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Waste, Waste, Waste—Reducing Waste in Your Restaurant

reduce food waste

Recycle, reduce, and compost. Whatever it takes—do your part and give back a little.

Why did you open up a restaurant? Was it to bring your passion to life? Probably. But I’m guessing you had at least one other reason. …and I’m betting it was to make some money. Or maybe to be your own boss, make your own rules, and to live the life you’ve dreamed about since before culinary school—probably even since way back when you were manning the dungeon at someone else’s restaurant.


The 20% Club

Let’s be frank—money is the bottom line. You can’t pursue your passion if there’s no way to fund living. So let me ask you a difficult question: If you’re in the business of making money, why are you throwing so much of it away?

Turns out, restaurants throw away almost 10% of the product they buy. Not because it’s unusable, but because of bad policies all around. That combined with uneaten food, kitchen mistakes, and product not meeting particular quality standards comes to another 10%. All in all, restaurants throw away on average 20% of their product, even though there’s nothing actually wrong with it.

Do you know how much of a difference 20% makes to your company’s financial bottom line? How many other companies buy product and then throw 20% immediately into the garbage?

Well, pretty much every restaurant out there does this. Waste management falls very low on the priority list in most restaurants, large and small. Things like customer service, portion size, speed of service and menu pricing are all a part of a restaurant’s key focal points to increase sales. Meanwhile, they quietly throw away an enormous amount of product and don’t even recognize this financial sickness taking its greedy toll every day.

What’s worse is that it’s not just your restaurant’s profit margins that are hurt by this irresponsible practice. 1 in 6 Americans are hungry every day, yet we waste 40% of the food made in America. That comes out to $165 billion in wasted food, as well as all the resources needed to grow, maintain, harvest, and transport that food. In fact, it costs $750 million in disposal of that wasted food alone.

Restaurants alone generate 20% of the total food waste in this country, and that percentage rises every year. 20% of $165 billion = $33 billion. Your restaurant is a part of a $33 billion food deficit in this country. Can you imagine what good could be done in the world with $33 billion worth of food each year?The Big Food Wasters infographic

Feeling a bit on the queasy side after reading that? Me too. But do you know what the absolute worst part is? This is easy to fix, yet most restaurants don’t care to change their habits and policies to do it. Which is exactly why we’re having this discussion. You, as a restaurant owner, have the ability to change things.

Be the Change You Need

First things first: assess your restaurant’s needs. The best way to do this is to work with the information you already have from inventory. The magic is in the numbers. You have a pretty good idea what your inventory should look like any given week, based on what you order and reorder. If you’re really going to change how things work—ultimately leading to a significant increase in profits—then you’re going to need to do more than just order tracking.

It will take a few weeks of dedication from your management staff in the kitchen, but it can be done—especially once it becomes clear just how much of an increase in wages these savings can translate into. Your kitchen staff will have to document how much of each product is thrown away and why, quantities of waste because of mistakes and accidents, and differentiate from what is absolutely unusable, to what can be recycled or repurposed in some way.

Once an accurate portrait of what your restaurant’s numbers look like, the second phase can begin: establishing new policies. Waste removal, recycling programs, composting, and food donation are traditionally not implemented well in the restaurant industry. Luckily, programs like the National Restaurant Association‘s ConServe Program are already working hard to change the way restaurants of all sizes manage their waste management.

Once you’ve figured out how to repurpose your waste into better options, the next, and most important factor needed to make this a reality is to train your staff. It’s your job to reprogram your staff to be more aware of food waste, and to think of and practice solutions, rather than resorting to the habit of throwing things away. This won’t be easy, but again, money is the bottom line. And hey, it’s also is a great motivator.

The entire staff will need to understand why proper waste management is so important to the restaurant, to the economy and to the environment, but in the end, the best way to motivate them is to sit down and talk money. If they understand that they can and will make more money by following better, more responsible practices, they’ll begin changing their habits as soon as the meeting is over. If your restaurant is going to be successful in getting out of the 20% club of irresponsible waste, then you need your staff 100% on board.

There are a lot of resources out there with even more detailed information on how you can begin managing your waste and saving money. Some things can begin immediately. Others will take a bit of time to get going, but within three months of beginning a more sustainable waste management program, your restaurant will be in full-swing. Within six months, your profit margins will be noticeably better, and with any luck, your staff will start noticing the increase in their pockets as a result of their efforts as well.

Waste Reduction Resources

Here are a few places to start looking, as well as a quick list of products that can be recycled rather than thrown away:

What can and should be recycled in Wisconsin:

    • Aluminum, glass, steel (tin) and bi-metal containers
    • Plastic containers #1 and #2, including: milk jugs and detergent, soda and water bottles
    • Magazines, catalogs and other materials printed on similar paper
    • Newspaper and office paper
    • Corrugated cardboard

Restaurant Waste Stats

Restaurant Waste Management

Do your homework, get to work, then share the wealth. Give your staff raises. Donate food to the hungry. Recycle, reduce, and compost. Whatever it takes—do your part and give back a little. It’s sustainable living, and it’s a profitable business. Be the change that we need.

Image “The Big Food Wasters” courtesy of Flickr user GDS Infographics; featured image courtesy of Flickr user PortoBay Hotels & Resorts; all images licensed under CC by 2.0.

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