Food Waste Management

A guide for chefs and restaurant owners on how to reduce food waste
Restaurant management Jan 19, 2021 Giovanni Giorgi
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Food waste management is a fundamental aspect of restaurant operations. A correct approach to reducing food waste can help your business boost revenues, minimize environmental impact, and ultimately, contribute to positive marketing. However, establishing a complete and scalable plan to reduce food waste is not an easy task. Our Choco guide will provide you with the best practices and tips to do so.

Every year, US restaurants waste from 22 to 33 billion pounds of food. This means that approximately 4% to 10% of purchased goods from US restaurants do not reach the dining table. Numbers are even higher when considering the 7 to 11 additional billions of food wasted by kitchens in schools, hospitals, or hotels. Many factors contribute to food loss in restaurants, including excessive menu options, over-preparation, or improper storage. Forwarding sustainable kitchen culture is (or should be) an important mission for every restaurant, especially because it ultimately translates into higher revenues. For example, during our webinar on minimizing food waste, chef Matt Orlando from Amass, Copenhagen, talked about saving up to 90 liters of water a day, which turned into 10.000 $ of refunds for his restaurant during its first year of operations. Are you ready to find out the best practices to reduce food waste in your restaurant? Below is our guide on how to do it by reassessing your menu, team, and operations.

Keep your menu small

One way to reduce food waste in your restaurant is to downsize your menu and plan it around a narrower selection of key ingredients. These items are the ones building up your restaurant concept— which means, if you are a burger and fries diner, you might want to take off soups from your daily offering, for example (of course, only when these are not among the most popular ordered options). This practice allows your kitchen to work more smoothly and to keep better track of those fewer goods and how they perform through their life cycle in your kitchen. In the end, making your restaurant more sustainable is all a matter of saving time in operations: ordering less, sorting out your kitchen space and inventory more efficiently, and ultimately end up having more time to dedicate to your sustainability mission. Another advantage of presenting a smaller menu include the possibility of your dishes to be more flexible: with regards to this point, Rogue Radish's menu from chef Max Snyder is one great example of how building a menu around more basic, yet more versatile items (a plant-based bowl, in the case of this newly opened food trailer in Austin, Texas) can help your menu adapt to changes— whereas these are due to seasonality or supplies availability. When thinking about flexibility, keeping the menu small is also a good practice to facilitate order customization, which is an increasingly popular trend due to higher awareness or sensitivity to health or to ethical reasons. As more and more customers request to take off or add ingredients to your dishes, a small menu is a great solution for offering customizable meals that can suit different dietary requirements while helping you optimize operations like storing, tracking, or managing waste.

Follow a FIFO system

When working in a restaurant, this is one of the main rules to follow: items that were purchased first must be put at the front of your cupboard or shelf. And of course, they always have to be labeled, especially when there is "use-by date" information. A First-in-First-out system is a great practice to check on your ingredients and avoid spoilage.

Track, track, track

When working with restaurants sustainability, collecting data is one of the most important things to do. For example, observing how much and what type of food is left on the plate by customers can help you make the right adjustments on recipes and portions. A correct and number-based tracking process is also necessary when it comes to monitoring spoiled food and sorting out waste disposal. Similar tracking operations include clear labeling of raw ingredients or stored preparations, as well as regular inventory checks (for this part, the Choco app can help you by keeping all your purchases in one place). Therefore, start writing everything down in a food waste recording sheet that includes information like date, amount (yes, you do need a scale), and category (for example, pre-consumption and after-consumption). Collecting this information is the first step to address the right questions about your ingredients— should I avoid buying certain goods? Is there anything I can do to extend the life-cycle of those wasted items?— and ultimately, establishing a plan of action. While keeping track of which ingredients are more likely to generate waste in your restaurant, tracking sales can be an additional valuable source of data for you to understand when and why certain foods get wasted during a given time. This is particularly important for the most easily perishable items. For example, if you notice an increase of 10% of blueberries sales during weekends, you might want to plan your orderings accordingly. It's all a matter of tracking, testing, and adjusting.

Use every part of your food

Don’t forget about the dear old “nose to tail” trend— a concept also applying to fruits and vegetables, as chef Matt Orlando explained in our webinar while telling about his pumpkin seed oil recipe at Amass restaurant. There is potential behind every inch of your food. And there are many culinary techniques and recipes to explore: whereas it’s about saving corn cobs and vegetable peels to make a flavoring broth, radish leaves to obtain a delicious pesto, or more complex processes involving fermentation, always remind yourself that you can play around and develop amazing recipes around parts of your food that would usually get wasted.

Don’t throw away

Before throwing away anything, you must ask yourself if there is a way to avoid doing it. From donating food to recycling water, you should always investigate what solutions are available to reuse your products, either within your restaurant kitchen or by partnering with local businesses that might use your outputs as inputs. Making compost is the main example of practices to reduce food waste in restaurants, that chefs like Matt Orlando or Max Snyder carry out either on-site or via local waste collectors. A growing trend concerning composting is the use of food waste digesters and dehydrators, as more and more restaurants are incorporating these machines into their space to minimize the amount of food waste that gets sent to landfills. Their function is very simple: digesters grind up food waste material before breaking it up using a biological additive to accelerate decomposition, while dehydrators reduce the weight and volume of the food waste prior to hauling, using a mechanical and thermal approach.

Get your team together

Reducing food waste in restaurants implies that you and your teammates should be responsible for labeling, tracking, managing waste correctly, discussing causes and solutions. Ideally, both preparation and cleaning staff members are involved in this process, as they are the ones most directly dealing with ingredients that are either used or trashed. Moreover, it is fundamental to get every staff member aligned with methods of tracking, storing, and recycling food.

More tips for your restaurant