Reducing food waste in restaurants should be a top priority going into 2024. Lower waste levels mean:

  • You save on food waste
  • You help the environment (more on that soon)

How much food waste do restaurants produce? In total, the US restaurant industry wastes 22 – 33 billion pounds of food. Putting this figure into perspective, in total weight, restaurants are tossing 27 million cows, weighing 1,200 pounds each, in the trash each year.

That's a lot of food waste.

Food waste in the restaurant industry is a growing problem, but there are solutions that can help you start reducing this waste. You can help the environment and also reduce your overhead by getting full control of your inventory.

reducing food waste in restaurants

Food Waste: A Growing Problem for Restaurant Owners

Estimates suggest that 0.5 pounds of food goes to waste per meal in a restaurant. Imagine if you have 100 customers per night, you’re wasting 50 pounds of food per day, which is a lot of food.

You can recuperate these lost expenses and find ways for you to better serve your customers.

Consumer trends are partially to blame for food waste. Food waste in restaurants has risen since consumers expect larger portions. How often do you go out to eat or get a recommendation from a friend, and one of the first comments is, “Their portions are huge?”

Large portions are good if people eat all of the food. Some people will eat half a plate and toss the rest, but some patrons do go home with leftovers and will eat them the next day.

However, another shift is taking place. Studies show that 70% of consumers are concerned about waste disposal and nearly half of these individuals will even pay more if you dispose of waste properly.

You can take a responsible approach to reducing waste by helping your patrons change the way they consume and by also making internal changes.

Changing the Food Waste Culture in Your Restaurant

Change comes from within, or so the saying goes. If you want your customers to be aware of their own waste, you also need to be aware of it. You can do this with two main techniques that are transforming the industry:

  1. Tracking food waste
  2. Conducting food audits

If you track and audit, you can make meaningful changes within your restaurant to help bring waste down without negatively impacting your consumers in the process.

Tracking Food Waste

Food waste log examples are hard to find, but they’re easy to make internally. You'll want to create a journal that allows you to:

  • Weigh food waste
  • Reduce waste

For example, if you have rotten fruit that you need to discard, check the weight of the fruit and log it. Weighing all of the waste you have is crucial to your success. Once you have a baseline of, say, one week, you can then start to focus on food audits and initiatives to reduce waste.

We'll be covering some of the ways you can start lowering your waste in the coming sections.

You can even log:

  • Types of waste
  • Shifts that produce waste
  • Days of the week with the highest waste levels

Food waste logs also help you with audits.

Conducting Food Audits

Food audits can also help you reduce food waste and make some money in the process. You can begin tracking what foods are discarded most often and then begin auditing to understand:

  • Accurate portion sizes to reduce waste
  • When running sales can reduce waste
  • Proper inventory amounts to prevent waste

In-depth audits and journaling can help you begin to understand your restaurant’s waste and how to prevent further waste. Once you have these preliminary figures, you can begin reducing your waste by following some of the techniques below.

Reducing Food Waste in Restaurants

Reducing your restaurant’s food waste will do more than just help the environment. It will also save you money. Restaurants that invest in reducing food waste save $7 per every $1 invested.

But how can restaurants reduce food waste?

Here are some practical steps your restaurant can take today to start reducing its food waste.

food waste tracker

Careful Inventory Management

One of the most effective solutions to food waste in restaurants is careful inventory management.

The one area where your restaurant has the most control over its waste is the pre-consumer stage. Using good practices for inventory management can help reduce waste significantly.

There are several strategies you can use here, including:

  • First in, first out (FIFO) to ensure that your old ingredients are used first. 
  • Implementing robust inventory management systems to help you estimate your optimal stock levels. 
  • Use food reduction techniques to reduce trimmings.
  • Repurpose food to ensure it doesn’t wind up in the landfill. For example, use day-old bread for house-made croutons. 

Implement a Food Waste Tracking System

If you're serious about reducing your food waste, implement a food waste tracker system to see the impact of your efforts. 

A tracker system can also help you identify foods that get wasted most often. Perhaps your stock of these food items is too high, or demand for this food is low. Making adjustments by reducing your stock or removing the item from your menu can help reduce waste.

Make Sure Your Portions Are Proper

There's little you can do to control consumer food waste, but you can implement strategies to help ensure customers finish the food on their plates.

One strategy is proper portioning. If you notice that customers are consistently leaving a considerable amount of their food on their plates, this may be a sign that your portions are too large. 

If certain side dishes are being left unfinished or returned by customers, consider changing them, upgrading them or removing them.

You can also help customers choose the appropriate menu items by labeling dishes as “perfect for sharing” or “enough for two people.” You can also consider offering different portion sizes on your menu.

Encourage Customers to Take Their Leftovers Home

There are many ways to reduce food waste in restaurants, but one simple thing you can do right away is encourage customers to take their leftovers home. 

Ensure that all staff members ask customers if they’d like a box for their unfinished food. Your restaurant will save on disposal costs, and customers will enjoy their food later at home.

Reducing Food Waste Should be a Priority

If there’s one thing we can learn from the food waste in restaurants statistics, it’s that restaurants need to optimize their inventory management and optimize their menus. Proper portioning and accurate forecasting of inventory needs can help restaurants save on food waste and reduce their costs along the way.