What should your restaurant’s food waste % be — and how can you get there? 

4 ways to reduce food waste in restaurants

Wasting food feels like throwing money away, right? That’s because it is throwing money away. 

You buy ingredients that go straight from your supplier, to your inventory storage, to the bin. And not only have you wasted money on these ingredients, but you can no longer generate revenue from them. This impacts your profit margins and your bottom line. 

All in all, it’s not good — but it’s not all doom and gloom! 

There are plenty of ways to reduce food waste in your restaurant and make as much profit as possible from your ingredients. In fact, 75% of food waste is avoidable. 

Keep reading to find out how to reduce food waste in restaurants, how to calculate your food waste, and what the ideal food waste % should be. 

How to calculate your food waste

The typical formula for calculating food waste is: 

Food waste percentage = Weight of food waste / Total food purchases x 100 

Here’s a breakdown of how this formula works: 

  • Take inventory of your ingredients. Start by taking inventory of all the food items you’ve purchased for the restaurant. This includes raw ingredients, pre-made food items, and anything else that’s served to customers. 
  • Track food items used. Keep tabs on all the food items you use in your menu items, including how much is used in each dish. 
  • Monitor food waste. Track all discarded food items. This includes spoiled items, damaged food from preparation, and food that customers leave on the plate. 
  • Calculate the weight of wasted food. Weigh the amount of wasted food by subtracting the total weight of food used from the total weight of purchased food.

With this information, you can determine your percentage of food waste. For example, if you bought 50 kg of food and wasted 10 kg, the food waste percentage would be 20%.

Hot tip 🔥 Let’s not beat around the bush — manually tracking all this information is a headache. Use a restaurant management platform like Nory to track your inventory in real-time. 

What should your food waste percentage be? 

It’s hard to put a number to this because there are so many variables. The ideal food waste percentage for one restaurant might not be ideal for another. 

Employee serving food in salad bowls

To give you an idea of what to aim for, here are some studies that have worked out the average amount of food waste in restaurants: 

  • 12kg of food waste per person (9%)
  • Restaurants typically waste between 4-10% of purchased food before reaching the customer

Based on these figures, restaurants should be aiming for a food waste percentage of less than 10%. 

But remember — this percentage might not be right for your restaurant. Figure out what your current food waste percentage is, and go from there. 

Food for thought 🤔 The European Commission is proposing food waste reduction targets by 2030 as part of the revision of the Waste Framework Directive. The targets are to reduce waste by:

  • 10% in processing and manufacturing
  • 30% (per capita) jointly at retail and consumption

These targets don’t apply to the UK, but they’re likely to add pressure to create similar legislation. Not to mention, the UN Sustainable Development Goal is aiming for a 50% reduction in food waste by 2030. 

So, if you aren’t thinking about how to reduce your food waste ASAP, now is the time to get started. 2030 isn’t that far away! 

How to control and minimise your food waste 

Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can minimise food waste in your restaurant. 

1. Avoid over-buying ingredients 

Over-buying is one of the top culprits of restaurant food waste. You over-order ingredients but don’t have enough demand to use them all. Inevitably, they spoil and get thrown away. 

Restaurant employee reviewing inventory with Nory

So what’s the best way to avoid over-buying? 

Accurately predicting demand.

When you know how many diners you’ll have over a given period, you can optimise your inventory accordingly. For example, Saturday night is your peak time, so you order more ingredients to cover the demand. Wednesday afternoon is your quietest period

This is where technology shines in hospitality.

With a platform like Nory, for example, you can automatically adjust food orders based on demand. Our AI-powered technology will analyse historical data to predict demand and update your food order automatically.
If you don’t believe us, take a look at Clean Kitchen. Using Nory has helped Clean Kitchen elevate its sustainability initiatives by reducing food waste. How? By improving stock management.

With real-time access to restaurant data, Clean Kitchen sees a line-by-line breakdown of costs, usage, and profits from food items. They can now make informed decisions about how to improve their stock management, ensuring they only order the ingredients they need to reduce costs and minimise food waste. Nory also recommends ideal inventory levels so that Clean Kitchen can meet customer demand without over-ordering ingredients.

“We’ve seen about a 4% decrease in the cost of goods sold (COGs) from having that visibility and traceability over our stock.”

Adam Jefferies, Head of Operations

2. Optimise your inventory management 

Improving the way you manage your inventory can have a huge impact on your food waste percentage. It can prevent spoilage, ensure chefs use older ingredients first, and help you keep tabs on what you currently have in your roster. 

Let’s look at these in more detail: 

  • Use older ingredients first. Optimise the way you store your ingredients to ensure that cooks and chefs use older ingredients first. For example, when your new stock comes in, put these ingredients behind existing items. That way, the older items are used first, minimising spoilage and reducing waste.

Fun fact 🤪 This process is a well-known inventory costing technique called First-In, First-Out. Find out more about it here: The ultimate guide to costing techniques for restaurant inventory

  • Store food to ensure longevity. Make sure you store your ingredients safely and correctly to help them last as long as possible. Maintaining correct temperatures, using properly sealed containers, and training staff on storage procedures are some of the ways to help ingredients last. 
  • Track inventory. Keep tabs on inventory in real-time to monitor use-by dates, usage, and other key information that helps you minimise food waste. If this sounds like a lot of work, don’t worry. You can use platforms like Nory to automatically track these metrics and figure out how to improve your inventory management to reduce waste. 
Tracking inventory performance and food waste with Nory

3. Understand where your waste comes from 

Knowing where your waste comes from is key to minimising it. Think about it — if you don’t know where your food waste is coming from, how do you plan to reduce it? 

And the funny thing is, 80% of restaurants don’t know what proportion of their waste comes from food preparation, spoilage or plate waste. Crazy 🤯

So what’s the solution to this problem?

Go on — take a guess… 

If your answer is technology, you’re right. ✅

Using technology can help you track the source of your food waste. And more importantly, it can help you understand how to reduce food waste from each source. You can see exactly where the food waste comes from, and put measures in place to minimise it. 

Take a look at Hartshorn-Hook as an example. 

Before using Nory, the restaurant group struggled with real-time insights. This impacted their ability to make quick and informed decisions, making it hard to react quickly to challenges and hurdles impacting profitability. 

Today, things are different for Hartshorn-Hook. They now have granular visibility into inventory management, giving them precise control over food costs and waste reduction. They can see where their food waste comes from, and put measures in place to prevent it. 

“Nory’s insights mean we can make informed decisions because we know exactly where the business is at. This has been the most important thing as we guide our business into growth.”

George Hartshorn, Food and Beverage Director at Hartshorn – Hook

Find out more about the different types of food waste below. 

4. Don’t over-plate your meals 

48% of people say portion size is the main reason they don’t eat all their food when eating out. On average, almost 15% of main courses are left uneaten.

The moral of this story? Don’t over-plate your meals. Instead, find the optimal amount of ingredients for each dish to reduce the chance of leftover food. 

A chef carefully plating food for serving

But how do you find the optimal plating quantities? 

Here are some suggestions: 

  • Keep track of plate waste. Monitor how much food is wasted from each plate on your menu. This will indicate areas where over-plating is an issue. If you’re using technology to monitor plate waste, you can use dashboards to visualise this information in a simple and digestible format. Then, you can instantly see which items to reduce without manually trawling through the figures. 
  • Talk to diners. Speak to your customers (either directly or with a feedback survey) to find out their thoughts on plating quantities. This is a great way to find out exactly what people think of your portion sizes and where you can trim quantities to reduce waste. 

When you have a better idea of the optimal quantities, you can engineer your menu accordingly. 

Track restaurant food waste in real-time with Nory 

Reducing food waste is a necessity for restaurants in the current climate. It’s good for the environment, it reduces costs, and it increases your profit margins. 

But tracking food waste is easier said than done — unless you’re using the right technology. 😏 

Take a look at Masa’s story

The Dublin-based restaurant uses Nory to accurately predict sales within a 3% margin, improving financial planning across the entire business.

Read the story
reduce food waste in restaurants,

FAQs about food waste in restaurants

How much food do restaurants waste in the UK? 

The figures vary from different sources, but one thing remains the same: restaurants waste a lot of food. Here are some of the key figures: 

  • Approximately 1.05 billion tonnes of food waste was generated in 2022 — 28% of this came from food services. 
  • Around 10% of food made for EU consumers (at retail, food services and households) may be wasted.
  • Food waste costs the hospitality sector £3.2 billion every year – that’s an average of £10k for each outlet every year. 

What are the different types of food waste? 

Here are some of the main sources of food waste in restaurants: 

  • Food preparation waste. This is food that is not used during the preparation of a dish. It is usually caused by trimming and peeling produce and overestimating how much of an ingredient is needed.
  • Plate waste. When customers don’t finish their meal, the leftovers are thrown away. This tends to be the result of over-plating or serving poor-quality food. 
  • Spoilage. Food that’s gone bad due to improper storage or handling. Or, when it turns before it can be used, which is usually the result of overordering. 
  • Transportation loss. Food gets damaged in transit and can’t be used.