According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, United States food waste in both homes and businesses is estimated to be about 30-40% of the overall food supply. The USDA has also reported that in 2010 alone, an estimated 133 billion pounds of food was thrown out both in residences and restaurants/shops. And the environmental effects are compounded because 84.3% of unused food in American restaurants is thrown out, not recycled or donated. Restaurant food waste is an issue that business owners must take seriously if they are concerned about sustainability.
But what does that really mean for your business? Well, simply put: restaurant food waste is money waste.
Letting food waste get out of control in your business has a direct effect on your bottom line besides, of course, the environmental impact of this much restaurant food waste across the industry. The good news is this problem has many different solutions, and the seven that follow can be quite easy to begin implementing.
1. Track and analyze your restaurant food waste.
What type of waste are you seeing happen in your restaurant? Is it mainly during prep work? Is it ingredients spoiling before you can use it? Is it cooking mistakes on the line? Is it dishes that guests have sent back because your cooks didn’t follow their dietary requests?
While you’re evaluating these mistakes, watch out for specific things you see happening over and over. This is especially important if it’s not just one person making the mistake, but several members of your team. What you find during your research into restaurant food waste will help you focus on the actions that will yield the most results.
2. Change what you’re ordering.
Is your produce going bad way earlier than it should? It could be an issue with product itself. Try taking a little more time during your next deliveries to look over your produce before you sign for them. Make sure you don’t see any already wilting or spoiled fruits and vegetables that could add to your restaurant food waste. Remember, you have to right to reject and send back any product that isn’t up to quality. If you keep having problems, it could be time to look into alternative vendors.
If the ingredients are fresh when you get them, but are spoiling before you’ve had a chance to use all of them, it could be you’re ordering in too big of a quantity. Yes, buying in bulk can save you money (since many vendors offer lower rates per units for bigger orders), but it’s only a good deal if you actually get around to using all of the product you’re buying. Lower the amount you’re buying per delivery so you’re able to use everything perishable within the week.
3. Conduct inventory checks more frequently.
If ingredients are being used (or going bad) more quickly than expected, try checking inventory more often every week. By keeping a closer eye on your product, you can see if people are using up more ingredients in prep than they should. You can also ensure that ingredients are being stored properly to avoid early spoilage.
4. Don’t over-prepare ingredients.
Are you noticing tons of prepped ingredients left over at the end of the night? Knowing your customers means being able to anticipate the kinds of numbers you’ll see on any given day. Produce that’s cut or prepped in other ways tends to spoil faster than produce kept whole, so you want to avoid huge quantities of leftover prep. When it comes to prepping in the morning, you should only be instructing your kitchen staff to prepare for what you’ll need just for today. A little extra prep is okay, but you want to avoid making double or more prep than what you really need.
5. Adjust your portions.
It could be you’re just serving your customers too much food, and those who don’t want doggie bags are handing their plates off to their server to be scraped into the trash. Watch which menu items consistently have the most food left over (especially dishes the guests aren’t taking home), and consider reducing the portions on those specific items.
If your customers are consistently not taking home what’s left on their plate, having a smaller portion available on your menu could very well appeal to them! And even if you adjust the price of the item after reducing the portion, you should still be able to increase your profits and reduce your food waste at the same time.
6. Recycle what you can.
Even when prepping efficiently, you should be prepared to use leftover ingredients in other ways in case things are abnormally slow. Recycling doesn’t just mean bottles and cans — it also means using those leftover ingredients in different ways to avoid throwing them away. Many restaurants come up with their soups of the day by seeing what viable ingredients are left from the day before. However, if you can think of other fun daily specials to make out of certain over prep, go right ahead (as long as it still fits your brand).
Another way to recycle ingredients? Creating a compost! It not only reduces the methane gas released at landfills, but if you have the space, you can start your own restaurant garden and use the compost to build healthy soil.
But be aware that there are many areas in the United States where composting is not permitted – check your municipal codes before starting the project. If you are legally allowed to start composting, there are composting resources out there. Just make sure you properly research how to make composting work for your restaurant and be diligent about sanitation.
7. Keep training.
Be consistent in continually refreshing prep and recipe training for your kitchen staff. Make sure everyone knows the portions and goes by the exact recipe. There should be no “add a handful” or “eyeball an ounce” as measurements, especially for your more expensive ingredients (although a pinch of salt is probably still okay). Not only will this help keep food costs down, but it will also help ensure each dish tastes consistent no matter which staff member cooked it. Make sure your head chef is following these rules along with the kitchen staff – if the cooks see your chef taking short cuts, why would they follow your rules?
If you’re seeing specific mistakes happen over and over, that could be a sign that a training refresher is in order. But make sure your staff knows this shouldn’t be seen as punishment. Instead, it should be an opportunity for everyone to be the most efficient with ingredients they can be.
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