How to Reduce Restaurant Food Waste

Restaurant food waste is a major problem in the United States. In fact, a study by the Food Waste Reduction Alliance found that 84.3% of unused food in U.S. restaurants gets thrown out, while 14.3% is recycled and 1.4% of food is donated. Aside from the negative environmental impact that food waste has on our planet, restaurant food waste also accounts for lost – but much needed – revenue for restaurant owners. It’s more important than ever to focus on reducing food waste and increasing efficiency. Here are the top areas to help prevent unnecessary loss.

5 Common Ways to Manage Inventory to Minimize Restaurant Food Waste

1. Don’t over buy (too much backstock can be a bad thing).
It’s no secret that most food suppliers run promotions from time to time and the temptation to stock up can be enticing. But do you have enough room in the back of house? Will you be able to sell through the product before it spoils? Keep in mind that excess inventory can tie up funds. Only buy what you need when dealing with perishable items such as produce. Items that require temperature control should also not be subject to over-buying. Non-perishable items with a long shelf life should be prioritized for “deal buying” and should still be purchased in some form of moderation.

2. Focus on temperature control.
Everyone knows that temperature control is one of the first things that health inspectors look at because of the increased risk of foodborne illness. Avoid the “danger zone” of 41 – 140 degrees by closely monitoring refrigeration and heating equipment. Temperature checks for both hot and cold temperatures should be routine and will result in food waste reduction.

3. Label food correctly.
Keeping detailed labels on food can help to make sure it is used before spoiling. The saying, ‘first-in first-out’ (FIFO), is something each staff member should be familiar with and follow. In addition, you should consider requiring the following information be written on all labels:

  • Product name
  • Employee name or initials
  • Prep date
  • Use-by date

4. Use an inventory management system.
Under FIFO, the food that has been in storage the longest gets used first. Maintaining the FIFO system can be more work but ultimately pays dividends in reducing food waste and profit loss.

5. Conduct regular audits of inventory.
Make sure that employees are doing quality control checks of all inventory to reduce food spoiling. It’s easy for staff members to slip up on details in the chaos that is back of house work so double checking their work is important. There should also be a digital paper trail or hard copy on record when receiving all supplies. If your POS integrates with inventory, that’s even better! This technology provides a real-time view of inventory levels, allowing you to stay ahead of potential issues.

Manage Business Decisions with Food Waste in Mind

  • Keep menu production close to what customer’s order. This is a prime example of how profitable business decisions and food waste are intertwined. Take notice of trends to see which menu items are the most popular and profitable. Using customer interest to manage your menu items will save the business money and stop food from hitting the landfill.
  • Repurpose ingredients. It’s a regular practice in kitchens to turn items from yesterday into something for today. Encourage your chefs and staff to get creative and find ways to use all ingredients before they spoil. Can you give new life to the leftover lamb from the braise from the previous night? Do you have extra vegetable greens you can make into chimichurri? Or can you donate additional leftovers and food scraps to livestock on a local farm?
  • Educate your staff. Proper training programs can go a long way in preventing loss in a restaurant. Make sure your staff is empowered with knowledge and there are clear expectations on how to reduce waste and reward those who are consistent.
  • Give life to leftovers in a family meal. Investing in a happy and well-fed staff is worthwhile for any business owner. Plan your family meal menu around what you’ve got left and need to use before the food goes bad. Or as a last-ditch effort against food waste, consider letting employees take some of those food items home.
  • Donate food to charity. Donating still-safe-for-consumption food items can help the millions of people who go hungry each night. In addition to helping your local community, donating food may include tax benefits.
  • Invest in a POS system. Modern day POS systems have features that can help reduce food waste and profit loss. Inventory management and streamlined food ordering can cut food waste significantly.

Read, ‘3 Benefits of a Restaurant POS System.

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Your business is your livelihood, and we do all we can to help you protect it. Our business insurance program is tailored to the unique needs of your restaurant. Talk to your local Society Insurance agent to discuss your insurance coverage options.

Additional Resources

4 Money Saving Tips for Restaurant Owners

8 Best Practices for Running a Successful Restaurant


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