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10 Ways Restaurant Owners Can Take Food Waste Off the Menu

Image credit: Joanna Boj/Unsplash

There’s something about your menu that you may not have noticed — a lot of it is trash. But it’s not the quality we’re talking about; it’s the waste.

Food waste makes up a large amount of the material buried in landfills, and a large amount of that comes from restaurants. Just one restaurant on average sends about 50,000 pounds of food to landfills each year. Once there, it generates methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. But food waste isn’t just bad for the environment; it’s bad for business. Pounds of food scraps equal thousands of dollars of revenue that are thrown away. And food waste isn’t just impacting cash flow — it’s impacting customers.

Food waste is a growing consumer concern. A study by Unilever showed that 80 percent of U.S. diners are concerned about the amount of food thrown away every day in restaurants and cafeterias. Almost half are concerned enough to spend more money at places actively reducing their waste.

With so much at stake, it’s time to start tightening our waste-lines! Here are ten tips that can help.

  1. Refresh your menu. This is where profitability and food waste go hand-in-hand. Mark trends to see when your big-batch items are the most popular and profitable. Updating your menu based on customer interest will save you money, while saving food from a landfill.
  2. Repurpose ingredients. Stalks of veggies can be tossed in a soup or used as a garnish. Yesterday’s bread can be today’s croutons. Allow your chefs to be creative and see opportunities in the excess.
  3. Avoid purchasing perishable items in bulk. Buying bulk produce might seem like a good way to cut upfront costs, but what happens when you can’t use it all before it goes bad? Before tossing out more bad apples, talk to your vendors about purchasing in various stages of ripeness instead of all at once.
  4. Watch out for spoilage. Train your staff on the first-in, first-out method of storage by teaching them to use the oldest products first. And have your staff label items with the date they were last used to make sure you aren’t over-ordering.
  5. Conduct a food waste audit. Business owners often don’t know how much they’re tossing out, or why. Take a close look at how many customers you get each day, and what’s most frequently thrown away, to start adjusting.
  6. Send food home with staff. If you can’t reuse food from the night’s dinner service, invite your staff to grab a bite. Cutting down on food waste and boosting employee morale is a win-win.
  7. Consider donating food. Whether it’s getting involved with a food bank or establishing a connection with a local farmer, donating food and food scraps can make a huge difference. Scraps can be used in animal feed, and still-safe-for-consumption meals can help the millions of people who struggle with hunger.
  8. Set up color-coded bin stations. Sorting your waste with color-coded bins helps increase recycling adherence while reducing contamination. Teach your team to toss waste in separate bins specifically for organic material. Using graphic signage, such as icons of food, can also help your employees throw food waste in the correct bin.
  9. Start composting & converting. For restaurant owners, sending excess food to a composting facility or anaerobic digester (which converts food into energy) can help manage food waste in a more sustainable and cost-effective way. We know from experience that diverting food waste like this can add up to serious savings on your waste bill.
  10. Find new revenue in recycling. It really does pay to reduce, reuse and recycle. There’s a market for used fats, oils and greases that can add some extra cash to your business or result in reduced-fee cooking oil supply arrangements.

Additional tips:

Sponsored by
Rubicon Global.

Replace your disposables. Food waste isn’t just limited to food itself. Items such as Styrofoam cups and individual ketchup packets have more sustainable alternatives — switch to things such as reusable condiment bottles, which can cut down on unnecessary waste material.

Get your customers involved. Make sure they know exactly what’s in a meal and encourage them to order only what they want. Offering smaller portion choices will help make sure your customers are not sending back near-full plates of food.

Rubicon Global is on the hunt for Waste Fit Champions  business leaders leading the charge on reducing waste at their respective organizations! If you, or someone you know is bringing innovative ideas to waste challenges, finding solutions to reduce environmental impact and increasing commercial recycling and composting initiatives, nominate them today!! All Waste Fit Champions will be recognized at Sustainable Brands’ New Metrics ’18 event in Philadelphia, October 29-31.


Ryan Cooper is Waste Diversion and Organics Recycling Manager at Rubicon Global.

[Read more about Ryan Cooper]


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