According to a study conducted by the United Nations, roughly one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally, amounting to about 1.3 billion tons per year.
The sad truth is that restaurants are a big contributor to this problem. Anyone who’s worked in a restaurant kitchen knows that food waste is a bigger issue than they would care to admit.
Quickly firing food to order requires a certain kind of prep that sometimes doesn't favor proper preservation methods, and estimating exactly how much food to prep is certainly not an exact science. Whether it’s the scallions that won’t hold another day or that half case of peppers that gets forgotten in the back of the walk-in, produce often ends up in the dumpster.
It happens... but it doesn’t always have to.
The first step to reducing food waste in your restaurant is identifying all the places it’s occurring, which is easier said than done. If you need motivation, remember how much money you could save by cutting down on waste. Reducing the amount of "unusable" waste your restaurant generates and your cooks toss aside leads to lower food costs and, in turn, better margins.
Let’s take a look at four key food waste solutions that can help you cut down food waste and make your restaurant cleaner, greener, and more profitable. Implementing even one of these concepts can make a big difference.
Start Fresh, Stay Fresh
Before we even tackle ways to reduce food waste in the restaurant, let’s talk about all the waste that occurs on the food’s way to your restaurant. How produce gets to your pantry is a topic for another day, but for this conversation what’s important to remember is: the longer your supply chain, the more waste has an opportunity to occur.
The solution? Buy local! Seeking out and building relationships with local producers can help cut the time between harvest and delivery. This will in turn ensure fresher food and less waste between the field and the table. According to University of California professor Elliott Campbell, there are social and environmental benefits to eating locally, and those benefits include substantially reducing food waste in your restaurant.
Adopt In-House Preservation Strategies
Even with the best organization and inventory management, there’s some amount of food that’s just not going to get used fresh. You can either write this product off as waste, or rely on some of cooking’s oldest techniques to make them last. Learning how to preserve foods was a must before the era of widely available refrigeration, but in-house preservation has come back into style in a big way.
You may never have considered pickling as a way to give produce a second, value-added life on the menu. It’s a great way to use edible product that might otherwise go straight into the trash like beet greens or carrot tops. Trimmings like this fall into the category of “things you might not immediately identify as food waste,” but contribute to the vast quantities of food that end up in the trash each year.
Keep Your Kitchen Inventory Organized
Understanding and implementing the FIFO (First In, First Out) principle in your restaurant is a pretty universal system in the industry, but without good labelling and space management it can be really tough to know what’s what. Making sure your whole team is on the same page with whatever your prefered system for labelling containers and regularly inventorying your storage spaces can cut down on waste in a big way. When deliveries come, taking that extra minute to organize new and old inventory really could result in massive savings for your restaurant.
Engage Your Diners in a Conversation About Waste
Trash might not be the first topic you want to bring up at the dinner table, but getting your customers in on the conversation can make a big difference in the war on food waste. With sustainability poised to become an even bigger issue for diners this year, you might be surprised at how excited the lunch crowd might be to hear that the star ingredient in your special was rescued from a future in a landfill.
Encourage your kitchen team to get creative with product that would otherwise become trash, and make sure to loop your servers in on the waste-reduction narrative. With front- and back-of-house on the same page, you can loop customers into everything you do behind the scenes to make your restaurant more sustainable.
At the end of the day, you'll have a more productive workforce making the most out of your food. You'll waste less, save more, and contribute to a greener eating environment.