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How to reduce food waste in your restaurant

By Stewart Maranello|Aug 11, 2023|4:01 pm BST

The problem of food waste is gaining recognition in the restaurant industry due to its financial, moral, and environmental impact. In the UK, the restaurant industry produces over 199,000 tonnes of food waste yearly, costing restaurants over £600m in squandered value. Fortunately, the Government has committed to halving UK’s food waste per capita by 2030 as part of the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goal.

“The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12.3 aims to halve per capita food waste and reduce food loss by 2030. The UN estimates that global food waste from households, retail establishments, and the food service industry totalled 931 million tonnes in 2019.”

Source: UK Parliament: House of Lords Library

The positive shift in restaurant operators’ attitudes towards adopting food waste reduction strategies has gained momentum in the UK. Silo, for example, is a sustainable restaurant that spends as little as 10% on food costs. Douglas McMaster, Owner of Silo, has pioneered a zero-waste cuisine approach to his menu by reusing and fermenting vegetables and fruit peels into condiments and treacle.

The restaurants moving towards zero waste

Source: The Financial Times

Unfortunately, unlike Silo, most traditional restaurants still spend up to 40-50% of their budget on food costs alone. With that said, let’s look at the common types of food waste in restaurants.

Types of food waste in restaurants

According to the Waste and Resources Action Programme’s (WRAP) report, many factors contribute to the amount of food wasted in restaurants: food procurement, kitchen staff’s experience, labour costs, and waste management costs and systems. It’s crucial to identify these factors as financial losses, environmental damage, and social consequences can be heightened by food waste. But by reducing food waste, the ensuing impacts can be minimised, leading to enhanced sustainability within the restaurant industry and higher margins for your business. Our own experience shows that restaurants with waste management systems and waste reduction strategies have a 2% increase in profit, while those without lose between 1% to 6% of potential sales due to the cost of food waste.

WRAP’s findings also indicate the primary types of restaurant food waste come from the preparation phase, such as unused food (45%) and food spoilage (21%), to the consumption phase, such as uneaten food left by customers (34%). This may also include bread crusts and vegetable and fruit peels that weren’t eaten or used due to customer preferences. Most of these are food waste that could have been avoided had it been better portioned, stored properly, and/or turned into condiments and new creative dishes. But of course, some food waste is unavoidable like bones, eggshells, tea bags, and more.

“According to a WRAP survey, 41% of respondents said that the main reason for leftover food is that the portions are too big, along with other factors that are influenced by values and varying social norms.”

Source: The Guardian

Ways to reduce food waste in restaurants

Restaurant food waste is a global problem that has increased by 19% (180,000 tonnes) in the UK, according to a recent report. Studies have also found that British citizens are one of the worst offenders within the region, producing between 9-10 million tonnes of food waste annually, signalling the need to change how restaurant operators manage and dispose of food waste. Here are the steps you could take to reduce food waste in your restaurant:

Conduct regular food waste audits

Efficiently managing food waste in your restaurant requires conducting regular waste audits. Involving your kitchen staff in the process is essential as they can help identify the sources and reasons for food waste. This understanding can help you pinpoint areas that require improvement to reduce food waste and improve your bottom line.

To ensure effective waste management strategies are deployed, it’s crucial to set clear objectives for your audits. Clearly defining your goals, such as reducing waste and improving financial performance, can help focus your efforts and measure your progress.

When scheduling your audits, for example, it’s best to choose dates that align with your restaurant’s typical operating days. Avoid holidays and weekends as they may not provide a realistic representation of your waste generation. You should assign champions within your team to plan, lead, and analyse the food waste audit, and appoint individuals to support the audit process to ensure efficient data collection and analysis.

Moreover, conducting your audits without notifying the staff is essential to prevent intentional changes in behaviour and provide a realistic assessment of your waste management strategies. Investing in comprehensive and AI-powered inventory and purchase-to-pay management solutions too can provide recipe management assistance, help you understand the impact and cost of food waste, and enable better control over unnecessary expenses. Ultimately, this can enhance your profit margins and cash flow.

Set up inventory control programmes

Reducing food waste is a crucial goal that can be achieved by investing in an inventory management solution. But relying solely on technology isn’t enough to tackle all the challenges. A well-designed inventory control programme is also necessary for effective waste reduction. It involves implementing a controlled process that ensures product availability based on consumer demand, optimising warehouse space, ordering accurate amounts of supplies, and building better vendor relationships. To implement an inventory control programme, follow these steps:

Set zero-waste policies in your restaurant

Implementing zero-waste policies in your restaurant can make a significant impact on waste reduction by composting, reusing, and recycling resources. The goal is to divert 90% of your restaurant waste away from landfills, transforming your business into a more profitable and sustainable venture. There are several steps you can take. First, it’s important to measure the types and quantities of food that are being discarded, providing you with valuable insights that help you understand where waste occurs.

In terms of effectively managing your supplies and storage areas, it’s important to clearly label them. This ensures that items are used before they become unusable or expire, reducing food waste. You should also assess the demand for different menu options to minimise food waste. By doing so, you can adopt a proactive approach that minimises the likelihood of excess food waste.

Adjusting portion sizes to fit a single person is a crucial factor in reducing food waste. This encourages efficient consumption and minimises the amount of food left uneaten on customers’ plates. Additionally, repurposing leftover baked goods into stuffings or bread puddings is a creative solution that minimises waste while introducing new menu options. This adds variety and entices customers.

You can also implement policies that reduce kitchen waste by using leftover produce in specials and soups, donating spent grains to dog shelters for healthy treats, and transforming scraps into condiments for unique flavours and less waste.

Composting nutshells, eggshells, fruits, and vegetables is an environmentally friendly practice that diverts organic matter from landfills too. This helps create nutrient-rich soil, closing the loop in the food waste cycle and further minimising food waste.

Implement a recipe management procedure

To optimise your operations and achieve benefits like food consistency, cost reduction, and accurate menu pricing, it’s crucial to implement a recipe management process to help minimise food waste and prevent costly and unwanted recipe changes. In the restaurant industry, robust recipe and menu management software is essential for success. But what does a recipe management programme entail?

Traditionally, recipe management methods involve manually listing ingredients, calculating quantities and prices, and factoring in labour costs to determine expenses. This approach is time-consuming, error-prone, and inefficient. But with an innovative recipe and menu management solution, you can streamline processes, maintain consistency and quality, and increase profits while still fostering creativity. When selecting a recipe management solution, prioritise these qualities:

By incorporating these qualities into your recipe management process, you can enhance efficiency, maintain consistency, and make data-driven decisions to improve your overall profitability while effectively reducing waste.

Reducing food waste and becoming a zero-waste restaurant

The UK restaurant industry along with the food service sector, can benefit financially from implementing food waste reduction strategies. Although most restaurants in the UK and abroad may have been slow to prioritise sustainability, raising awareness about the impact of food waste on the environment and their bottom line can encourage them to take action. In fact, 21 other restaurants in the UK, along with Silo and Inver, have been officially recognised as zero-waste restaurants. So, what’s stopping restaurants from becoming zero waste?

A lack of empirical studies on food waste has kept restaurant operators in the dark for decades. It’s only recently that sustainability in restaurants has taken momentum despite the damaging and chronic impact of food waste on our environment and businesses. Reasons for the sluggish attitudes of restaurants to zero-waste include lack of knowledge, costs, and fear of the unknown. However, zero-waste restaurants, such as Silo, have proven that with perseverance and creativity comes growth. For over five years, Silo has received enormous support from customers and continues to be the preferred restaurant of choice by its loyal patrons. Not to mention, the fact that the concept of a zero-waste restaurant continues to attract more customers both locally and, in the US, according to the National Restaurant Association.

The Struggle of a Zero-Waste Restaurant

Source: The Atlantic

However, the lack of access to technology is also a major obstacle for many restaurant operators. Many restaurants continue to depend on manual procedures for handling supplier relations, recipe engineering, food preparation, operations, and overall food waste management. But by collaborating with a suitable technology provider, restaurants can simplify these tasks, automate inventory management, and greatly decrease food waste and associated expenses. This offers a tremendous opportunity for restaurant operators to contribute to environmental sustainability while enhancing their financial performance—allowing them to conquer food waste slowly but surely every day.

Food waste FAQ

  • How do you reduce food waste?
    • To reduce food waste in restaurants, it’s important to start in the kitchen and involve your staff. Conducting regular food waste audits and implementing zero-waste policies can be effective strategies. Additionally, encouraging guests to take leftover food home by offering doggy bags can become a common practice in your restaurant. This helps to prevent food waste and allows guests to enjoy their meals later.
  • What happens to food waste in restaurants?
    • When food waste from restaurants or other sources isn’t properly recycled or composted, it ends up in landfills. This contributes to the production of methane, a biogas that goes directly into the atmosphere and accelerates the process of climate change.
  • Why is food waste a problem in restaurants?
    • The problem of food waste has far-reaching consequences on the environment, people, and finances worldwide. Restaurants, therefore, greatly suffer from reduced profits and higher expenses related to labour and inventory.

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