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Restaurant Food Waste Management: The Complete Guide 2021

Restaurants have a huge problem with food waste management. It is so extensive in the industry that it came to a point where it’s treated as a common phenomenon within restaurant operations. But it is now time for you to take a bold step on working with your restaurant food waste management, alongside other initiatives launched by the Restaurant Industry.

Consumers produce tons of waste, food appears to be the most common waste product. Fruits and vegetables being the top wasted food type. While you can’t control every factor that takes place in waste generation, as a restaurant owner, you have the authority to take charge of something you can control- your restaurant food waste management.

This article aims to inform you about how you can establish a well-planned food waste management strategy that will benefit your restaurant and the whole Restaurant Industry. It’s now time to take responsibility for something you have full control of.

Food Waste and the Food Supply Chain

Food waste management is crucial for every establishment that takes on food as its lifeline. Not managing your food waste properly will cause different types of trouble for your restaurant business, such as an increase in food costs. But you also have to know that food waste is not just happening inside your kitchen, or when a customer decided not to finish their meal.

The Food Supply Chain can explain how food waste is being generated in all of its four stages.

  • Production – Food waste produced by producers through damaged crops and goods. It can be caused by putting too much chemical, misuse of farming equipment and tools, or even severe weather conditions.
  • Processing – Improper storage, and unhygienic food handling also leads this stage of the food supply chain in generating food waste. If foods are not stored properly with the right temperature and humidity, it may lead to the generation of micro-organisms leading to rotten, moldy, and inedible food.
  • Retail – Not using appropriate packaging techniques often lead to contamination of food products. Also not being clear with the expiration, best before, and sell-by dates is a major concern for the retailing stage of the food supply chain. 
  • Consumption – Consumers that adopted a faulty cutting and peeling technique are one of the major sources of food waste in the consumption stage. Throwing edible foods that are believed to be spoiled or they just don’t like how it settles on their palette are some of the practices that consumers need to stop to manage their food waste.
Restaurant food waste management

See? Not everything is under your control. But if you’re a restaurant business that’s growing their ingredients, processing their food products, and even selling some of their products to customers (outside the menu), well maybe it’s time you focus more on how you manage your food waste. Keep in mind that what you send out, comes back. It is just smart to start managing your restaurant food waste before it bites you back.

Restaurant Food Waste Types

Now that you know how food waste is produced in the Food Supply Chain, it is also important to identify what are the types of food waste you need to avoid in your restaurant business. See below for your reference.

  • Preparation waste – produced during food preparation and cooking
  • Storage waste – produced by improper storage causing damaged, rotten, spoiled, substandard quality, and exceeded-use-date food items
  • Kitchen waste – poor kitchen management is the main cause of this type of food waste, burnt food, excess food left in pots, and even dropped food items are considered under this type.
  • Serving waste – the food that remains on the buffet or the serving tables.
  • Plate waste – excess food left by customers

You also have to keep in mind that the type and amount of food waste are completely parallel and related to your restaurant business model, conditions, practices, and your restaurant concept.

Trivia: Did you know that buffet meals generate the highest food waste in the Food and Restaurant Industry?

Restaurant Food Waste Causes

As mentioned above, food waste generation is not something you can stop on your own. There should be a collective effort to put a stop to this problematic situation. Starting from where you source your ingredients and produce, how well your inventory management is, and even how you plate your food items.

restaurant food waste management

There are many causes of food waste, but here’s a list of how restaurants commonly cause food waste generation.

  • Over-supplying
  • Improper storage practices
  • Sensitivity to environmental issues
  • Poor inventory management
  • Incorrect labeling practices
  • Customers ordering more than what they can consume
  • Not working on portion size
  • Stocking too many perishable goods
  • Poor food preparation practices
  • Failure to monitor quality assurance
  • Purpose of the meal
  • Skill levels of employees

Lucky for restaurateurs, the Restaurant Industry is already starting to work on different initiatives and legislations globally. Some organizations and foundations are strongly fighting food waste generation, and they are working hand in hand with restaurant operators and owners, like you, in formulating different food waste management techniques that will benefit every restaurant and food establishment.

Food Waste Management Benefits

Here are some of the great results once you start managing your restaurant food waste properly.

  • Positive environmental impact
  • Boost in employee morale
  • Enhanced food preparation and service practices
  • Great impact in the industry
  • Reduced food costs
  • Increase in revenue

Food Waste Management Tips

Food waste has become a key sustainability concern, and that contradicts one major principle in operating a restaurant. As a restaurant owner, you’ll aim to use up all your ingredients to make sure that every purchase effort for it will be worth it. Control your food waste production by following these well-tested and proven tips.

Use a global model

Countries such as France and the UK are considered global models for food waste management as they’ve led different initiatives for zero waste food waste production and have committed to it ever since. They have a strict implementation of these initiatives to their Retail and Food Industry.

If you’re still trying to collect ideas on how to start your restaurant food waste management, following these global models could assist you on your journey towards zero waste food management.

Establish a “Food Waste Inventory”

Through a food waste inventory, you can monitor and track your food waste and usage. Start your restaurant food waste management by making your restaurant staff use your new initiative. Once you’ve tracked the ingredients or even the dishes that are generating too much food waste, you can now start to execute different strategies (smaller portion, substitutions) and from there track your progress.

restaurant food waste management

If you execute this right, you can streamline your food production while still meeting the needs and demands of your customers.

Food Planning

To control, minimize, and prevent food waste, you can start by making a food plan. It is not an inventory about your food waste, but it is a well-made and thorough plan about the dish you’ll serve for a specific period and sticking into it.

If you happen to have excess food, it is also important to include them on your food plan as well. Since the production of excess food is not completely avoidable, you can always manage and try to minimize the waste that will come out of those excesses. And if everything has been extracted out of produce or a particular food item, it is now time to put it into your compost pit.

Prevent Food Waste by Identifying Them

To effectively counter food waste, you must know what and when it is considered food waste. There are many categories you can use to effectively categorize food waste, but you may want to use the most common categories namely- pre-consumer waste and post-consumer waste.

Pre-consumer waste is food waste that does not have the chance to leave the kitchen. It is commonly caused by storage malpractices that often lead to rotten and inedible perishable items.

As for post-consumer waste, it is produced when the food is already served and has been interacted with by the customers. Poor portion control is seen as the major cause of this type of restaurant food waste. Ensure that you’re implementing a strict portion policy to minimize this type of food waste. 

Organize a Restaurant Waste Management Team

Again, ending the concerns in food waste is not possible with a single initiative by a single establishment- meaning it’s a collaborative task that requires collective effort and teamwork. Talk to your restaurant staff on what are the possible causes of food waste generation that they see within your restaurant operations. They know how your operations process well for them to see if there are flaws and loopholes in it.

After that short meeting, you can also create a team that’s dedicated to monitoring, tracking, and managing your restaurant food waste. They are the ones who will lead the whole team in reducing food waste and your victory against food waste.

And no, if you’re thinking that you need to hire another set of employees to fill this position, worry not as you don’t have to. As part of their training in food handling, your restaurant staff is already equipped with basic restaurant waste management. It is your choice if you will provide additional training for them, but you can just set a rotating shift for your existing workforce and make them fill in the waste management team.

Make Inventory Management a must

Inventory management is an integral part of every restaurant’s operations. Working on your inventory is advantageous for your restaurant in different ways, one is that it helps you control your food waste. The good thing about modern restaurant management is that they already have solutions for every type of concert in the restaurant operations.

There are a number of inventory management systems that can make inventory management an enjoyable task for you and your team. Avoid overbuying, mislabeling, and wrongful stocking by making inventory management a daily, weekly, monthly, and even annual task for your team.

Apply FIFO Principle

First In, First Out principle or also known as the FIFO principle is one of the most famous and effective types of inventory management techniques. It is the practice of using ingredients that are first purchased rather than just using whatever you see in the pantry. This way, you can minimize and even avoid food spoilage. It is good for food waste management as you’re able to monitor the expiration, best before, and sell-by dates properly.

Carry Out a Standard Food Portion Policy

A common yet very workable mistake that restaurants keep on doing is over-preparing and not working on their portion size. It is just natural for your customers not to finish their food if it is too much for them to consume, and this will lead to generating food waste that can be prevented in the first place.

If you start working with a standard food portion policy, your kitchen staff will have a guide on just how much they need to prepare and serve to customers. Working on appropriate portion size avoids producing excess food that leads a waste.

restaurant food waste management

Modify Your Menu

As you continue to monitor and track your food waste through your food waste inventory, you’ll soon notice what are the dishes that are producing a larger amount of food waste compared to others. You might also start to notice what are the dishes that you serve are not appealing well to your customers.

The continuous serving of these food items will hurt your food waste management initiative and it will also elevate your food costs. Eliminating or modifying these menu items can help ease your food waste production and it could also help you with your food costs.

You may also want to work on your daily specials. If your kitchen staff happens to prepare too much pumpkin, why not make pumpkin soup the soup of the day? Or are there too many vegetable peels that are still clean? Go use it on your garnishes. There are plenty of ways to reduce food waste in the kitchen, it’s just a matter of how committed you are to extract your creative juices for your waste management initiatives.

Substitute Ingredients Can be Your Thing

Menu Substitution can help reduce food costs and food waste. Options such as turkey to chicken, are some of the substitutions you can check out. You can make so much out of a chicken compared to a turkey. Learn how to maximize different types of ingredients, and make sure to use them from flesh to skin to bones.

 Take note that there’s also a growing population of plant-based and vegans. Catering to this growing market will surely help in boosting your profit as well.

Re-purpose Food Items

Don’t immediately put every excess food into your compost pit. Make sure that you’ve tried and extracted every purpose from them before you put them to rest. Maximize every ingredient you’re presented with. If your vegetables are starting to wilt, you may start using them as vegetable stock, or use them for your soup, saute them with different spices, or try to work them out by storing them into a colder temperature to delay their wilting.

Work with your garnish station and observe what are the other ingredients and food products you can repurpose. Just make sure that the food products you’ll use are still in quality for human consumption. Don’t force your way into restaurant food waste management by just using all excess food items. Ensure that it’s still safe and in good shape for consumption.

Food Donation

Start working with different charities and NGOs in your local community and launch a feeding program or you may help with food distribution to the homeless. If you will not work closely with them and just donate food to these organizations, make sure that you’ll properly label your food donations with their best-before and donate-before dates. This is to ensure the safety and quality of the food they’ll be distributing.

Create Your Initiative

Aside from learning these different tips, there’s no stopping you from creating your food waste management initiatives. You’re molded by an industry where everything is made possible, once you have an idea, you can surely make it happen! You may start by displaying photos of customers who have no leftovers and tag them as “Food Heroes”, this will encourage better food waste management among your customers.

You can also do the same approach to your restaurant staff and brand them as “Waste Heroes” or it can be the same as your customers, it doesn’t matter. What matters is showcasing to your restaurant staff that their food waste management efforts are valued and appreciated.

Final Thoughts

Learning these key elements of food waste management, you may start to ask in what way having this knowledge can help reduce food waste? Does having a better understanding of food waste management can help to better explain other manifestations of customers?

Now that you’re informed on how to work on your restaurant food waste management, it is now time to act upon it. Stay committed and you’ll soon reap what you sow.