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Reducing Food Waste in the Restaurant Industry

Aug 15, 2023

Reducing Food Waste in the Restaurant Industry

The restaurant industry is one of the biggest contributors to global food waste. Think this—from the ingredient scraps during prep to the leftovers your guests leave on their plates. All of that ends up in landfill, producing greenhouse gases that worsen the earth’s climate. It doesn’t stop there—this also contributes to food insecurity and results in billions of lost profits for restaurants annually. 

The very evident effects of food waste have made consumers grow more aware of where they choose to eat. In fact, a study by Unilever shows that over 72% of U.S. diners care about how restaurants handle food waste, and 47% are willing to spend more at a restaurant that takes initiatives to reduce food waste.

Even so, reducing food waste should become a priority moving forward. Keep reading to discover some actionable ways to conduct a food waste audit in your restaurant.

Conducting a food waste audit

To start, get a clear view of how bad the food waste problem is in your kitchen. This will require an audit which can tell you how much food you’re wasting and where it’s all coming from.

Create a food log system

This system will include all the categories of food products your restaurant have and sell. This should include produce, meat, seafood, post-consumer waste, as well as your paper and plastic products (e.g. takeout containers, cans, bottles etc.).

After that, filter out this list and include the types of waste that are more likely to produce waste, based on your restaurant format and the type of dishes you serve.

Go through your waste

It’s about to get dirty. Literally. Choose the best time to do this—say about one whole working week to track your waste. During this period, go through your restaurant’s trash every day and separate them into categories in your log.

Another helpful tip is to do this during regular shifts and again at the end of the day. This will help you determine whether your staff are paying attention to what they’re wasting. 

Get your staff on board

Make sure all your staff are aware that you’re implementing efforts to cut down waste. Communicate openly about the plan and thoroughly train them on any new procedures. 

Keep food prepping simple

Limit prepping in only necessary quantities, particularly concerning fresh produce that may deteriorate if prepared in advance (think of avocados browning upon cutting, or cucumbers losing crispness after grating).

Estimating the exact volume of prep work required for each meal service can be challenging, but it can save you the waste. 

Use the FIFO strategy

FIFO, or “first in, first out,” is an inventory management principle that basically involves using older ingredients before newer ones. This encourages your kitchen to consume items before their expiration dates. However, effective inventory management encompasses more than just FIFO. Organized storage areas with visible labels and date marking make accessing to available items easier, too.

Store food properly

On the same note as keeping your storage area well organized, you should also ensure that every item in it is stored correctly. This will not only help maximize the shelf life of your inventory to reduce waste but is an important part of food safety as well.

Store food in proper, sealed containers. Perishables like fresh fruits and veggies should be kept at the proper temperature to prevent spoilage. Keep raw meats separate from other foods, and keep your storage areas clean and free of mold, pests, and any other problems that would require you to throw away ingredients. 

Re-use your scraps

There are many ways to utilize food scraps that would otherwise go into the trash. From potato peels to vegetable scraps to coffee grounds, starting a compost bin can turn these materials into nutrient-rich soil. 

If that’s not an option, look into programs in your area that use restaurant leftovers to make animal feed. You might be surprised at how many options you have for making good use of food scraps that seem destined for the trash bin.