How to reduce food waste in your restaurants

Every day in your restaurant, preventable food waste gets thrown into the bin. Find out how to reduce that wastage, and the impact that it has on your bottom line and environmental performance.

By Lindsey Hall

1.3 billion tonnes of edible food (one-third of the total produced for human consumption in the world) is lost or wasted every year. Every year! If global food wastage were a country, it would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world, behind only the US and the People’s Republic of China.

And it impacts your business too. Food waste represents the heaviest component of a restaurant’s waste stream and has a significant disposal cost. Combine this with the cost to purchase the food in the first place and the loss of potential revenue when food is inefficiently managed, and the price is even greater.

Various studies have been conducted in the UK, finding that the average cost for restaurants to dispose of a tonne of food waste is £2,800 (taking into account initial procurement of the goods, labour, utilities and final disposal).

That’s a lot of money to be saved by reducing how much food you dispose of! So what can you do to reduce the amount of food waste your restaurant generates, and where do you start?

Work out your starting point

The first action is to identify your current situation. Read our blog on completing a food waste audit which shows you how to determine how much food waste you are currently generating, and where it is coming from.

Using the average food waste cost of £2,80/kg, you can calculate how much that wastage is costing your kitchen in the three operational areas; spoilage during storage, preparation waste and customer plate scrapings.

Set your objectives

Equipped with the results of your food waste audit, you will now be able to prioritise the areas of your kitchen operation that should be focused on first. Consider what sort of savings you can realistically expect to achieve. Perhaps your aim might be to reduce wastage from food storage by 10% within 6 months, for example.

Define the timescale for completion of your objectives and ensure that you have the necessary management support and staff commitment to achieve your targets.

Prioritise your actions

Sit down with your team to establish the actions that will help you to reach your objectives.

Some of these actions can be implemented immediately, whilst others will require a longer time. Equally, some actions will have low or no cost associated with them, whereas others will require some level of investment. These factors will need to be taken into consideration when you prioritise which actions to take forward.

It’s also important to consider where in the food waste hierarchy these actions sit. Do they prevent the production of the food waste in the first place, or will they just result in the waste being composted? The most environmentally and economically valuable actions are those that are found at the top of the hierarchy.

Monitor your progress

Completing a waste audit every month or quarter will help you to ensure that you are on track to reach your objectives within the defined time period.

If your food waste is collected separately to the rest of your waste, then you can keep an ongoing record of how many bins are emptied per week and compare this against covers served for the same period to see how your waste tonnages are changing.

Your waste contractor will be able to provide you with the number of bins they have emptied, which will give you the volume of waste. Then you can use an industry conversion figure to translate the food waste volume into kg. If you are recording by volume, make sure to check how full your bins are (on average) when they are collected, as this will have an impact on your figures.

Green Steps provide customisable forms to allow you to record this data accurately and easily.

Involve and support your staff

At each stage of the process, it’s vital that you involve your staff in your food waste minimisation efforts.

Let your staff know how much food is currently being wasted, how much this is costing the business, and what the environmental impact is of this wastage.

Discuss the targets with your staff and make sure that they feel ownership for them. Then involve your team in a discussion to come up with actions that will ensure you meet your objectives. This will make it far easier to get staff buy-in to make the required changes.

Your staff may need additional support and training in order to complete their actions, or in order to change their methodologies to the newly agreed ones. Be prepared that you will have to invest time and effort in breaking old habits and to drive through the new changes. Think beyond your kitchen team to your suppliers, serving staff, and other staff that will be affected by the changes.

Find any ways that you can to remove barriers that might prevent your staff from taking up the new initiatives, and make sure that all of the equipment and facilities are in place from the outset. False starts can be hard to recover from.

Consider running special training sessions at the start of the project. Provide reinforcement with posters, working instructions, and checklists so that your staff clearly understand what needs to be done differently.

As the project continues, keep your team up to date with progress. Make sure to recognise and reward staff members that have been involved in meeting the targets.

Read our article about staff engagement for more ideas on how to ensure your food waste minimisation project is a success.

Communicate with your customers

A food waste minimisation programme can have more than a positive impact on your bottom line; it can also improve your public image and guest relations.

Provide your customers with interesting food waste facts and figures, together with information about the actions that you are taking to reduce your restaurant’s wastage.  

More importantly, explain to your customers how these changes make their dining experience better!

How we can help

Green Steps are experts in food waste. Contact us today to get access to the forms and templates that will make your food waste minimisation project a success. Alternatively, speak to us about how we can help you manage the entire process from the initial audit to prioritising the actions to take forward and ensuring that your food waste minimisation targets are met.

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  • food waste audit
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  • waste hierarchy