Turning Wasted Food Into Opportunity 

American restaurants throw away 85 percent of their unused food; only 1.4 percent is donated. The biggest barriers? The logistics of food donation, including transporting it (or arranging for pick-up) and ensuring food is held properly so it doesn’t spoil after it leaves your restaurant.

Restaurant operators often worry they could be sued for getting someone sick. But that’s actually never happened, according to the Food Recovery Project with the University of Arkansas School of Law, in large part because of the 1996 Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act. 

It's time operators get serious about donating food instead of tossing it. It’s not only the right thing to do, but doing so will motivate you to track your inventory, saving you annual on food costs. You’ll be giving more away, throwing away less and getting closer to the mark of ordering what you actually need.It's time operators get serious about donating food instead of tossing it.

It's time operators get serious about donating food instead of tossing it.

The first thing to do is invest in a Food Waste and Donation tracking system. All restaurants have a little waste each day; it will help if you can give donor locations a heads-up for how much they might expect daily, weekly or however often you plan to donate food.

Consider what’s in your cooler as well. If you’re not planning to use it by the expiration date or menu plans have changed, include those supplies in your food donation to reduce spoilage straight from the cooler. 

Take charge of your inventory; have employees track daily what’s being thrown away or donated and why. Those numbers will eventually provide you with a curve that shows you peak times and offerings as well as seasonal trends. 

Connect with food pantries and food shuttles in your area who will gladly pick up food. Ask around; once you get it set up, you’ll wish you had a donation system earlier. It may take a few weeks of tracking but soon you’ll be able to be smarter with what you’re buying (and when).  

The idea is to curb your waste overall—and to donate leftovers instead of tossing them. Don’t believe the misnomer that you might not have enough to donate. Consider joining forces with another restaurant to make an even bigger impact.  

Next, promote your donation efforts on social media; utilize your tracking system to let you know how many pounds a month you’re donating. Customers love to know which businesses value sustainability and community involvement. It’s a great way to drive traffic and build your brand as a restaurant that cares about the community it’s in.

You’ll be surprised how the numbers add up—what you’re donating, what you’re saving, and the number of customers you get by doing the right thing.