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Ways to Tackle Restaurant Food Waste

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August 25, 2023

As a restaurant owner, you know that food waste is a reality in the industry. However, with green initiatives and consumer interest in sustainability taking place across the culinary realm, examining your establishment’s food waste is important. Plus, reducing food waste can improve food costs and help preserve profits. 

A food waste report compiled by the National Restaurant Association (NRA) shows food waste costs can be as high as 4.2 percent of total sales. The same report states the restaurant industry could boost annual profits by  $1.6 billion simply by reducing food waste by 20 percent. If you want to initiate a food waste program but aren’t sure where to start, here are some tips and advice.

4 Contributing Factors to Restaurant Food Waste

In the U.S., 40 percent of food waste comes from the food service industry - and many factors in restaurants contribute to this food loss.

Four Contributing Factors to Restaurant Food Waste: improper storage, portion sizes, extensive menus, and food scraps.

  1. Improper storage of ingredients can cause premature spoilage. When good food goes bad too soon, it is no longer usable and must be thrown away. 
  2. Portion sizes play a significant role in food waste. If your portions are large, guests might only finish part of their plate, and the leftovers could end up in a landfill.
  3. Extensive menus that require a variety of different ingredients could contribute to food waste. Large menus often have dishes that sell better than others. Less popular items mean purchasing items that don’t sell quickly, which adds to food spoilage and wasted money.
  4. Food scraps are a by-product of prep. Everything from carrot tops to beef trimmings is considered food waste and has the potential to be tossed in the garbage.

While food waste is common in restaurants, it doesn’t mean it has to be the standard. Restaurant owners have plenty of options to combat waste without much effort. All it takes is a plan and following a few key steps.

Managing Food Waste with the 86 Food Waste Program

For restaurant owners looking to limit food ending up in landfills, the NRA has created a platform geared toward the food service industry—the 86 Food Waste Initiative. This guide provides the following steps that lead to actionable results in food waste elimination.

  • Perform an Internal Food Waste Audit: Before you begin your food waste reduction plan, you want to establish your current waste baseline and determine your goals. This will help you monitor your progress and make the most out of nixing food waste.
  • Menu Redesign: Evaluating your menu, tracking your most commonly wasted ingredients, offering various portion sizes, and simplifying your menu are all tools to rethink your dishes and combat food waste.
  • Donating Food: Create a donation program to prevent food from ending up in landfills. Research your area's donation partners and ensure you follow all necessary food safety protocols.
  • Implement a Compost Program: Divert food waste from landfills by composting your food scraps. Regulations and resources vary by region, so take a look at your local options.

In addition to NRA’s guidelines, you can implement other practical solutions. Reconsider your food scraps. Can you take the leafy tops of carrots and turn them into a garden pesto? Perhaps you can save and use those beef trimmings to enhance a beef stock? Also, consider preserving and pickling fruits and vegetables to extend their shelf life and stretch your food cost dollar.

In terms of storage, purchase high-quality products, like Cambro food storage containers, to ensure your food is always stored correctly.

US Foods CHEF’STORE Supports Your Restaurant’s Sustainability Efforts

CHEF’STORE is your go-to for the highest-quality products at competitive prices. We stock everything you need to reduce food waste—from pickling essentials to compostable garbage bags, eco-ware, Cambro containers, and more. You’ll also love our fresh ingredients, like wholesale meat, seafood, produce, and bakery items.

Stop by one of our many locations today and see what you have in store for you. Don’t forget to take advantage of our business tools.


food waste in america in 2023

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