In this #snack, we look at the increasingly important issue of food wastage in restaurants and explore six strategies you can put into action to help reduce your food waste.
An estimated one-third of all the food produced in the world never makes it to a person’s plate.
Which is pretty incredible.
This statistic from the United Nations puts into sharp focus the very real issue of food wastage across the world.
Food dumped in landfills rots and releases methane gas – a big contributor to climate change.
Apart from the environmental impact, too much food wastage eats away at your restaurant’s bottom line.
Let’s take a closer look at some of these issues and their potential solutions
Reducing Food Waste: A Growing Appetite for Sustainability
Andrew Stephen, the CEO of the UK based Sustainable Restuarant Association, said in 2020 that the desire to tackle waste has been gathering pace.
Environmental factors play a big role, but what else is pushing restaurants to reduce food waste?
Consumers are becoming more eco-conscious
The National Restaurant Association’s Jeffery Clark told QSR Magazine recently that the modern restaurant consumer is more eco-conscious than ever before.
And the research backs this up.
Millennial and Gen Z marketing expert Jeff Fromm found that 65% of consumers look for products and services that help them live a more sustainable lifestyle.
And when it comes to the restaurant industry, this survey found that 61% of younger consumers are thinking about waste when eating out.
Its clear consumers are becoming more aware of the environmental impact of their buying decisions. As a restaurant operator, you need to anticipate this shift and meet these new expectations.
Government regulations are on the way
Clark also adds that government regulations on food waste will eventually come in across most of the world.
For example, South Korea’s government began introducing a range of measures in 2005 to tackle its massive food waste problem. The country went from recycling just 2% of food waste to a jaw-dropping 95%.
The UK passed the Environment Bill into law in November 2021 and it aims to eliminate food waste from landfills by 2030.
As part of this restaurants are required from 2023 onwards to separate their food waste from their general waste. Similar to what we’ve seen with calorie labelling, it’s better to get ahead of regulations so you aren’t falling behind or panicking when they finally come in.
It just makes business sense
Things are changing. Restaurants need to pay attention to how they recycle their waste and the environmental impact.
On top of this though, it also has a huge impact on your bottom line profit.
Food waste prevention group Champions 12.3 conducted an excellent study on the business case for reducing waste. From reviewing 114 restaurants across 12 countries they found that:
- For every $1 invested in reducing food waste, they saved $7.
- Restaurants on average reduced food waste by 26%
- Over 75% of the restaurants recouped their investment in food waste prevention.
Reducing food waste will help increase profitability – it’s a no brainer.
Waste audits: conducting efficient checks for sustainability
An essential step in minimising food waste within any establishment is the ability to gauge the extent of the issue and the specific areas that need improvement. Conducting waste audits serves this exact purpose.
Waste audits provide a detailed examination of the food waste being generated, offering you a comprehensive understanding of what, where, and why food waste is happening. By mapping out your current waste management practices, you can identify gaps, inefficiencies, and opportunities for enhanced waste reduction and management.
In this sense, waste audits are not only an analytical tool but also an effective strategy to promote operational efficiency, economic savings, and environmental sustainability.
A waste audit step-by-step:
Here’s a brief guide to help you understand and conduct a successful waste audit in your establishment.
- Step 1: Set clear goals: Identifying clear assessment objectives and understanding your specific areas of focus within your food waste streams form the foundation of a successful waste audit.
- Step 2: Pre-assessment: Complete a pre-assessment questionnaire to map out your current food waste management practices. This step gives you an essential baseline for your audit and provides initial insights into possible areas of improvement.
- Step 3: Get familiar with your facility: Conduct a walk-through of your facility, including the kitchen, storage, and waste disposal areas, to fully understand where and how waste is generated and managed.
- Step 4: Plan the audit: Outline your waste audit procedures, delegate tasks to your team, and ensure that everyone is clear on their roles and responsibilities. This ensures your audit is well-organised and efficient.
- Step 5: Organise your logistics: Plan when and how the audit will take place and who will participate. Also, ensure you have all the necessary resources and supplies, like scales and containers for weighing waste.
- Step 6: Conduct the audit: Gather a representative sample of the waste your restaurant produces and conduct a thorough sorting process, categorising and weighing different types of waste.
- Step 7: Analyse and report: After the audit, review and analyse your findings. Identify trends, discover opportunities for waste reduction, and formulate a plan to implement necessary changes. Sharing your results not only motivates your team but can also foster positive press around your sustainability efforts.
10 strategies to reduce food waste
Restaurants waste 4-10% of food they purchase before it reaches the customer’s plate.
The only way to reduce this number is a clear plan.
Here are 10 strategies you should implement into your plan right now.
Efficient inventory management
Correct food storage covers a lot of different areas. Make sure the following points are covered off:
- Adopt the first in/first out method (FIFO) of stock rotation – meaning the oldest stock is used first and stored in front of new stock.
- Ensure each storage space is at the correct temperature so there’s less chance of contamination and spoilage.
- Label food correctly so you know exactly what it is and what it’s needed for. Use by date information is especially important here.
- Embrace technology such as inventory management software, restaurants can automate these processes, enabling them to avoid over-ordering and prevent spoilage.
These simple actions will go a long way to reducing waste.
Track food waste
The bedrock of any food waste reduction plan is tracking your waste – however, this is where a lot of restaurants are falling short.
Regularly monitor waste levels by weighing or measuring discarded food and track this data over time. Analysing waste data can help pinpoint inefficiencies, such as overproduction or spoilage, and inform targeted waste reduction strategies. Reviewing the effectiveness of waste reduction measures through ongoing waste audits ensures continuous improvement and long-term success.
An inventory management system is crucial to track your waste. On top of that, your staff needs to actually track what’s being thrown out and why – unaccounted waste is the silent killer for every restaurant.
Employ tech solutions
Leveraging smart inventory systems or related software can play a pivotal role in reducing food waste. These advanced tools enable you to monitor and predict your consumption of various items.
By adopting such technology, you can make your purchasing process more accurate, only buying what you need based on the system’s usage predictions. This leads to fewer unnecessary purchases and subsequently, less food going to waste.
Make data driven decisions on purchasing and prep
Predicting when the busiest times of the year are going to occur is mission critical for restaurants at the moment.
Labour shortages and supply chain issues are plaguing most operators currently so plan every day, week and month down to the smallest detail.
Look back at your sales data to analyse what’s being sold and when. By forecasting menu item sales and the ingredients used, it allows ordering and prep to be data based and not based on gut instinct.
This in turn will minimise the waste coming out of your kitchen.
Optimise your menu
A lean, optimised menu is the cornerstone of any successful restaurant. It shows confidence in your product and provides a better experience for your customers.
Kitchen staff will be well practised in making each menu item and will know exactly what amount of ingredients is needed.
You also know what you need from suppliers week in, week out – adjusting only for busier and quieter periods during the year.
Educate and empower your team
Your kitchen staff are going to play a crucial role in reducing food waste. They are on the ground every day and know exactly what’s going in and out of the kitchen.
Run sessions explaining the reasons why reducing waste is so important to the business. As we detailed above, talk about the environmental impact, customer sentiment and the restaurants’ profit margins.
Set weekly, monthly and quarterly waste reduction targets that are manageable for your team. Be open to their suggestions on reducing waste and implement ideas that work.
Introduce smaller portion choices
In the restaurant business, understanding and catering to diverse customer preferences is crucial. Some patrons gravitate towards lighter meals or simply have smaller appetites. This difference becomes especially noticeable when it comes to traditionally large-portioned dishes such as pasta or rice-based meals, where leftovers become a commonplace issue.
To address this, your restaurant could introduce the option of smaller portion sizes. This approach broadens your reach to a wider array of appetites and preferences. More importantly, it reduces the amount of food left uneaten on plates, thereby curbing the problem of food waste.
Implement a pre-order system
The unpredictability that comes with large parties or group bookings can often pose a significant challenge. Specifically, it can be difficult to predict the exact volume of food needed to cater to these larger groups. This uncertainty often leads to over-preparation and, unfortunately, a substantial amount of waste.
A practical solution to navigate this conundrum is the implementation of a pre-order system. With this in place, customers can specify their meal choices in advance of their visit. In turn, your kitchen staff can prepare the precise quantities needed, sidestepping the potential for over-preparation and ensuing waste.
Besides enhancing your operation’s cost-effectiveness, such a system also emphasises your commitment to maintaining an environmentally-friendly establishment.
Highlight your food waste reduction achievements
Being transparent in your operational practices can significantly enhance your restaurant’s reputation. As such, it’s beneficial to actively share your strides in reducing food waste with your customers.
You can achieve this through various mediums. Whether it’s on your website, via social media channels, or even through in-house signage and communication, it’s crucial to highlight the measures you’ve taken and the positive results that have ensued.
By doing so, you not only bolster your standing amongst your patron base, but you can also encourage other businesses to follow suit. In sharing your success in waste reduction, you may very well inspire others to undertake similar initiatives. This ripple effect can contribute to a broader, more substantial impact on reducing food waste overall.
Get rid of food waste sustainably
US cities such as New York, San Francisco and Austin have implemented policies to help tackle the food waste issue. In many cases, it was because of large amounts of food waste ended up in the cities’ landfills.
Restaurants in these cities are required to have on-site composting facilities or an agreement with an off-site composting facility. Regular donations to food banks and charities are also encouraged.
It’s practical to start composting waste and donating excess food now as these regulations will likely come into your area soon – if they haven’t already.
In general, the world is moving towards a more sustainable way of living.
Governments around the world introducing laws to tackle climate change that include measures to reduce unnecessary food waste in hospitality. Consumers are also trending in this direction and now desire more sustainable options when buying.
As a restaurant operator, it’s crucial to get ahead of the curve on this and implement a solid plan for food waste reduction right now. Not only is it an ethical imperative in light of our current environmental challenges, but it also makes business sense. Implementing measures to reduce food waste can significantly trim costs, boost operational efficiency, and resonate strongly with increasingly environmentally conscious consumers.
From integrating smart tech solutions and conducting thorough waste audits to offering smaller portion sizes and pre-ordering systems, there are myriad strategies your restaurant can utilise to curb food wastage. Every step, however small, takes us closer to a sustainable and waste-free restaurant industry.
Don’t forget, your food waste reduction achievements shouldn’t stay within your kitchen walls – share them. Be the change you wish to see and inspire others. The cumulative impact of individual efforts can drive significant changes, moving the needle on the broader food waste crisis.
So, as we journey towards a greener and more sustainable future, remember – every plate, every bite, and every bit saved matters.
What is the most significant source of food waste in restaurants?
The most significant source of food waste varies by establishment, but common sources include overproduction, portion sizes, kitchen waste, and customer plate waste.
How can restaurants improve their inventory management to reduce food waste?
Restaurants can improve inventory management by monitoring stock levels and expiry dates, implementing first-in, first-out (FIFO) procedures, and using technology to track and analyse inventory data.
What role do customers play in reducing food waste at restaurants?
Customers can help by being mindful of their consumption, ordering appropriate portion sizes, and asking for doggy bags or containers to take leftovers home.
Are there legal requirements for restaurants to reduce food waste in the UK?
While there are no specific legal requirements for food waste reduction, businesses have a duty of care under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to ensure that waste is managed responsibly.
How can technology help restaurants reduce food waste?
Technology can help through food waste tracking apps, smart storage solutions, and food waste digesters, all of which can contribute to more efficient and sustainable waste management practices.