only make the adjustments required to waste less and recycle more, but it also gives you the chance to track your progress over time.

What to Measure and Why

Restaurants generate a lot of waste on a day-to-day basis, in some cases up to a ton a week or more. That being said, the financial impact of food waste has a bigger financial impact on your restaurant than throwing away paper, cardboard, or plastic. When it comes to food waste specifically, again, it is not all created equally. For this reason, food waste audits are crucial to success.

To correctly perform a food waste audit your employees will need to measure and log all food waste that goes into your trashcans utilizing a food waste log. It is crucial that employees understand to be as accurate as possible with everything they log. For instance, when it comes to food trimmings, make sure they log what kind of trimmings are being disposed – a pound of vegetable trimmings does not cost the same as a pound of meat trimmings. Measuring portions of pre-prepped menus items is crucial as well. If a pan of lasagna is 12 portions, and you are throwing away ½ of a pan, the portion count (6 in this case) is what is important. Post-consumer food waste can be measured in bulk by utilizing an empty bus tray to collect left-overs and measuring it all at once. But, keep in mind if the bus staff keeps an accurate log of the types of left-overs they are seeing – you’ll know what items on your menu are creating the most waste.

There are two main categories of food waste:

Pre-Consumer Waste

This is the food waste that never leaves the kitchen.

  • Over-Production is the most common form of pre-consumer food waste. Most commonly, it is a result of making too much of a bulk item, like lasagna or soups.
  • Spoilage of any fruits, vegetables, and meats that go unused, typically because of over-purchasing or untimely usage.  
  • Expiration of perishable items is a very basic form of food waste but are still avoidable if you track produce correctly.
  • Trimmings are an unavoidable aspect of food preparation – certain parts of foods just aren’t edible. Understanding that, you can still see trends in trimming habits, and correct them with proper training to save you money.
Post-Consumer Waste

This is food that has been prepared and sold that is left over from the customer.

  • Over-production in the form of left-overs that are not taken

  • Returned food due to kitchen error

Interpreting Data and Using It

Once you’ve gone through the process of a food waste audit, it’s time to figure out what those waste logs are telling you. By identifying the main sources of food waste, you can easily start making the changes required to save your restaurant money and proving to your customers that sustainability matters to you as much as it matters to them.  Using your food logs – finding where to make changes is as simple as figuring out what gets thrown away the most. For instance, If you are seeing a high amount of post-consumer waste – you might want to adjust your portion size, or really encourage guests to take their left-overs with them. If you are seeing a lot of pre-consumer waste, you might want to evaluate your purchasing and your prepping practices. Taking the time to evaluate your biggest sources of food waste can lead to immediate changes from day one. 

Running Regular Food Audits

Food audits are not a “one and done” type of tool, they need to be run with some regularity. In the beginning you are going to need to run them more regularly to see immediate results, but as you get better at reducing waste you can spread them out. For instance, when you first start running food waste audits they will be needed once a month, with an average audit period lasting at least one week. As you put changes in place you can reduce the number of audits to maybe once a quarter, just to make sure you’re still on track. Once you’ve amended your employee training program to focus on food waste reduction, make it a part of your standard employee training. From then on, every new employee you bring in is already up-to-speed on how to reduce food waste from day one.

Intangible Value of Waste Audits

The other great benefit of running regular food waste audits is that you can provide those results to your customers. Imagine having a flyer or table tent on every table showing your customers exactly how well you’re doing at not wasting food.  By taking all the data you collect in your food waste audits, you can put together a package of promotional material to show off your food waste program to entice new customers and build loyalty with existing ones. Yes, reducing food waste saves your restaurant money, but it is also a great selling point – don’t be afraid to use it to your advantage.