Food waste reaches landfills and combustion facilities more than any other material in everyday trash and negatively impacts the environment because of the amount of carbon dioxide it produces. It also affects foodservice establishments financially and may be the reason why a restaurant shuts its doors. In this informative guide, we provide you with research from Recycling Track Systems (RTS) to display the different causes of food waste in establishments and a variety of food waste solutions you can incorporate into your business.

What Causes Food Waste In Restaurants?

In America, an average of 80 billion pounds of food waste is thrown away each year.1 Restaurants play a large role in that total because food goes to waste every day for a number of different reasons.

Ordering Too Much Food

Many restaurant managers do not properly keep track of inventory which is why they order too many ingredients for their kitchen. Employees are unable to use all the perishables ordered before they spoil and are forced to toss them out. For example, if you order too much produce and do not use it in less than a week, it’s likely to go bad which is money being thrown away.

Poor Portion Control

There are a variety of chefs that don’t measure or weigh ingredients and eyeball everything instead. While they may prepare notable dishes, the truth is that poor portion control is one of the leading causes of food waste in the industry. Oftentimes, restaurants are serving portion sizes that are greater than the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) standard serving sizes which results in customers not finishing their meals and leftovers being thrown out.

Improperly Storing Ingredients

Restaurants that don't properly store food can cause additional food waste by increasing the rate of ingredients spoiling ahead of their expiration date. This makes it crucial to properly store food in fridges or freezers to prevent food waste in your foodservice establishment.

Overproduction

Overproduction occurs when chefs overestimate the number of sales they expect for a particular dish. They prepare more food than what is needed and throw out whatever isn’t eaten at the end of the night. Buffets are a great example of this as they are constantly cooking food and are required to throw away perishable foods that have been left out at room temperature for more than 2 hours.

How Does Food Waste Affect My Business?

The restaurant industry spends an estimated $162 billion every year in costs related to wasted food.2 Ingredients that are disposed of is money wasted because business owners are unable to make a profit off of the food purchased from local farms or food manufacturers.

When ingredients spoil or chefs don’t manage portion sizes, establishments lose money and oftentimes purchase additional food to compensate for food thrown away. Restaurants that consistently waste ingredients tend to have a negative net profit which may cause them to go out of business.

How Does Food Waste Hurt The Environment?

Food waste takes up a great amount of landfill space and contrary to popular belief the nutrients never return to the soil. Instead, the food rots and produces methane which is a more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Food waste is one of the largest sources of methane emissions which is a major contributor to climate change. Production of wasted food in the U.S. is equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions of 37 million cars.3

How Can I Reduce Food Waste At My Establishment?

Now that you understand all the effects that throwing food away has on the environment and your business, it’s time to find food waste solutions for your kitchen. Here are a number of different tips you can follow to reduce food waste in your establishment.

Keep Track Of Inventory

Managing your supply and food inventory can be challenging if you own a large establishment. However, by designating a few managers, chefs, or employees to consistently take inventory by hand and with a POS system, they will be able to understand patterns and properly order ingredients.

 

  1. POS Systems: POS systems are great for creating order planning reports, data forecasting, and keeping track of inventory based on customer orders. Managers will be able to know which dishes are selling the most to help them accurately complete orders. Unfortunately, a POS system does not account for food waste which makes it vital to also take inventory by hand.
  2. Tracking Inventory By Hand: Creating a sheet to track inventory by hand allows managers to keep track of all the products in the establishment. They’ll always know when and why food was tossed out and find ways to prevent those ingredients from being wasted again. Consistently keeping track of inventory also ensures managers don’t order too many ingredients.

Use The FIFO Method

Practicing the First In, First Out (FIFO) method minimizes the amount of food that restaurants dispose of on a daily basis. When using the FIFO method, inventory is neatly organized and rotated to guarantee chefs use older ingredients first. For example, if your establishment received a shipment of ingredients on Tuesday and Friday, your kitchen staff would use all of the ingredients received on Tuesday before using Friday’s shipment. Following the FIFO method minimizes the amount of food that spoils.

Measure And Weigh Ingredients

Although many establishments believe they are doing customers a favor by serving large portions, the truth is that the majority of the food ends up being thrown away. By standardizing measurements for each dish in your menu, you will consistently serve the right amount of food which results in less waste.

Store Food Properly

When ingredients aren’t properly stored, food starts to spoil before its expiration date. To ensure your ingredients don’t grow mold and have a longer shelf life, it’s important to follow these guidelines when storing food in your kitchen:

  • Store ingredients in airtight containers
  • Put dates on all the food products you receive
  • Store meat on the bottom shelf of fridges
  • Store ready-to-eat food on the top shelf of fridges
  • Don’t store or place food on the floor
  • Don’t overstock refrigerators or freezers
  • Keep the temperature of fridges at or below 41°F and freezers at or below 0°F

Make Changes To Your Buffet

Customers eat with their eyes at buffets. They fill their plates with food and usually aren’t able to finish it. Buffets are then forced to throw that food away which leads to more wasted food and impacts their net profit. To help reduce food waste while saving money at your all-you-can-eat buffet, consider making the following changes:

  • Give patrons small plates: Guests are tempted to fill their plates with as much food as possible. Providing them with small plates increases the chances of them finishing their servings.
  • Offer single servings: Rather than displaying large bowls of yogurt or salad, offer single servings. You can display single servings at buffet stations or require customers to order them from servers.
  • Cut down portions: Many individuals visit buffets to enjoy a wide variety of dishes. Cutting down portion sizes of dishes such as bread and cake will help minimize food waste.

How Can I Take Actions To Reduce Food Waste?

Ensuring that your kitchen staff follows proper food waste practices in your restaurant is important, but it’s also crucial to apply those same techniques in your home. Using the FIFO method when deciding what ingredients to use when preparing dinner and creating a grocery list before going to the store are excellent techniques to follow.

Although other local restaurants are your competitors, informing them of the variety of food waste tips will help build awareness and stop food waste around the world. These businesses will follow in your footsteps and be cautious with how they handle food. They will also let other locations know the importance of minimizing waste in their kitchen and help spread the word.

What To Do With Food Waste

Even though establishments make strong efforts to reduce food waste, there are still instances when leftovers and excess food must be disposed of. When situations like this occur, there are a couple of ways businesses can prevent food waste from reaching landfills.

Compost In Your Restaurant

Rather than throwing away food scraps and organic waste, more and more restaurants are beginning to compost because of the benefits it has on the environment. Composting enriches the soil which helps retain moisture and suppress plant disease and pests. It also reduces the need for chemical fertilizers and promotes higher yields of healthier crops.

If your business has a safe place to compost and passes health code restrictions in your area, you can compost at your establishment. Composting on-site gives you full control of what you can do with the compost once it’s ready to use. However, if your restaurant is located in a crowded city with no space to compost, you can use a haul-away service. The compost company in your area will pick up your waste and compost it in their facility.

Donate Food

If an establishment has non-perishables or unspoiled perishable foods, they can be donated to food pantries, food banks, or food rescue programs. Donating food allows you to minimize your carbon footprint and help those in need.

Save Your Business And The Environment

Understanding the causes of food waste in restaurants and how to solve the issue has a tremendous impact on businesses and the environment. Restaurants are able to keep waste out of landfills which increases their gross profit and minimizes their carbon footprint. Your wallet and the planet will appreciate that you’ve put a stop to food waste in your establishment and helped spread the word.

1,2,3“Food Waste in America in 2021: Statistics & Facts: RTS.” Recycle Track Systems, www.rts.com/resources/guides/food-waste-america/.