10 Affordable Ways to Cut Back on Food Waste

For every $1 invested in food-waste reduction, restaurants can realize approximately $8 of cost savings.
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Regularly evaluate portion sizes and serve water by request to reduce waste at your restaurant or cafe. (Photo: nito/Shutterstock)

Each year, the U.S. wastes 62.5 million tons of uneaten food, the majority of which comes from consumer-facing businesses, such as restaurants, grocery stores and foodservice providers. This is according to an in-depth economic study by the nonprofit ReFED, titled “A Roadmap to Reduce U.S. Food Waste by 20 Percent.”

While reducing food waste has a big environmental impact, it can also boost a restaurant’s profitability. The study found that for every $1 invested in food-waste reduction, restaurants can realize approximately $8 of cost savings.

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Jay Bandy, of Goliath Consulting Group, explains that by simply counting napkins and condiments, restaurants can see a 50 percent decrease in usage — reducing both cost and impact. (Photo: Jay Bandy)

“Minimizing food waste has many benefits,” explained Jay Bandy, president of restaurant consultancy Goliath Consulting Group. “Cost savings are gained through better inventory controls, purchasing the right item for the application, fresher/better quality products served to guests and safer product too, since it’s served well before it expires.”

Related: Restaurant Waste: Three Ways to Save Green By Going Green

Restaurants have a unique opportunity to significantly reduce their impact on the environment — and their bottom line. Here’s how.

Count napkins and condiments

If your restaurant uses counter service, instruct your staff to count out a specific number of condiments for each order, rather than giving out handfuls of ketchup or napkins that will likely get tossed in the garbage. Bundy said this move alone can have a huge impact on managing your restaurant’s waste.

“Many times we see a 50 percent decrease in usage. That’s a direct savings in cost and impact to landfills.”

Serve water on request

Another waste-saving idea: only offer water when requested by a guest. Instead of immediately bringing all of your guests water while they wait for table service, hold off and see if they ask for it when ordering drinks.

“There’s more to a glass of water than guests realize,” said Bandy. “This practice has a positive effect on building beverage sales, especially at lunch. It impacts water usage, use of dishwashing chemicals to wash the glass and electricity.”

Related: Restaurant Food Purchasing 101

Always use spatulas to clean out containers

Also try to get more food out of containers before washing by using a spatula to scrape out any leftovers. Bandy estimates adding this step to your process saves at least 5 percent of product, which can add up to pounds and gallons of food wasted each week.

Use clear trash bags

Monitor how much trash your restaurant is throwing out by using clear trash bags and having a manager see the bags before they go to the dumpster. Or go above and beyond by using separate containers for food waste so it can be weighed and measured before being disposed of.

“No restaurant manager likes to dumpster dive to see what’s being wasted. Clear bags help them see what is wasted. Plus it helps with product theft,” advised Bandy.

Related: How to Optimize Your Menu to Lower Your Food Costs

Filter your cooking oil

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Something as simple as using a cooking-oil filtration system in your restaurant can reduce waste up to 75 percent. (Photo: Venus Angel/Shutterstock)

According to Bandy, adding a cooking-oil filtration system can reduce waste by up to 75 percent in a restaurant.

“When combined with used-oil recycling, the restaurants are reducing a big source of waste in restaurants,” he said. A mid-volume restaurant can “see up to a $15,000 annual savings” by implementing this practice.

Consider buying pre-prepped items

“Buy what you need,” he continued. “Buy only onion rings if that’s all you’re using. There are a lot of prepped items that the restaurant can buy that reduces waste. The cost of the pre-prepped product is offset by the increased yield and labor savings.”

Regularly evaluate portion sizes

According to the ReFED study, diners leave an average of 17 percent of their food uneaten. This creates a big opportunity for reducing food waste after the product leaves your kitchen.

“Watch your plates,” said Bandy. “If people can’t finish what is served, reduce the portion size. The restaurant will have better profit margins, and finished food scraps will be reduced significantly.”

Related: Restaurant Owners: Are Your Portions Too Large?

Find ways to reuse food scraps

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Save leftover veggies and meat for stocks to use in stews, soups and sauces. (Photo: leonori/Shutterstock)

When preparing meals in the kitchen, food scraps are unavoidable. Instead of tossing them into the garbage, Bandy recommended restaurants find creative ways to reuse scraps that would otherwise be sent to a landfill.

“Save and use meat scraps for meat stocks,” he said. “Save and use vegetable scraps for vegetable stocks. Restaurants that cut their own meats and fish should have a system in place to process the scrap. It’s great for stock, sauces, stews, soups, etc.”

Monitor your inventory closely

Using an inventory management system that ties into your restaurant’s point of sale (POS) can help you monitor how much product you really need based on what customers are ordering, said Bandy.

“It avoids ordering too much product, thereby reducing waste/spoilage. Weekly inventories keep product fresher, reduce waste and save money. Technology is easily accessible today from food distributors, POS companies and third-party software providers that take the guesswork out of ordering.”

Related: 5 Tips for Improving Your Restaurant’s Inventory Accuracy

Don’t throw out prepared foods

Occasionally, mistakes happen and a dish or beverage gets made twice. Instead of throwing away the extra, use it to offer samples for other guests or give it to another table free of charge. Not only does this keep your product and hard work from going into the disposal, it builds goodwill and loyalty with guests.

“Managing waste is a win-win for the environment and the restaurant. Food waste drives up food costs and reduces profits,” said Bandy. “By reducing waste — combined with composting, recycling, energy management and water management — restaurants have the opportunity to significantly reduce their impact on the environment and natural resources.”

Related: The High Cost of Food Waste [Infographic]

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