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Food waste in restaurants: What we know

By Fourth|Aug 11, 2023|4:00 pm BST

It’s surprising to know that a staggering one-third of all food meant for human consumption, or about 1.3 billion tonnes annually, ends up being lost or wasted throughout the entire food supply chain. This unfortunate reality severely impacts the environment and your restaurant, as all the valuable resources utilised to cultivate, process, and transport this discarded food are wasted. The wastage of resources such as land, water, energy, and agricultural resources is truly disheartening.

The decomposition of food waste also emits more greenhouse gases (GHGs) on top of those already released during the various stages of the food supply chain. We all have a part to play in reducing food waste and minimising its environmental and financial impact through effective waste-reduction and waste-disposal strategies. In this article, we’ll explore what food waste is, what causes it, and how you can reduce restaurant food waste.

What is food waste?

There are two primary types of food waste: food loss and food waste (FLW). These categories, as defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, have significant implications for food security, nutrition, and environmental impact. Let’s delve into what they mean:

Legal restrictions may also impose certain obligations on restaurants when it comes to disposing of leftover, uneaten, and expired food. Both food loss and food waste contribute to detrimental effects on the ecosystem, including greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, and degradation.

Recent findings from the charity Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) reveal that the UK generated approximately 9.5 million tonnes of food waste. Of this amount, 70% was intended for human consumption, while 30% was classified as “inedible parts”.

Restaurant food waste statistics

Food waste is a prevalent issue in the UK, with restaurants contributing to over 199,000 tonnes of waste each year, highlighting the significant role that the industry plays in reducing food waste. However, studies suggest that the source of restaurant food waste comes from various sources. For example, in fine-dining restaurants, food waste comes from the kitchen while casual and fast-food restaurants generate waste mostly from leftovers or plate waste.

Fortunately, restaurants in the UK have made some progress in incorporating recycling as part of their waste disposal and waste reduction strategies. Over 50% of waste is recycled, including food and packaging, for example. So, why is restaurant food waste continuing to be a problem for the industry? Big portions, poor forecasting, and lack of creativity to reduce food waste during the preparation stage seem to be the primary culprits:

“There’s definitely a difference between different types of restaurants. Independents want to put more on plates to show they are offering good value.” Meanwhile, big chains have quietly trimmed back the amount they dish up in an attempt to save money, says Simon Heppner, the Sustainable Restaurant Association’s (SRA) managing director to the Independent.

Recent studies also indicate that nearly one-fifth of the food bought by restaurants is discarded, with a significant portion being meat and seafood. This presents a substantial opportunity for the restaurant industry to decrease food waste by 17%, leading to enhanced profitability and reduced environmental impact.

What are the reasons for restaurant food waste?

There are several factors that contribute to the amount of food waste in restaurants. Below are six key reasons that you should be aware of:

  1. Excess inventory: When restaurants have excess inventory and poor stock rotation, it often leads to overordering and overstocking. Unfortunately, many restaurants still rely on manual methods, such as pen and paper or spreadsheets, to manage their inventory. Without an efficient inventory management system, it becomes challenging to accurately track the required amount of food. As a result, unused food ends up going to waste.
  2. Improper storage methods: Poor storage processes can cause ingredients to expire or spoil, necessitating their disposal. Restaurants that discard food scraps and trimmings also contribute to food waste. Implementing clear guidelines for food storage and handling can significantly reduce food waste in restaurants.
  3. Overproduction: Restaurants often strive to have an abundance of food available during serving hours, especially in buffets. Combined with legal restrictions on waste disposal and the inability to accurately predict the quantity of food needed for the day, this leads to increased food waste. By utilising predictive order management systems and establishing clear food planning, preparation, and production procedures, restaurants can minimise overproduction and optimise ingredient usage.
  4. Absence of data and insights: The inability to accurately predict the required quantity of food further contributes to food waste in restaurants. When kitchen staff lack accurate data on food usage and inventory, they struggle to forecast demand effectively which results in over-ordering and overproduction. By leveraging appropriate demand forecasting tools supported by sufficient data, restaurants can eliminate the guesswork in menu creation, ingredient usage, and cost management.
  5. Inability to track food waste: The absence of a reliable system to track and monitor food waste exacerbates the problem. Without proper mechanisms in place to monitor food waste, it becomes difficult to identify areas where waste occurs and take steps to reduce it. Additionally, without clear procedures for food waste management, staff may not be aware of the correct methods for waste disposal, leading to inefficiencies and unnecessary solid waste.
  6. Human errors: Lastly, mistakes made during order taking or food preparation often result in food being sent back to the kitchen, ultimately leading to food waste in restaurants.

How restaurants can reduce food waste?

There are steps you can take to dramatically reduce food waste and improve your bottom line. Below is a summary of some of these crucial steps.

  1. Conduct regular food waste audits
    Engage kitchen staff in identifying the sources and reasons for food waste through regular waste audits. This understanding helps pinpoint areas that need improvement, leading to waste reduction and improved financial performance. Set clear objectives for the audits, such as waste reduction and financial improvement, choose appropriate audit dates, and assign responsible team members for efficient data collection and analysis.
  2. Set up inventory control programmes
    Invest in an inventory management solution and establish an inventory control programme to effectively reduce food waste. Develop a long-term inventory management plan, review shipments for damages, organise items in designated areas, and adopt comprehensive inventory management systems. These measures optimise warehouse space, ensure product availability based on demand, and build better vendor relationships.
  3. Set zero-waste policies
    Implement zero-waste policies that focus on composting, reusing, and recycling resources, aiming to divert 90% of restaurant waste from landfills. Measure and analyse discarded food to gain insights, clearly label supplies and storage areas, assess menu demand, adjust portion sizes, repurpose leftovers, and introduce policies that reduce kitchen waste. Composting organic matter is another environmentally friendly practice that diverts food waste and creates nutrient-rich soil.
  4. Implement recipe management procedures
    Implement a recipe management process using recipe and menu management software to minimise food waste and prevent unwanted recipe changes. Choose a solution that automates cost calculations, provides a central recipe hub for consistency, and offers detailed reports and analytics for profitability insights. By streamlining recipe management, restaurants can improve efficiency, maintain consistency, and make data-driven decisions to reduce waste and increase profitability.

By following these steps, restaurant operators can make significant progress in reducing food waste, improving financial performance, and contributing to a more sustainable food industry.

Conquering restaurant food waste with technology

Managing food waste in kitchens may seem like a daunting task, especially when relying on traditional methods that are often time-consuming and error-prone. Keeping track of the extent of food waste and addressing the issue can be challenging. But incorporating the right software into your restaurant can revolutionise your waste disposal practices.

You can easily record and analyse food waste data, gaining valuable insights into the root causes of food waste using the appropriate software. This empowers you to take charge of the situation and implement highly effective waste reduction strategies.

For example, our AI-powered and comprehensive inventory management solution seamlessly optimises your operations by providing you with a centralise hub to manage supplier relations, optimise procurement, and streamline and automate your entire inventory lifecycle—all in one platform. With technology on your side, you can implement a waste reduction plan and effortlessly monitor its impact on your bottom line.

Are you ready to implement a comprehensive inventory management solution in your kitchen and begin saving money by eliminating food waste in your restaurant? If so, explore the benefits of our purchasing and receiving and recipe and menu engineering solutions among many to discover how our suite of software can empower you in achieving your goals and conquering the day, every day.

Food waste in restaurants FAQ

  • Why do restaurants waste so much food?
    • Food waste stems from various factors, but in the UK, the primary culprits can be identified as follows. Firstly, shops, supermarkets, or restaurants tend to overorder products that end up unsold. Secondly, inadequate education regarding proper food waste disposal contributes to the problem. Finally, a lack of awareness regarding expiry dates leads to food being left to spoil instead of being utilised.
  • What percentage of food waste in the UK comes from restaurants?
    • According to the latest data, restaurants in the UK contribute to over 199,000 tonnes of food waste each year. This is, of course, likely to continue if not much is done by restaurants and the entire hospitality and food service industry to reduce restaurant food waste.

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