Food Waste Management | How to reduce food loss in restaurants 

It’s now more important than ever before for restaurants and businesses to become more environmentally friendly. It’s no longer appropriate to disregard the obvious as client priorities shift, and it becomes apparent that we all have a social obligation to follow sustainable practices. Companies must do what they can to go green, and a big part of this involves finding ways to eliminate and control food waste in restaurants. 

For restaurants in Canada, there’s no doubt that food waste is a massive problem. There are different areas that restaurant owners should focus on when handling food waste, from leftovers on dinner plates to out-of-date ingredients that must be discarded for health and safety reasons. 

This article serves as a guide for waste reduction management to maximize your profits and output!

What is food waste?

Food waste or loss refers to food intended for human consumption that is not eaten for one reason or another. The causes of food waste are numerous and occur throughout the supply chain, from initial production to final household consumption.  

Food pollution has a long history that is intertwined with globalization. Supply chains are getting longer in an increasingly networked environment, and everything is available everywhere - Indian mangoes in Canada and American apples in South Africa… all year round.  

Food is missed or discarded at any point of the often-long trip from farm to table, and fresh foods like fruits and vegetables, dairy, and meat are easily wasted.

How is food wasted?

Much of the fault rests with customers, but food waste happens mainly at manufacturers, retailers, and restaurants in the supply chain. One of the predominant causes of wastage is all-you-can-eat buffets and buy-one-get-one offers that prompt consumers to buy more than they can eat and leave subsequent leftovers to be thrown out. 

A lot of the food waste created by restaurants comes from leftovers from customers. It might be time to re-evaluate the portion sizes if they are too large! However, this is not the only reason as restaurants with large menus that overorder their supplies also waste an immeasurable amount of food.

How much food does the restaurant industry waste?

According to a Canadian study, more than half of all food produced in Canada is wasted, with the food industry disposing of the vast majority of it in landfills. Previous studies have blamed customers for the majority of the pollution, but recent research suggests that industrial manufacturers in Canada are the primary culprits. 

58 % of all food created in Canada is either lost or wasted, which is much higher than commonly thought. The study also found that the overwhelming majority (86 %)  takes place within the food industry and not in the households of Canada. This waste amounts to an overwhelming $31 billion each year!

What are the impacts of food waste?

Power, fuel, and water are used in the processing, transportation, storage, and preparation of food. All these release greenhouse gases, which contribute to global warming.

Consider a bag of cheese: all the resources that go into raising the animals, producing, and transporting the cheese post harvest, and even the gasoline that we use to get to the store to buy it. If it’s all thrown away at the end of the week, that’s a lot of wasted effort and an incredibly high carbon footprint.

To grow and produce food, a lot of water is needed. We waste essential supplies of water by wasting food:
  • It takes 100 buckets of water to make one loaf of bread.
  • To grow one potato, you need six buckets of water.
  • To grow one tomato, you need one bucket of water.

Also consider the agricultural land used to produce these restaurant meals. In Canada, there are nearly 160 million acres of farmland!

How to reduce food waste?

Avoid overbuying stock

Your chefs will be able to recognize the amount of food thrown away before it even reaches the table. Of course, no restaurant wants to run out of supplies on a busy night of serving customers but wasting large quantities of uncooked food is a major concern for restaurants. 

Not only will buying strictly what you need prevent this, but it will also save you a lot of money in the long run. Conduct weekly waste audits to decide which ingredients you need (and in what quantities) and resist the temptation to purchase in bulk or take advantage of supplier discounts if it means buying more than is needed.

Store food efficiently

The FIFO system (first-in, first-out) is an easy one to follow: simply place the food with the earliest use-by date at the front of the cupboard or shelf. When you restock, store the fresh ingredients at the back of the shelf to avoid using them before foods that are on the verge of spoiling. 

FIFO systems are useful for all types of food (they make keeping track of use-by dates much easier), but they are particularly useful for fresh produce. To minimize food waste and standardize the process for your workers, use a FIFO system to store fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy products. 

Furthermore, make sure that your refrigerators and freezers are set to the correct temperature, that low-risk foods are always kept higher on the shelf than high-risk foods, and that your food storage areas are clean and tidy. Food must be stored in the right conditions to preserve quality and avoid pathogenic bacterial development, all of which can easily contribute to food waste.

Temperature control

Temperature regulation is important for food safety because it prevents dangerous pathogenic bacteria from developing. It also ensures that food waste is minimized because the food cannot spoil.  

This involves rapidly cooling hot food, reheating food to the proper core temperature (at least 70°C for 2 minutes), storing high-risk food in refrigerators (1-4°C) and freezers (below -18°C), and keeping hot and cold food at healthy temperatures (above 63°C and below 8°C, respectively).

Have a Smaller Menu

Giving your chefs a challenge to prepare your menu around a variety of key ingredients is one innovative way to reduce your restaurant's food waste. Many restaurants do this by using seasonal ingredients because it reduces the need to order a range of foods and flavors. Instead, you can buy a few in bulk and be assured that they will be consumed. This is a fun artistic challenge that many talented chefs would enjoy taking on! 

Additionally, if you have over a hundred items on your menu, there’s a high chance you’re going to witness food wastage. Remember, McDonald’s achieved its success with three items on its menu! Maximize profits with less items.

Keep an Effective Inventory

Inventory management is key to reducing wastage.

To avoid wasting food, you should always be mindful of what foods you have on hand. This involves having a comprehensive list of the foods in all your storage areas, as well as their use-by/best-before dates, on hand. This prevents foods from going to waste by keeping them from being discarded.

Reduce Portion Sizes

Be careful of overwhelming side dishes and enormous food servings – quality still wins out over quantity. According to a 2012 survey, more than a quarter of people in Canada leave food at the end of their meal, with French fries being the most frequently left out food.  

Customers also consider fries, fruits, and salads to be an optional part of their main meal that they did not order, which results in food waste. Simple tricks will help you minimize food waste significantly, such as using smaller plates or giving your diners the option to opt out of side dishes. 

This can be done in a number of ways. Make it common practice to ask customers if they want salad on the side when serving burgers, for example. Customers should be able to buy a burger without the bun, as this is often left on the side of the plate and thrown away.

Work with the community

The first step towards a greener and more environmentally friendly restaurant is to reduce waste. However, completely reducing food waste is virtually impossible. With this in mind, it's important to take action to responsibly recycle your food waste. Working with a reputable food waste management business and local governments is a safe way to ensure that all of your restaurant's leftover organic matter is properly treated. 

Working with a food waste management company to avoid food waste ensures that your restaurant's leftover waste is responsibly disposed of and recycled. It also makes it much easier for the restaurant to comply with waste management laws, which is a huge plus for busy restaurant owners. 

Reducing food loss and waste should also be done through partnerships with local charities. Donate any leftover meals and ingredients to those in need. You may also develop a partnership with a nearby food bank. This means that your excess food is not thrown away but instead goes to a good home.

Analyze your Menu

Another great way to cut down on food waste is to revisit your menu on a regular basis. If you order ingredients for meals that are not especially common, it may be time to take them off the menu in favor of something else.  

Your wait staff will be able to tell you which menu items are not popular with your customers, and your chefs will be able to make a delicious alternative using the ingredients you already have on hand. 

Furthermore, consider how much food your restaurant needs to prepare ahead of time, and if any of it could be made to order instead. Food that is cooked in large batches can rarely be eaten before it expires. Batch cooking can save time, but it can also waste money and food.

Doggy Bags

Food left on customers' plates accounts for a large proportion of waste, so why not give your customers the option of taking their leftover food home in a doggy bag? Of course, not all foods can be prepared for later use, but pizza slices, for example, can easily be packed in a take-away box.

Gemba Walk

Gemba is the English version of Genba, a Japanese term that means "the actual place". Gemba consists in walking around the place where value is created and taking notes on how to enhance processes by using a structured checklist. It’s a tested strategy that many companies use to increase efficiency and develop a culture of continuous improvement. It relies on observation rather than report analytics.

Gemba-walking is a brilliant way to get employees engaged and establish trust between managers and employees. If you want your gemba walk to be truly successful, you must obey the following three rules:
  • Go see: You must witness how the various processes in your organization operate with your own eyes to decide if the processes are consistent with the company's overall goals and standards.
  • Ask Questions: To remove day-to-day issues, you must completely comprehend each step of the process. Many operations are carried out daily without the workers questioning if they are correct or incorrect. Why is it necessary to ask why? It will help you understand how to enhance processes.
  • Respect: You should interact with your staff and build a relationship with them. Be sure to include the workers in the process and remind them that gemba walks are conducted to make their jobs easier.

Businesses can reap various benefits from introducing Gemba Walks:
  • It promotes teamwork, which enhances cooperation at all levels of the business.
  • Interacting with the workers on the floor reflects your concern for their well-being and increases employee morale.
  • It assists in the identification of both disruptive and beneficial developments.
  • It assists the company in evaluating and enhancing various procedures, resulting in time or money savings and the streamlining of operations.
  • Gemba-Walks have been shown to minimize job injuries by 22.5 percent.
  • It helps companies standardize their processes. 

In the restaurant industry, all these factors will culminate in increasing food management and profits whilst eliminating food wastage. Gemba Walk is the way forward!

What are the benefits of reducing food wastage?

According to a study report, 99 % of companies from various industries in Canada, such as grocery stores, restaurants, and hotels, saw a positive net profit margin after investing in waste management. Bottom line is, why wait?