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How to Reduce Restaurant Food Waste And Increase Margins

Authored by: Justin Freeland (Senior Marketing Operations Specialist)

Reduce waste

The business case for reducing food waste is rock solid. In a study of 114 restaurants in 12 countries, the average restaurant made a return of seven dollars on every dollar spent reducing food waste —that’s a huge win in an industry with such tight margins. And with supply chain issues and rising costs plaguing the restaurant business, it’s never been more important to get the most out of your ingredients to protect your profit margins.

Most food waste is caused by over-purchasing, over-producing, or something as simple as overzealous trimming. 

The good news? Small consistent improvements to operations can dramatically reduce food waste. And that means better profit margins.

Here we’ll tackle: 

  • The extent of the food waste problem, especially for restaurants
  • How to measure your restaurant’s waste — and why doing this is so important
  • Practical strategies to reduce how much waste you produce

When you’re done reading, you’ll be equipped with the tools and techniques to improve efficiency, organization, and accountability in your kitchen, while also reducing waste and improving the profit margin on every dish sold.

The Problem of Food Waste

Just how big a problem is food waste generally? What about for restaurants?

Consider these staggering statistics: 

Even if you’re dehydrating peelings into powders, serving carrot tops, and making use of every last piece of bone and sinew, some waste is inevitable. Trimmings from vegetables, spent bones from making stock, and leftover food from customers’ plates are all unavoidable. 

But there are many ways to quickly tackle avoidable food waste, whether it’s trimmings, spoiled food, or ingredients food waste resulting from mistakes.

“Zero-waste” restaurants like New York’s Rhodora — which recycles its own cardboard and gives its bottle corks to a non-profit to make sustainable shoes — are setting the ideal example of what can be achieved.

As a franchisee, you might not be able to achieve such incredible results, but they show how much can be done and the potential food cost savings of tackling food waste in a meaningful way.

How to Measure Food Waste (And Why It’s So Important)

If you don’t know how much of your ingredients are going to waste, you can’t begin making strides to reduce food waste. 

The best way to measure food waste is to separate your trash into categories and weigh it. Use different waste bins for kitchen food waste and food waste coming back from customer plates. Then weigh the waste at the end of each day.

This will help you determine where your food waste is coming from and where you should look to tackle the problem.

Poco Tapas Bar, a sustainability-focused restaurant in Bristol, England, aims to produce as little food waste as possible and commits to weighing kitchen waste every day. Weighing the waste every day not only allows the team to quantify it, but it also keeps the issue of food waste top of mind.

At Poco, vegetables are rarely peeled and they are sliced right up to the root. This “root-to-fruit” vegetable preparation increases trim yield, a measure of how much of an ingredient is used in preparation.

Trim yield is a percentage calculated by weighing ingredients before and after preparation, then dividing the prepared ingredient weight from the original weight and multiplying by 100.

For example, if you were preparing a pound (or 16-ounce) bag of carrots, and after trimming you had 14 ounces of prepared carrot, here’s the calculation: 

14/16 = 0.875 

0.875 x 100 = 87.5

Your trim yield percentage is 87.5%.

Measuring your food waste and trim yield is the first step toward making positive changes. Once you see how much food waste can be avoided with some simple changes, there’ll be no turning back. 

Now let’s look at some practical strategies to make reducing food waste a daily habit.

How to Reduce Your Restaurant’s Food Waste

Now that you’re weighing waste and looking to reduce the amount of food that is unnecessarily thrown away, it’s time to take positive action. You can implement the tips below straight away and see an immediate impact. 

As you go, track the changes to your food waste measures and tweak these strategies to get the best results. Zero food waste may be unattainable for a franchise that already runs an efficient operation, but any step closer to that magic number will be good news for your bottom line.

Better Training for More Control

Training your staff to reduce food waste can have dramatic effects. Root-to-fruit and nose-to-tail preparations are popular in the high-end restaurant scene, where teams of chefs spend hours processing vegetable trim and less-desirable animal products into delicacies.

While using the whole ingredient might not be as viable for a fast-casual or fast-food kitchen, you can still make a dent in food waste. 

Simple changes to a chef’s approach, such as using more of each ingredient to increase trim yield, can have a huge impact.

For example, slicing a carrot a quarter-inch closer to the root yields a little more usable carrot, which adds up over time. When you’re dealing with more expensive ingredients like Parmesan cheese or black truffle, these changes can have an even greater impact. 

Controlling portion size is another key ingredient to reducing food waste. Over-portioning is a common problem. By keeping a consistent record of what goes into your recipes and measuring each portion, you can reduce food waste from leftover food on customer plates. Pay attention while measuring the waste coming back from satiated customers, and you’ll be able to adjust portion sizes for the perfect balance.

Safer Food Storage

One of the biggest causes of food waste is improper storage. Spoilage can occur due to… 

  • Fluctuating temperatures
  • Poor quality containers
  • Pest control problems
  • Food simply not being used before it goes bad

To keep food from going to waste before it’s prepared and plated, you need to stay on top of your inventory management and invest in quality storage equipment.

Proper seals and strong doors keep pests out, remote temperature monitors alert you to problems before the worst happens — like your freezer defrosting when no one’s around — and proactive inventory management helps you rotate ingredients so nothing stays on the shelf too long. 

Restaurant management software can keep you on top of sales figures, purchasing, and inventory management to avoid spoilage and put a stop to unnecessary food waste before it happens. 

Minimize Mistakes with Better Tech

Refires occur when orders have to be remade because of an error in ordering or production. As a result, whole plates of food are tossed. You can reduce these errors by implementing better ordering systems, from the way the customer places the order to how it is received and processed by the kitchen team. 

Modern ordering systems remove server error from the equation by allowing customers to order on an app or ordering site, with the order sent directly to the POS. 

There are also tools to reduce staff errors. Kitchen display systems (KDS) help organize orders and send them to the right part of the kitchen. Your kitchen team can concentrate on maximizing quality and minimizing mistakes, with the KDS telling them exactly what to prep next and prioritizing orders for them.

Sell Unused Food at a Discount

Ideally, you don’t want to be producing more food than you can sell, but it happens. One last-ditch way to prevent this food from going to waste is to list it on a marketplace for surplus food.

Apps like Too Good To Go, goMkt, and Food Rescue US connect restaurants with a surplus to consumers looking for a reduced-price meal.

Say you get to the end of the day and you have five portions of tikka masala left that can’t be sold the next day. Jump onto the app and list those portions at a 70% discount. Someone orders on the app, you package them up, and off they go. 

Selling leftover food won’t reduce your food waste proactively, but at least the food gets eaten and you get a little bit of your ingredient investment back. 

Boost Your Margins as a Well-Oiled Waste Reduction Machine

Whether you tackle the problem of food waste with more training, better ordering and kitchen display systems, or improved management of your back-of-house operations — or a combination of strategies — the results should compound over time. 

As you start seeing the benefits of a reduction in your food costs, you’ll be motivated to do even more to curb unnecessary waste. And your team will be focused and ready to adopt a daily habit of consciously reducing how much food is sent to the landfill.

A well-oiled waste-reduction machine means less food waste, increased margins, and an overall more profitable franchise. Ready to start your journey to zero waste? See how HungerRush can help you run a more efficient restaurant.

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