Reducing Food Waste in Commercial Kitchens

How to Reduce Food Waste in Restaurant Kitchens

It’s an agonizing problem that affects us all, what to do about the growing mountains of food waste we create.

Globally, the United Nations estimates that 1.3 billion tonnes of food are wasted annually, 40% from the foodservice industry. Throwing food away wastes all the water, energy, fertilizer and labour that go into growing, storing and transporting it to a restaurant kitchen. When sent to already over-flowing landfill sites, those scraps decompose and produce methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

The total amount of food wasted in Canada by residents and businesses is estimated at $31 billion a year. In British Columbia alone, retail food stores and foodservice operations lose an estimated $1.3 billion worth of food a year, 57% more than the estimated profit in those sectors.

Of course, restaurants don’t set out to waste food. As one of an operator’s biggest costs, discarding food is like throwing out cash. But losses can sneak up on you in different ways, from over-buying to over-producing, spoilage from poor storage or serving giant portions that go uneaten. Even customers ordering more than they can eat is a problem. If they don’t take it home, it goes in the garbage.

There are many ways in which a restaurant can reduce food waste. Many chefs already work hard to produce just enough food and find creative ways to reuse leftovers. It’s time to get more ideas from your entire staff and work together as a team to reduce waste in your corner of the foodservice industry.

Food waste in restaurant kitchens

Track Your Food Waste

· To figure out how to cut down on waste, you first need to know exactly how much food is going in the garbage and where it’s coming from. Experts recommend writing down everything that gets thrown out and why, from the back of house to the front, for at least one week. 

· Creating a food log may be tiresome, but it will show you where to focus your efforts so you know what changes to make and how to monitor your progress.

Buy and Store Smart to Reduce Food Waste

• Plan menus carefully and only buy ingredients you know you’ll use. Don’t be tempted to stock up to take advantage of a good deal, especially if it may end up spoiling in storage.

• Put one person in charge of receiving product from suppliers. Inspect the quality of each item and check that it’s been kept at the proper temperature. Take note of best-before dates.

• Make sure fridges and freezers are set at the proper temperature - a thermometer is the only way to know for sure. Also check that you have enough space and proper food storage containers to store raw and cooked food safely. Check out our Commercial Food Storage Containers Buying Guide.

• Clearly label all containers with a date and product description.

• Rotate stock by following the FIFO (First in, First out) rule.

• Keeping a detailed list of food in all your storage areas, along with their use-by dates, ensures that items aren’t lost or forgotten.

Minimize Food Waste with Smart Prep

• Clean and sanitize equipment and small wares between tasks.

• Follow all food safety rules when preparing food.

• To cool hot food quickly and safely, use equipment designed for rapid cooling such as ice wands and blast chillers. Or transfer food to shallow food pans.

• Standardizing recipes leads to consistent quality and yield, which in turns helps you plan production, order and forecast more accurately.

• Use experience as well as digital technology to predict food order patterns.

• Make sure everyone knows how to use equipment and tools properly to help reduce waste.

Menu Planning for Less Waste

• Devise a plan for leftovers, especially if menus change often. Use leftover chicken in soup, tacos or salad. Make stock and soup from vegetable peelings and animal bones; turn day-old bread into croutons or breadcrumbs.

Menu items using leftovers

• Choose ingredients that can be used in several recipes.

• Design menus that suit your customers, provide sufficient sales and reduce the risk of returned food.

• Write accurate menu descriptions so customers know what they’re ordering and will be delighted, not disappointed when their meal arrives.

• Analyze sales regularly and remove or change items that under-perform. There’s nothing wrong with a “curated” menu of best-sellers.

• Though making everything from scratch is the gold standard these days, the lack of skilled labour, labour cost, limited space or variable traffic may make value-added or prepared products a smarter choice. If you don’t use chicken bones or legs, for example, just buy breasts. Pre-cut vegetables may also save money and help reduce waste.

• While producing food in large batches may seem like a good idea, if the demand isn’t there and you’re stuck with leftovers you may actually be losing money.

• When possible, compost rather than throw spoiled food in the garbage.

Take a Closer Look at Portions to Control Food Waste

• While the kitchen may seem like the obvious place to reduce waste, take a closer look at what’s happening in the dining room.

• Once again, keeping a log of food waste will show you how much food customers are actually eating and how much is being thrown out.

• A 2012 study found that more than 25% of customers leave food on their plates, with French fries top of the list. The reason: many people consider fries, vegetables and salads as an extra they didn’t order.

Food left on plates after a meal

• Consider giving customers more choice over what they receive or create a list of side dishes they can order separately if they really want them.

• Another example, if you offer 2 ounces of sour cream with fajitas and 1 ounce comes back, it’s time to adjust the portion size.

• You can also control portion size by switching to a smaller plate. It’s a fact, placing the same amount of food on a smaller plate makes the serving appear larger.

• Servers can play an important role in the food waste battle. Have them ask customers if they want bread, butter and condiments before serving them. When clearing plates, ask if they left food behind because they didn’t like it or was the portion too large.

• Another way to reduce waste is to offer the choice of small and large portions.

• To prevent order mix-ups, use a P.O.S. system that efficiently and accurately transmits orders to the kitchen. If instructions are unclear, follow up with the server before starting to prepare the order.

• Have managers drop by each table and ask if guests are satisfied.

• When all else fails, cheerfully offer customers a doggy bag to take leftovers home.

• Join a local food rescue service that distributes prepared, unused food to those in need.

Managing waste in the foodservice industry may be a tall order, but we can all do our part to save the planet while improving the bottom line.

Written by Cynthia David

Fresh food not going to waste