How To Reduce Food Waste In Restaurants: Our Top 30 Ideas


I have worked in dozens of restaurants from small to big and the alarming sight that is usually seen is food waste management and the amounts of wasted food. There are many reasons why restaurants throw away food, but restaurants should always thrive on saving food which will help in many ways.

Reducing food waste will help in terms of global warming, world hunger, energy, animal lives, agricultural lands, and it has a straight connection for your restaurant’s funds and how well you can save money as well. It’s safe to say that reducing food waste in restaurants will help in nearly all crucial and threatening aspects and problems of our world. So how do you reduce food waste in restaurants in the most effective way? That is an intriguing question which we will answer in this article in-depth in our 21 ideas that you can include in your business.

But first, you need to recognize in what areas do you need more improvement. Think about your restaurant’s food waste and where it is mostly coming from customers or the kitchen? What kinds of foods usually get thrown out the most etc. You should recognize some kind of a pattern there and with that knowledge, you can pick some of our steps and use them in your restaurant. Let’s get started!

Train your staff on restaurant’s food management

Everything in a restaurant starts with a good team, if the staff is properly trained and they care about food management, everything will be just fine. Showing them the numbers of lost food and lost profits will motivate your employees to actually keep an eye for the practices that can help reducing food waste.

Calculate and analyze food waste

Calculating the amounts of wasted food will give you a great idea of where are the waste coming from and what is the aspect that needs to be improved. You could do a food waste week when the staff would count every bit of wasted food so there is a precise number on how much is averagely wasted every week and where it is coming from, so you can do the steps needed to fix that.

Use food waste tracking technology

POS systems can calculate orders, inventory, and much more. That is valuable data that haven’t ever been available until POS systems so this opens a lot of opportunities in modern-day restaurants. Using POS systems features you can reduce over-buying, over portioning, calculate food cost percentages, and even see if something is stolen.

Also, having a proper kitchen display system instead of receipt printers can save food because it is common that mistake orders and lost receipts accrue in a restaurant when using the traditional receipt printer.

Anticipate food demand

Predicting the food orders will save you a ton of food. You can do it manually, but also with the help of technology that will show the previous weeks from day to day and hour to hour so you have some kind of a pattern that you should follow. I highly recommend having a good POS system in your restaurant where you can see valuable data and get a better understanding of the customer’s behavior. Also, the weather has a big impact on incoming customers so you should monitor that as well and write down the results that a rainy day brings compared to a sunny one.

Avoid over-ordering food

Over ordering food from your food supplier can lead to massive amounts of wasted food because if a big chunk of your orders will expire before you can use them, that’s another source for unnecessary food waste and money off your pocket as well. Anticipating food demand and analyzing the past will give you a better idea of how much you should order.

Order imperfect ingredients

Ordering ”ugly food” from your food supplier will have a way lower price and it will be a massive service to nature because many studies have shown that approximately 1/3 of ingredients are thrown away because of appearances! The numbers are alarming but it opens up options for your restaurant. Usually, the ugly food is sold at a reduced price which could benefit your restaurant in the long run greatly, plus you would get positive recognition and reputation as well.

Inspect supplied ingredients

It’s no secret that sometimes when the food supplier haves a low-quality batch, it sends it to the restaurant and sees if they accept it or not. You should always inspect your vegetables, meats, and other easily spoilable ingredients with care. I have seen this accrue especially in tomatoes multiple times so keep a close look at tomatoes.

Use FIFO system with every product

The first in the first out system is a global inventory management system which is quite simple really. The idea is that the new ingredients will be placed back in the storage room and older items in a way that they are easy to reach before the new ones. Rotating the system this way will cut down your food waste because the food doesn’t have time to spoil.

Label foods & ingredients

Labeling foods, opened cans and containers, sauces, and dips are really important so you and your coworkers can be up to date which will be shortly out of date and it will keep everything more organized as well. If there is a vague container that is going to expire soon, the chefs can make something out of it, use it in a salad or prepare them as free samples in the form of chefs special for the customers. A simple piece of masking tape and a marker will do the trick perfectly.

Keep an eye for ingredient seasonality

If you have been monitoring your food waste long enough, or perhaps you have just seen the effect of seasonality in the naked eye, you should act. There are some seasonal ingredients that are trending more in a certain time of the year such as avocados that don’t take too long to spoil so it’s important to monitor the demand for seasonal ingredients.

Think about the shelf-life

Before ordering a huge load of different foods, think about how long that particular ingredient can survive before it is in too bad shape to be served to a customer. An avocado has a way lower shelf-life than an apple so this needs to be acknowledged when ordering foods.

Make sure foods are stored properly

Making sure that the foods are stored in proper containers that are sealed well is important. Especially the foods that you have prepared will spoil way easier than raw ingredients, so make sure that they are stored in air-tight containers. Using stretch film between the lid and container as a bonus sealant will keep the foods alive a bit longer!

Keep an eye for storage temperatures

Making sure that your refrigerators and freezer temperatures are correct will prevent the growth of harmful bacteria which will lead to more safe storage conditions, therefore the food is less likely to spoil. Also, cooling the food correctly in an efficient cooler will have a great impact on how the food will survive in the coming days.

Have a backup plan for excess food

Predicting food consumption is a hard task, therefore restaurants often find themselves with excess food. You should always have some kind of plan for the excess food ant it’s really not that hard because it doesn’t need to be anything unusual. Let’s say that you have leftover pasta from yesterday, you could make a pasta salad and serve it as a special for today’s lunch. If the ingredients aren’t spoiled or past their use-by dates, use it!

Replace equipment if necessary

Using bad fridges, freezers, or coolers could be costly in the long run and they can increase food waste drastically. If you have a piece of broken equipment you should call maintenance and if they can’t fix it, get a proper one fast.

Simplify your menu

We all know those restaurants that have 50-100 different dish options, or more. This will end up for some ingredients to spoil so making the menu a little more simple will reduce food waste really well, in addition, the menus will be more clear to customers as well. This way the customers don’t get analysis by paralysis which is caused by too many options.

Plan your menu with similar ingredients

Offering dishes that share many of the same ingredients will be a lot easier for your restaurant and it will save food in the long run. You can maintain the same quality as ever before so this doesn’t mean that you should offer nearly the same dishes with different names on them.

Monitor your menu and ordered foods

Keeping an eye for what foods gets the most orders and which ones don’t get ordered at all can be valuable data for your restaurants. If some dishes don’t get ordered then it raises the risk of your ingredients spoiling, therefore you should think about removing or replacing that particular meal from the menu.

Measure & control portion sizes

Having the same portion sizes for all customers needs to be in order. Having a serious conversation with the staff and showing the exact amount of ingredients to include in a dish is important for many reasons. First, if the customers get different sized portions someone will always feel bad and that shouldn’t be the case. Second, there will be money wasted if some of the employees load the plates too full for months.

Use smaller plates

Using smaller plates will make the dishes look bigger and it is more likely that the customers finish the meal fully, and that they don’t overeat or overload the plates in a buffet. I have worked in many buffets in the past and it is truly shocking how much do smaller plates really affect the food waste and the amounts of food eaten. I highly recommend switching to smaller plates if you’re not still using them. This doesn’t mean that you should offer less food or try to trick customers.

Switch away from tray-dining

If you have a buffet people tend to get a little excited with all the delicious-looking food surrounding them and most of the time, many people get simply too much food. If you have a self-service counter, you should consider leaving out the trays because if they are only given plates, they are less likely to build a mountain of food or take 10 pieces of bread in the process. The beauty of buffets is that you can always get more if you still want to eat.

Offer chef’s specials

As briefly mentioned before, chef’s specials are a great way to get rid of excess food and getting the customers feeling appreciated and happy. Preparing different pastries, simple finger foods, or side dishes will get the customers really excited which will lead to a good reputation and mouth to mouth advertising, as well as food waste reductions.

Reuse every food you can

Reusing everything that you can is a must. Adding additional ingredients to the day’s meals, making salads, sauces, dips, or anything between will add up each month and by the year’s end, you have saved a huge amount of food!

Compost

If you have a compost opportunity in your restaurant or in the nearby area, you should cease it. Composting will enrich the soil in farms and gardens and in addition, it reduces your environmental impact and waste removal bill! As stated before, little things really add up so this could be extremely beneficial in many ways over time.

Recycle

Recycling cardboard boxes, glass bottles, metal cans, paper items, and other recyclables shouldn’t be thrown in the same bin. Gathering up the staff and labeling the correct bins clearly will make everyone more conscious about recycling and it will help the environment drastically. If done right, your waste removal bill will get down in the process.

Offer reusable non-food items

Disposable paper, plastic cutlery, and straws, and other similar items will generate a huge amount of unnecessary waste. Offering metal straws and cutlery can and will add up in the course of time. In addition, you will save a lot of money in the process! Sometimes it’s not possible to switch to reusable items for example if running a food truck, then you will need to offer disposable items and that’s perfectly fine.

Sell excess food

Selling excess food through a provider such as ResQ Club or a similar provider can boost up sales that had been thrown away otherwise. You can also sell excess food within your restaurant which will get customers excited and you will drastically reduce food waste with a win-win situation!

Offer free/discounted staff meals

Offering free or discounted employee meals will ultimately save you food and reduce food waste in addition it will keep your employees more motivated as well! If you don’t offer free staff meals yet, you can gather the employees together and announce it with a condition that the total food waste numbers will get down! In this way you create motivation for the employees, they will be more pleased so overall service and efficiency will go up as well, and the food waste numbers will get reduced!

Donate food for those in need

If you have excess food you should make food bags, contact a charity foundation or host a free event so that those in need can come and get an enjoyable meal and a pleasant memory. In addition to doing a good thing, you will reduce food waste numbers and get extremely positive brand recognition and reputation.

Get creative with food waste management

There are many innovative ideas and creative food waste tricks such as freezing leftover herbs, making a delicious stock out of scraps, pickling certain ingredients and you name it! Your imagination is the limit here and you should experiment and try different things and who knows what you could discover.

Conclusion

This concludes our ideas on how to reduce food waste in a restaurant and I personally have used most of them and find them extremely valuable and useful in terms of saving the environment and saving up money as well without forgetting the positive reputation you will get in the process.

Leave a comment below if you have something to add to the list, find one of the ideas particularly useful, or want to share a story about your food waste management practices in your business!

Omar Abdalla

I’m the owner of JRS and while I love working in a busy restaurant, I also enjoy more peaceful and relaxed cookouts at home.

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