How to Reduce Food Waste in Your Restaurant

reduce food waste

U.S. restaurants waste an estimated 22 to 33 billion pounds of food each year. In addition to being a leading driver of global climate change, food waste also leads to significant revenue losses for restauranteurs. According to the USDA, the restaurant industry loses $162 billion annually due to food waste costs – a fortune in a sector where profit margins are already slim. Wasting food also harms the more than 13 million American households considered food insecure.

If you own a restaurant, you can save money, reduce your carbon footprint, and help hungry neighbors in your community by taking steps to eliminate food waste. Here are some tips to help you start.

1. Slim Down Portion Sizes and Menu Choices

According to the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, diners do not eat an average of 17% of their meals, and leave 55% of edible leftovers at the restaurant. This food waste is partly because restaurants have significantly increased their serving sizes over the past decades, to a point where many portions are up to eight times larger than the USDA or FDA recommended standards.

Restaurants with extensive menu choices are also a leading cause of food waste. All-you-can-eat buffets are especially egregious examples of this – the practice of keeping the buffet fully stocked, rather than allowing selections to run out, creates extra food that many cities’ health code restrictions prevent restauranteurs from donating to food banks.

2. Store Food Correctly

Keep all perishable items at their optimal temperature, and label them with the date you received them. Organize and rotate your inventory so everyone in the kitchen knows to use the oldest items first, cutting down on food waste due to spoilage.

When you receive a new shipment, move the older stock to the front of the shelf and put the new stock behind it. This first-in/first-out method will ensure nobody gets confused and accidentally throws away unused food.

3. Implement New Policies

Though some restaurants have introduced successful zero-waste programs, it’s probably more realistic for you to set a standard that everyone on staff should play a role in reducing food waste. If space allows, start composting fruit and vegetable scraps, eggshells, and coffee filters to create nutrient-rich soil that can nourish an in-house herb garden.

Train prep cooks on how to correctly wash, cut, and portion food, and ensure servers ask about any allergies and dietary restrictions upfront to reduce the chances that customers will send orders back to the kitchen. Teach chefs to make each recipe as written, including the correct serving size.

4. Consider Produce Seasonality

Because most produce is available year-round, we tend to lose touch with what’s in season at different times of year. However, in-season produce is at its freshest, meaning it’ll taste its best. For example, if you use asparagus throughout the year – instead of only in spring, when it’s at its peak – you may find yourself throwing out spoiled vegetables.

By structuring your menu around produce seasonality, you’ll purchase fewer out-of-season veggies, offer fresh items all year long, and won’t need to toss out unused food.

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