The restaurant industry loses an astounding $162 billion each year in food waste. This is due, in large part, to overbuying, overproduction, and spoilage, which could be significantly reduced with smarter systems in place. All restaurants should proactively work to reduce food waste, which will also help you save money, increase profits, spotlight your commitment to sustainability, and help the environment.
Consider the following:
- US restaurants generate an estimated 22 to 33 billion pounds of food waste each year.
- Between a third and a half of food is wasted worldwide annually.
- Approximately 45 percent of all fruits and vegetables, 35 percent of seafood, 30 percent of cereals, and 20 percent of meat and dairy products are wasted by suppliers, retailers, and consumers each year.
- Food takes up more space in US landfills than anything else.
Restaurant operators would be wise to take the following steps to reduce food waste and save money
- Upgrade inventory and ordering systems with the latest technology. Proper inventory management is essential to decreasing food waste and saving related expenses. Implement a digital system (e.g., a POS system, predictive ordering technology) to accurately predict what products you’ll need to order based on historical patterns. Digital tools allow your team to know exactly what items you have in stock, what needs to be reordered, and how much of each new item you’ll need. This helps prevent over-ordering, and will result in more accurate data, a better understanding of food order patterns, and less food waste.
- Train your staff. Educate your employees why it’s essential to reduce food waste and train them on how to accomplish this. Teach employees proper cutting and storage techniques that will keep food items fresher for longer. Show them how to get the most from a cut of meat, chicken, fish, and other foods. Encourage them to be creative with leftovers. The more you can use, the less that will end up as food waste.
- Practice good stock control. Efficient ordering and stock rotation will minimize food spoilage and waste. Food should be clearly labelled with 'best before' or 'sell by' dates. All employees should practice proper “first in, first out” inventory management.
- Stop overprepping. Some restaurants prep huge quantities of fresh foods (e.g., salads, salsa, guacamole, etc.) that spoil before they can use it all. Use tech tools to create better forecasts so you can more accurately predict busy (or slower) shifts to prep foods accordingly.
- Store food properly. Ensure that all food items are stored properly at the correct temperature. Store raw proteins on lower shelves and ready to eat foods (such as vegetables for a salad) on higher shelves to avoid cross contamination (e.g., in case the raw proteins drip or leak). Label perishable products with the date they were received and the date they’ll expire. Monitor refrigerators and freezers to be sure that they maintain proper temperatures. Use digital sensors that will alert restaurant staff if these temps drop below a certain (safe) threshold.
- Use food more efficiently. Strive to use every scrap of food to reduce waste. Use chicken or meat bones and vegetable scraps to make stocks and broths. Day-old bread is perfect for croutons or breadcrumbs. Turn leftover roast chicken into potpie or soup and leftover meat into a stew or chili. Challenge your chef to be creative in transforming leftovers or excess ingredients into the next day’s specials. The more you use, the less you’ll waste.
- Inspect all food deliveries. Sometimes unscrupulous vendors will attempt to put rotting (or nearly rotting) produce at the bottom of restaurant deliveries. Carefully check each delivery before accepting it or you may be immediately throwing food (and money!) away. And if your vendors are giving you sub-par products, it’s time to find new vendors who are more focused on quality. Use tech tools to track supplier certifications to be sure your suppliers are consistently practicing proper food safety and quality protocols.
- Optimize your supply chain. Software solutions help optimize supply chains so your products ship and reach your restaurant more quickly and effectively. Reducing the time it takes to get your products to your restaurant will reduce spoilage and decrease food waste.
- Feed the hungry. A lot of the food we toss is perfectly edible. Donate unused but still good food to food banks and soup kitchens, reducing waste and feeding the food insecure in your community.
- Recycle and compost. California has just launched a food waste recycling program, the largest of its kind in the US. Cities will compost organic waste, turning it into fertilizer, or harvest methane from rotting waste, burning it to generate power. And many restaurants have also embraced composting, turning leftover food scraps into nourishing material for local gardens. Many restaurant scraps can be composted, including fruit and vegetable peelings, old bread, eggshells, coffee grounds and tea bags.
- Realize that small changes matter. Making seemingly small changes will add up over time, reducing waste, protecting our environment, and boosting your bottom-line.