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Reducing food waste in a restaurant kitchen is a source of potential savings, especially for a restaurant that doesn’t already have a mature waste prevention program. Food cost represents about 28% – 35% of restaurant sales. If you can use more of the food you purchase or avoid over-purchasing food, you can lower costs, thus increasing profitability.  

A Valuable Reference to Help Reduce Food Waste

According to ReFED (Rethink Food Waste Through Economics and Data), for every dollar invested in food-waste reduction, restaurants can realize about $8 in cost savings. This year, the organization produced the Restaurant Food Waste Action Guide. The guide summarizes where and how restaurants can reduce food waste.

One of the great things about the guide is that it acknowledges “there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ fix for reducing food waste in restaurants.”1 While one type of food retailer may have a generous budget to address food waste, they might be limited by their management or franchise in making changes. Independent restaurants have more latitude in making changes, but often lack the funds or staff to do so.

Whatever your situation, we recommend you download the guide and read it through. Consider what changes are within your capabilities or budget. We believe that addressing food waste isn’t a trend; it’s an issue that’s here to stay. If you take some steps now, you’ll be glad in the future that you did. You may even earn some kudos for addressing the problem now – or get a step up on the competition.

The guide categorizes food waste reduction efforts for restaurants into these categories:

  1. Waste tracking and analytics
  2. Inventory management and production planning
  3. Menu design
  4. Portion choices and customized dishes
  5. Produce specifications
  6. Optimized quantities

We’ll look at those two here, and next week we’ll follow up with #3 through #6.

#1 Waste Tracking and Analytics

By tracking pre-consumer food that’s discarded, you can lower food costs by 2% – 6%. This is accomplished by raising awareness of the food waste among your staff as well as looking into the activities front- and back-of-house.

The basic data you’ll want to collect is:

  • Weight
  • Type of food (for example, meat, dairy, etc.)
  • Reason for the waste (for example, overproduction or spoilage)

Once you have enough data, you can use this information to improve your kitchen preparations. Software tracking tools (such as Mintscraps, Leanpath, and Winnow) already exist to quickly capture images and data of the food that gets discarded.

If you’re reluctant to jump into the technology solution immediately, try tracking food waste with a scale, pen, and paper (or a spreadsheet). There might be a food conservation enthusiast on your staff who is willing to take on this task. Once convinced of the potential savings, you could invest in better tools to speed up the process.

#2 Inventory Management and Production Planning

This solution uses a combination of historic sales data and knowledge of future events (such as slow seasons or special events) to improve forecasting. When you incorporate forecasting into your inventory and ordering tasks, you can lower costs by preventing over-purchasing. You’ll even be able to detect drops in sales early and cut back on purchases.  

Restaurant forecasting can range from something basic (tracking in spreadsheets) all the way up to an full-feature solution (forecasting, inventory and ordering, labor scheduling, preparation and production).

  • Basic forecasting—A spreadsheet might work for a small restaurant if it’s used consistently by management. However, it’s easy to make mistakes or forget to use it at all.
  • Enhanced forecasting—A software suite that includes demand forecasting uses a vast amount of historical data to order more accurately and reduce food waste. Some software solutions incorporates hold times, thaw times, and product shelf life in the production module; this kind of granularity can help reduce food waste to an absolute minimum.

If you need to make a case for purchasing restaurant software or adding forecasting to your existing system, ReFED recommends you use your food waste data to emphasize the volume of it and lost profits. A software investment can start to pay for itself after just a few months.  

Next Week…

Don’t forget to check out next week’s blog post highlighting more down-to-earth changes you can make in your restaurant to reduce food waste.  


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