A guide to tracking and reducing food waste in restaurants

Daisy O'Malley GlynnAuthor

Did you know that restaurants waste 4% to 10% of the food they buy? 

This might not sound like a huge number, but think about it in the context of your bottom line. If you’re spending 10% on food that never gets used, how does that impact your profits?

Spoiler alert: It’s not good. 

This is just one of the reasons why minimising food waste is important. When done successfully, you can reduce costs, minimise your environmental impact, and increase your profit margins. 

But where do you start? How do you understand where your food waste is coming from and how to prevent it from happening?

Don’t worry — we’ve got you covered. By the end of this article, you’ll have some solid strategies under your belt to tackle food waste in your kitchen. 

But first, let’s start at the source: What are the main causes of food waste in restaurants? 

Understanding Food Waste in Restaurants

There are three common types of food waste in restaurants: pre-consumer waste, post-consumer waste, and operational waste. Let’s look at these in more detail: 

  1. Pre-consumer waste is any food that’s discarded before it reaches the customer. For example, ingredients that are spoiled in transit or unused before they have a chance to be cooked. It often results from over-ordering ingredients, improper storage, or inefficient food preparation techniques.
  2. Post-consumer waste is food that’s uneaten from customer orders, such as leftovers on their plate or unfinished side dishes. Some of the reasons for this include oversized portions, poor-quality food, or customers simply ordering more than they can consume. The phrase “eyes bigger than belly” springs to mind! 
  3. Operational waste is food lost because of inefficient practices in your restaurant operations. Overproduction, spillages, and preparing incorrect orders are just a few examples.

Understanding the different types of food waste puts you in a good position to minimise wastage in your kitchen. Think about it — if you understand the different types of waste, you can pinpoint them in your own operations. Then, you can make changes to minimise waste. 

Now, let’s outline some tactics for minimising restaurant waste. 

Four Strategies for Reducing Food Waste in your Restaurant 

To help you start minimising food waste in your restaurant, we’ve outlined four strategies to get you started on the right foot. 

Some food for thought before we dive in:  

There are lots of ways to reduce food waste in your restaurant, and the best results come by using a mixture of tactics. 

For example, combining technology with menu optimisation, or improving your portion control alongside accurately managing inventory. These are all really helpful strategies, but you won’t experience the full benefit if you use them in isolation. 

Keep this in mind as you read through these strategies. Ideally, you’ll use a mixture of all of them to get the best results.

1. Implement restaurant technology solutions

Data is essential to minimising food waste. It shows you:

  • How much food you have on your shelves
  • The date it arrived in your kitchen
  • How much you’ve sold
  • What your most popular menu items are
  • What items go to waste

With all these data points, you can spot the best ways to minimise food waste and bring your costs down. But how do you actually collect and analyse restaurant data?

By using the right technology. 

There’s a variety of systems and technology out there that can help you track your inventory usage. Here are a couple of examples to consider: 

  • Inventory management systems. This software is built specifically to help restaurants track and manage inventory in real-time. It monitors your supply chains, food costs, and profit margins for each food item. 
  • POS systems.Point-of-sale platforms manage orders, sales, and payments in your restaurant. Combined with inventory management data, these insights show you which dishes are selling, and how much waste they produce. 

Hot tip 🔥 A restaurant operating system like Nory consolidates all of this data into a central location. And with its Toast ePOS integration, you can compare menu sales with inventory usage to spot the most effective ways to minimise food waste. 

Look at Masa as an example - The Dublin-based Mexican restaurant uses Toast and Nory to access real-time sales insights that paint an accurate picture of its financial performance. As a result, the restaurant forecasts sales within a 3% margin and control labour costs to within 1% of what they’d planned. 

“Constantly being able to see what your sales are, what your cost of labour is — and trusting that is really valuable.” - Shane Gleeson, owner and founder at Masa


2. Manage your inventory accurately 

Effective inventory management is a key part of the food waste puzzle. When done well, it ensures you store food effectively, minimising spoilage and using ingredients before their use-by dates. 

Performing regular inventory checks, labelling and dating perishable items, and properly storing different types of foods are a few ways to improve your inventory management. Not to mention using inventory costing methods like FIFO (First In, First Out), which involves using older ingredients first. 

But the real challenge comes with managing inventory accurately.

You have ingredients coming in and out of your kitchen all the time, with different staff handling them at different times. It’s not easy to keep tabs on everything. 

The solution? 

Technology. 

When you handle your inventory in a single platform, you can accurately track your inventory usage — especially if your system also combines sales and POS data. 

Look at Toast and Nory as an example. By integrating Toast’s ePOS data with Nory’s operating system, hospitality businesses can easily compare menu sales with inventory usage — and that’s exactly what Griolladh did. The fast-growing franchise used Nory and Toast to access real-time inventory insights. This visibility was instrumental as the business scaled. By predicting hourly sales with up to 95% accuracy, Griolladh optimised its inventory spending, lowering costs and increasing profit margins in the process.

Hot tip 🔥 Use an AI-powered operating system to order the right amount of ingredients to meet customer demand. Minimise your costs by only buying items you actually need, and you have less food to waste. It’s a win-win! 

Find out more about using AI technology in your restaurant. 

3. Optimise your menu

Optimising your menu is a simple but efficient way of reducing food waste. It involves creating dishes that maximise your ingredients, helping you use all the ingredients on your shelf before they spoil. 

But how exactly do you optimise your menu? 

Here are some suggestions: 

  • Use the same ingredients in multiple dishes. Maximise your ingredients by creating a menu that features similar ingredients in different dishes. For example, if you can use onions in a variety of dishes. Pastas, curries, tacos — they’re versatile. So, if you know you’re ordering a certain ingredient that can be used in multiple dishes, add these dishes to your menu. 
  • Create specials to use surplus ingredients. What better way to use surplus ingredients than by creating menu items specifically to sell them?! For example, if you have too much rhubarb on the shelf, create a discounted rhubarb dessert to shift it from the shelves. It’s a great way to boost revenue and reduce food waste in the process. 
  • Use menu engineering. Highlight and promote dishes that have a lower food cost and produce less waste. Design your menu layout to draw attention to these items.

Hot tip 🔥Take a look at Toast’s menu engineering course for more insights. 

4. Improve your portion control 

Studies show that 17% of a diner’s meal is left uneaten in a restaurant. That works out to over £133 billion in food wasted across the industry. 🤯 

There’s a pretty simple solution to this problem: portion control.

When you create dishes with the right portion sizes, you’re less likely to experience uneaten food on plates. It’s not a total fix — as we’ve already mentioned, some people have eyes bigger than their bellies. But it’s a good first step in preventing leftover food on plates. 

There are a few ways to improve your portion sizes, the first being to standardise recipes across the restaurant. 

When all your kitchen staff know the exact ingredients and measurements for each dish, it prevents overplating. Create clear, concise recipes and train your kitchen staff to prepare the dishes.

Now the question is, how do you know what the ideal portion size is? 

Take a look: 

  • Get customer feedback. Ask customers if they’d be happy to complete a survey or answer a few questions about the meal they’ve just had. Do they wish there was more on the plate? Were they sufficiently full? Did they leave anything? Getting this information directly from customers will inform your portion sizes going forward. 
  • Gather front-of-house feedback. Waiters and other front-of-house staff gather plates and see exactly what’s left. Ask them if they notice any similarities with dishes that have food left over.  
  • Monitor plate waste with technology. Consolidate data from POS systems and waste tracking software to keep tabs on how much food is left on each dish. This will help you instantly pinpoint the menu items that are either being overplated (or not meeting the desired quality —either way, you can step in and put things right). 

Hot tip 🔥 Encourage kitchen staff to take part in your food reduction efforts, asking them to report waste and make suggestions on how to improve it. After all, they’re the ones handling food and seeing exactly how much of it goes to waste. 

Ready to minimise your food waste and increase your profit margins? 

Restaurants, cafes, and fast food chains are responsible for 26% of all food waste. That’s 224 million tonnes of food heading straight to the landfill. By making an effort to reduce food waste, your restaurant is minimising its impact on the environment.

Not to mention, it’s helping your bottom line. When you only order ingredients you actually need, you’re spending less money and increasing your profit margins. 

To find out more about how technology can help you track and reduce food waste in your restaurant, reach out to the team at Nory

FAQs about food waste in restaurants

  • How much can a restaurant save by reducing food waste? The figures vary depending on the type of restaurant, its size, and its supplier costs.  If you think about restaurants wasting 10% of the food they buy and spending £1000 a month on ingredients, reducing food waste means you could save up to £100 each month. Why? Because you’re ordering less or making sure you use all the ingredients you buy. 
  • What are some examples of successful waste reduction in restaurants? Clean Kitchen has successfully reduced its food waste from using Nory’s restaurant operating system. How? By improving stock management.  With real-time access to restaurant data, Clean Kitchen can see its costs, food usage, and profits from food items. These insights allow them to make informed decisions about their stock management, ensuring they only order the ingredients they need to meet customer demand. This has reduced their overall food costs and minimised food waste in the process. 
  • How can small restaurants effectively manage food waste? With the right technology, any restaurant can manage food waste. For smaller restaurants in particular, technology can help them manage inventory in line with customer demand. This means they only order what the system predicts they’ll need. They spend less money on food that they won’t use, and achieve higher profit margins in the process. 


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