A Practical Guide on Reducing Food Waste in Your Restaurant
According to the UNEP’s Food Waste Index Report from 2021, around 17% of the global food production is consigned to the waste bin. And we were shocked to find that 26% of that waste comes from the foodservice industry alone (versus 13% from retail).
But is it really that much of a shock? Anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant knows a fair deal about the trash cans filled with leftover side dishes or unused ingredients. Your typical American restaurant throws out approximately 85% of the food that isn’t consumed – things that could be either donated or composted.
Waste-free Restaurant? It’s no Fantasy!
Since Riviera sources foods (mainly perishables) to dozens of hospitality businesses, we know that most of our clients face this very issue, and we are here to address it.
If you’d like to employ better methods of managing food waste in your own restaurant, we’ve prepared a quick guide to show you how to do just that!
Part I. Preventive Practices to Reduce Food Waste in Your Restaurant
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure (or so said Benjamin Franklin), so let’s see what can be done to avoid or reduce food waste in your restaurant.
1. Stop Overprepping
It all starts with how much you buy in the first place. For example, you might have noticed that some of your kitchen ingredients are always in surplus (i.e., they frequently end up in the trash bin). If that’s the case, then you are clearly over-purchasing them. Although bulk-purchasing might seem like a cost-effective practice (you get more for less, right?), any real benefit is lost when part of the food gets thrown out anyway.
Above all, don’t stock up on large amounts of produce. No matter how fresh, fruit and vegetables are known for their short shelf life and temperature sensitivity. The same goes for meats and dairy products. So instead of risking wasting these supplies, carefully analyze your restaurant’s food requirements and create a realistic inventory plan. Then, use forecasting to make sure your purchases match an existing demand before placing that large order.
2. Store, Lable, Track
So the ingredients you ordered are now flowing in.
Firstly, you have to inspect the food to ensure no spoils are sneaking into your kitchen. Then, to maximize the shelf life of sensitive products, make sure everything is properly stored, labeled, and tracked. That way, none of your foods will go unnoticed and spoil on some dusty back shelf. Of course, the dusty part is just a metaphor: you have to strictly abide by industry safety standards and always keep your restaurant’s storage areas neat, clean, and organized.
In addition, your stock needs to be structured according to which foods can or cannot be stored together. Humidity and temperature control are essential factors here: ensure that all item types benefit from the appropriate environment to maximize their shelf life.
You’ll also have to monitor your inventory at regular intervals. Don’t just rely on the best before label. Constantly check your ingredients – especially the produce section – for early spoils that could ruin an otherwise fresh and healthy batch.
3. Stock Regulation with FIFO
Here’s to a great how to reduce food waste practice: FIFO, short for first-in, first-out. It’s a method employed by a wide range of organizations stating that the oldest products must be used or sold before the newer ones. This approach makes all the more sense for foodservice businesses.
To run a FIFO-compliant restaurant, make sure your kitchen staff always uses the older ingredients before the ones you’ve bought recently. This is easily achievable if you rotate the foods regularly, with the first purchases conveniently available near the front of the fridge.
4. Practice Portion Control
So far, we have addressed pre-consumer waste (food that spoils before it leaves the kitchen). But what about post-consumer waste? The latter refers to dishes bought but not eaten – partially or fully – by a consumer. You might be thinking there’s no way you can control what your clients leave behind, but that’s not always true.
For instance, If you’ve noticed people frequently leave this or that dish behind, cut down on its quantity or completely pull it out of the menu. This may happen with pointlessly large side dishes (they’re called side dishes for a reason, so make them smaller). Also, cut out extra ingredients that only serve presentation purposes. You should also give your diners the option to opt-out of certain sidekicks – maybe they really don’t want a salad with their burger.
Final tip: opt for seasonal dishes made with locally sourced ingredients, which patrons tend to appreciate in full. We’ve covered the many benefits of seasonal menus in another one of our recent blogs, so be sure to give that one a read too!
Part II. Solutions to the Unavoidable Food Waste in Your Restaurant
What’s done is done? Not really.
Say you’ve taken all of these preventive measures. As a result, you’ve seen a significant decrease in your restaurant’s food waste. Some will still happen, though, and it’s only natural. And so the second part of our blog covers three quick methods for dealing with unavoidable food waste.
1. Compost Food Waste
Any business that produces food waste can quickly turn that waste into compost. In short, composting is a method for breaking down virtually any organic material into nutrient-rich soil (that local farmers can make great use of!). In other words, it’s a natural decomposition process that takes no extra effort on your part besides tossing the food waste into the composting bin. Check out this brief guide for instruction on things you can and can’t compost.
2. Offer Leftovers to Local Farmers
Even if you don’t compost, you can still donate food scraps to farm animals – yet another great way to recycle food waste while supporting local agriculture. The value of that food is lost to you anyway, so why not allow someone else to make great use of it? Assuming you’re purchasing locally, this is an excellent way to give back to the people that supply your restaurant.
3. Donate the Extras to Charity
This is a terrific alternative for repurposing unused food (stock that hasn’t been served yet). If you cooked in bulk, and, let’s say, seven of the plates you had prepared haven’t even left your storage, it’s time to give them away to those in need. You can establish contact with charitable organizations in your area and ask about any procedures you might have to follow.
Another idea of how to reduce food waste is to give away the extras directly from your restaurant – no questions asked – to anyone in need of a charity meal (think of simple but filling dishes such as sandwiches, pasta, and soup).
Lastly, you can also let your own restaurant staff take home any extras if they wish to. This applies to cooked dishes and any leftover ingredients in your inventory that might spoil soon anyway.
Devise and adapt your restaurant’s food waste prevention strategy according to changing circumstances (seasons, rising or falling demand) and always keep a careful eye on overproduction.
Finally, don’t forget there’s plenty of things you can do with leftovers other than casting them in the trash bin. Running an environmentally friendly restaurant will help you be at peace with yourself while also earning your clients’ appreciation.