how to reduce food waste in restaurants

Reduce your food waste now using these 6 key strategies 

Posted by
Eamonn Curley
Eamonn Curley

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

The growing appetite for reducing food waste

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. 

6 strategies to reduce food waste in your restaurant 

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 six 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. 

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. 

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. 

Wrapping up 

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. 


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.