Restaurant Food Waste Management — How Smart Operators Drive Down Food Waste & Costs

restaurant food waste management
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According to a ReFED report from 2018, in the US, the foodservice industry generates around 11.4 million tonnes of restaurant food waste per year, which translates to $25 billion. In the UK, restaurant food waste clocks in at about one million tonnes (that’s £682 million).

Both numbers are so mind-numbingly huge that they almost mean nothing, right?

But what happens when we really dig into it? What happens when we make it about your business, specifically?

Let’s take a look.

For example, you own or manage a restaurant in the UK (possibly a few, but let’s focus on the one), and you fall into the UK’s restaurant food waste averages.

What does this mean for you?

… it means that you’re wasting close to 22 tonnes of food per location every single year…

… it means that you’re losing 1 whole euro on every order to preventable food loss (or even more if your average order size is more than 15 euros )…

… it means that you’re ending up with extra operational costs that are nibbling away at the profits, costing you nearly 20,000 euros per location per year (if you’re lucky) …

Behind every restaurant in the world, there’s a waste container that’s usually full of money. And every day, that container gets taken away to a landfill, where it adds to the ever-rising cost of running a food service business.

Take control of your restaurant’s food waste with Apicbase, and start driving down costs today. Schedule a quick demo and find out how.

But before you peg me as a gloomy Gus here, I’ve got some good news for you — restaurant food waste is manageable, even for a multi-unit operation.

After reading this post on restaurant food waste management, you will be a good deal closer to that elusive knowledge. 

But, before I dive into the heart and soul of restaurant food waste control, let’s take a quick look at two different levels of that control – the operational and the kitchen level.

Operations & Kitchen Management - Two Levels of Restaurant Food Waste Management

Restaurant food waste process

Efficiently managing food waste in restaurants starts with understanding that it’s a two-tiered process — operational and kitchen-level. This is especially important for multi-outlet businesses.

Why?

Well, operational control is something that can be applied across different units. It also gives you the ability to save considerable amounts of money.

Kitchen management is often a game of penny-pinching — reusing trimmings will save you a couple of euros here and there, but it won’t leave you with enough to reinvest in staff training, marketing, or modernizing kitchen equipment.

  • Operational restaurant waste control – creating a system that tracks and records waste, working off of accurate inventory numbers, ordering based on historical sales trends and waste records, staff training — in short, actions that prevent food waste from even occurring.

  • Kitchen-level waste control – plate portioning, menu engineering, dish popularity, service (f.e. make sure the temp is okay before a dish leaves the kitchen) — location-specific actions that, when applied consistently, can result in better cost control.

And, sure — you can also reduce waste by re-using trimmings for broths and stocks, making staff dinners from leftovers and nearly expired ingredients, or encouraging doggy bags and food donations.

However, as a performance-focused owner or manager, it’s not something you should be focusing on.

Your goal is to reduce the likelihood of food waste ever happening in your restaurants. That way you actively lower your overall costs. Giving away food, while charitable, won’t get you closer to that goal.

Build Restaurant Food Waste Control & Monitoring Into Your Inventory System

Want to scale back food waste in your restaurants and reduce food cost?

Start measuring it.

You can’t make a dent in your waste production until you know what you’re wasting, where, and most importantly, why.

According to the National Restaurant Association, nearly half of US restaurant operators don’t do this — they don’t have systems in place that make food waste management easy.

Are you a part of this gut-wrenching statistic? Take the first step towards fixing that…

How you count and measure your food waste is less important than the fact that you’re actually doing it. This record of waste then becomes a part of your overall restaurant inventory system and allows you to quickly recognize and understand the causes of food cost variance.

Always make sure that your teams record these nine inventory actions with great care.

  • Opening stock count
  • New purchases going into stock
  • Usage of raw materials for stockable items and sub-recipes like a sauces
  • Stockable items created in inventory
  • Transfers to other outlets
  • Transfers from other outlets
  • Product sold
  • Wasting
  • Closing stock count

The sum of the opening stock count and the subsequent inventory actions in a given period of time is your theoretical stock status. It should be the same as the actual stock status, which is the closing stock count that you do at the end of the given time-frame.

Restaurant Food Waste inventory control

See any inconsistencies; is there a variance between the theoretical and the actual stock? You need to get to the bottom of it all.

That is why it is so important to diligently keep track of wasting. If you don’t, then your outlets will always see a variance happening between theoretical and actual stock, but you’ll never be able to hunt down the cause. 

It could be anything:

  • spoilage,
  • over-portioning,
  • theft,
  • overstocking
  • … whatever.

Is only one location out of bounds or are several into trouble. Do you know?  

Careful monitoring will avoid these losses and boost your business margins.

Last year, we had 100,000 euros in unaccounted costs across our sites. How? No idea. Today we avoid these blind spots by registering all stock actions in Apicbase.

Philippe Vandermeulen - Chief Quality Officer, Manhattn’s, five outlets and scaling.

With a system in place, you can start working on eliminating food waste from your restaurant almost entirely.

Your staff throws away a sack and a half of rotten potatoes every week?

There are bottles of Worcestershire sauce on your books dating back to two years?

With a system in place, you will quickly notice all of that, make a few ordering adjustments, and start running a lean kitchen operation.

Efficient systems are a must in a restaurant operation. But dedicated software makes every system better, faster, and more robust.

Make stock management and waste monitoring as easy as pie with the Apicbase Restaurant Inventory Management Software!

Train Staff to Recognize the Importance of Minimising Restaurant Food Waste

Restaurant food waste staff training

Finding it difficult to teach your staff about the importance of restaurant food waste management?

Here’s what you need to do…

Have a chat with shift managers and instruct them to weigh, record, and assign a dollar amount to every bit of food waste that’s generated in the kitchen for one week.

Rotten potatoes… returned plates… broken drink bottles… the list goes on.

At the end of that period, organize an all-hands-on-deck meeting to go through it with your staff — they’ve all seen it being done so they should be pretty curious at this point.

If you’re lucky, your restaurant’s food waste numbers won’t be astronomical.

But… if you fall into the rough UK averages, there should be at least 250 euros of completely preventable food waste per week recorded there.

That’s 13.000 euros of restaurant food waste per year. For one location.

A food waste audit is an opportunity to explain to your staff just why efficient food waste management is in their interest — after all, a profitable operation doesn’t run the risk of going under… and, it can afford salary raises.

When it comes to the actual food waste prevention training, here are a few things you should be focusing on:
  • Diligent waste recording – every member of the staff needs to know how to record waste and why it’s done (it’s not to assign blame but to make cost-saving decisions in the future).
  • Ordering informed by accurate inventory – checking ingredient-specific waste during the ordering process allows you to hit the mark when ordering on par. That way, you’re not ordering things that will need to be written off (blowing up your food costs).
  • Optimal mise en place – a well-prepared kitchen wastes little, if anything. Ensure that your food preppers know how to correctly prepare veggies, fish, and meat. Go through this training as many times as necessary, and have visual aids and production sheets on hand to eliminate guesswork.
  • Proper restaurant movement – watching FoH and BoH staff move through a restaurant can be like observing a silky-smooth synchronized swimming team. Or it can be like witnessing a terrible car crash. You want your servers to move like fish through the water to minimise bumps, foot trods, and overturned plates that inevitably end up in a mess (and even more food waste that’s costing you money).

Need a simpler way to ensure that your mise en place is always on point?

Check out our Production Planning Module — get instant access to recipes, sub-recipes, and exact ingredient quantities, and make sure that all your kitchens are working to the same standard.

Scrutinize Your Portion Sizes, Menu Engineering & Dish Popularity

These three things fall under the umbrella of effective kitchen management — the measures that you take here will be location-specific, and you’ll need ground floor advice and support to effectively make changes.

  • Over-portioning – an extra spoonful of roasted mushrooms here… a few more potatoes on a plate… none of it seems like a big deal, right? But over-portioning is not an issue just because it throws your food cost calculation out of whack — it’s an issue because it creates unnecessary food waste that ends up in the bin.

    This can all be avoided with a bit of extra planning — calculate the portion size that fits your establishment (and your customers), and train your staff on how to get it right every time.

  • Menu engineering – let’s say you have one dish that calls for the Mediterranean scallop. On a good day, you sell 12 to 14 portions of that dish (but your minimum order amount is 15 portions). This means that every day one expensive scallop goes to waste because you can’t use it in any other dish.

    But what happens when you replace that menu item with two items that use the tasty blue mussel? In nine cases out of ten, you not only save money — you make more money. Creating groups of recipes that use the same ingredients allows you to find better supplier deals (as you will be ordering more) and prevents wasting the expensive stuff.

  • Dish popularity – I’m going to be really blunt here because, if there’s one thing that makes my kettle boil, it’s when restaurants spend money on ingredients they don’t use. What is the point of those half a dozen artichokes in the fridge if they’re going to get binned in three days? And then a fresh batch gets ordered regardless?

    So here it goes — stop ordering food no one is eating. Go through your POS system and look at what people are actually having. No one ordered the “Chinese Artichoke Soup” in the last month? Just 86 it — no one is going to miss it, and you will stop throwing away rotten artichokes every other day.

Do you want to have real-time, actionable insight into your sales and kitchen processes?

With Apicbase’s Sales Analytics Module, you can quickly see which items are not turning a profit.

Additionally, our Staff Training Module will allow you to create step-by-step prep and plating videos, so over-portioning becomes the thing of the past.

Waste Not, Want Not

I talk to a lot of operators on any given day, and they all tell me the same two things when we talk about waste:

  1. managing food waste in restaurants is too complicated,
  2. what needs to be done to control waste will cost more than it will save.

To which I say: 

So you’re comfortable with bleeding 30,000 euros per year per location with the current system?

Of course not.

No one wants to leave that much money on the table because of something completely preventable.

Controlling food waste is neither complicated nor costly — it’s one of the 5 restaurant inventory management best practices that help you run a successful operation.

Whatever you spend on setting up a system, training your staff, or investing in software will be greatly offset by what you save by not throwing away food in the first three months alone.

After that, whatever you save is just growing your bottom line.

And if you want to learn more about how Apicbase can help you not just with food waste, but with every other aspect of running a successful restaurant operation, we’ll be happy to spend 30 minutes in a quick (but eye-opening) chat with you.

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Joris Brabants

Joris Brabants

I am a passionate foodie and I write about operational excellence in hospitality.