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Knowledge Base » Food Hygiene » How to Reduce and Manage Food Waste in your Restaurant

How to Reduce and Manage Food Waste in your Restaurant

Last updated on 20th December 2023

Did you know that a third of all food produced worldwide is wasted? This food ends up in our landfills and accounts for up to 10% of man-made greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. One of the biggest industries contributing to the food waste epidemic is restaurants.

Restaurants in the UK produce 199,100 tonnes of food waste every year, costing the food industry a whooping £682 million annually. In fact, the equivalent of 320 million meals is thrown away every year by restaurants in the UK, five times the population of the UK!

Not only is food waste causing irreparable damage to the environment, but it is also impacting profits in the restaurant industry and costing restaurant owners a small fortune.

According to research, the main causes of food waste in UK restaurants are:

  • Preparation – 45%.
  • Customer leftovers – 34%.
  • Spoilage – 21%.

This suggests that restaurants across the UK are overbuying food stock and overfilling customer plates. Overbuying stock means that a lot of food will be thrown away – especially if the food is perishable, such as meat, fish or dairy, or food with a short shelf life, such as bread, fruits and vegetables. Overfilling customers’ plates results in leftovers.

This food must legally be disposed of by restaurants. 27% of diners reported that they left uneaten food on their plate when dining out at restaurants. Of these diners, 41% of them said they left food because the portion size was too big.

According to Willshee’s, the most frequently wasted food in UK restaurants is:

1. Potatoes – Many restaurants put a huge pile of chips or mashed potatoes on the side of a customer’s plate. This often results in additional leftovers. Potato peelings also account for a significant amount of food waste.
2. Fruits and vegetables – Diners often find their plates filled with salad or vegetables, even if it does not state that on the menu. Fruits and vegetables also have a very short shelf life so account for huge proportions of food spoilage waste.
3. Bread and other baked goods – Restaurants usually only serve bread on the day it is baked. After this, it is not considered fresh so will likely be thrown away.
4. Pasta and rice – Pasta and rice are often wasted through customer leftovers. Too many carbohydrates on the plate can result in the diner eating less food.
5. Meat and fish – These perishable goods can go bad very quickly. To follow strict food hygiene standards, restaurants may have a short timeframe in which they can safely serve these foods.

Tackling the problem of food waste in the restaurant industry may seem like an uphill battle. After all, owners, chefs and waiters want to ensure the food is fresh and of the highest quality, and that customers leave their establishment feeling full and satisfied.

However, with some positive changes, the restaurant can save money, increase their profits, and still ensure that their customers are happy.

Restaurant Managing Their Food Waste

Restaurant food waste reduction ideas

There are many different ways that restaurants can reduce their food waste. Many of these changes will help to save you money, as well as having a positive impact on the environment. Some of the changes are related to the ways in which you order and prepare food and others are related to the operations of the restaurants.

A major factor in the amount of food waste being produced is the behaviour of diners. It has become the norm to order too much food and leave uneaten food on their plates. As diners are unlikely to change their behaviour, it is the responsibility of the restaurant to do what they can to minimise food waste from uneaten food.

It may be difficult to know how to reduce your food waste. Making changes in your business can always be difficult, and ensuring these changes are implemented long-term can be daunting. Consult our knowledge base for guidance on this. Below are some important steps your restaurant can follow to reduce waste.

Organise a waste audit

A waste audit allows you to record exactly how much food your restaurant is throwing away. You can then calculate how much money is being lost per month. Pay attention to what foods are being thrown away most frequently, as well as the value of the food that is being thrown away.

For example, you may find that potatoes are thrown away most frequently but that you are also losing a lot of money from meat products, which are thrown away less frequently but cost more money to buy. A waste audit will help you to create a waste reduction strategy.

Keep a restaurant waste management log

This helps to keep track of your waste, to ensure any waste reduction strategies you have implemented are still effective. You can then change your strategies based on what works best for your restaurant.

A food waste management log may also help to keep your staff accountable and ensure they are following procedures. A waste log does not have to be time-consuming; it can be as simple as weighing the food disposal bin before it is collected each week.

Stop overbuying stock

Be prepared and organised when completing your food order. Only order stock that you need and do not be tempted by any special offers your food supplier is promoting. Order based on the season and consider how many customers you are likely to have, to ensure you do not buy too much. For example, restaurants are usually busier in December compared to January.

Do not overprepare food

Try and predict which days, weeks or months are likely to be busier and prepare accordingly. Some food needs to be prepared ahead of time but if you are consistently throwing the same pre-prepared foods away, you need to adjust accordingly.

Invest money into reducing food waste

A survey conducted by WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) found that every time a restaurant invested £1 into reducing their food waste, they saved £7 on average in operating costs. This represents a 600% Return on Investment (ROI).

Store food correctly

All kitchen staff should be trained in Food Hygiene and understand how to store food correctly. Storing food correctly, especially perishables such as meat, fish and dairy, can help to extend their shelf life and reduce spoilage.

Follow the FIFO method

First-In/First-Out (FIFO) is a great method for reducing spoilage in your restaurant. Every time you receive a food delivery, put the new stock behind the old stock. This ensures you use the stock closer to its expiration date first.

Label food correctly

This will help you to be aware of exactly what is in each container, the allergen information, and the expiration date. This can reduce the likelihood that food is thrown away in error.

Keep an accurate stock inventory

A stock inventory can allow you to always be aware of what food you have in stock. This prevents you from ordering food that you do not need and reduces the chance of spoilage. A stock inventory can also help you to be more aware of expiration dates and will help your kitchen operations to run more smoothly.

Plan your menu more effectively

There are several things you can do to reduce food waste when planning your menu. Potato peelings are one of the biggest contributors to restaurant food waste.

By offering alternatives to classic chips, such as skins on fries or a jacket potato, you are reducing the number of peelings being thrown away. It may also be beneficial to include multi-use meals. Using the same food item in multiple dishes can help reduce waste and save you money by allowing you to order in bulk.

Chef Making Changes To Manage Food Waste

Make permanent changes to the menu

Look at what dishes are the least popular on the menu and consider removing them. Purchasing ingredients for dishes that are ordered less frequently is likely to result in more spoilage. For example, if you have a dish on your menu featuring swordfish but only a few customers order it, the additional swordfish you have stored is likely to expire and need to be thrown away.

Give your customers more control

It is customary in many restaurants to put a huge pile of carbohydrates, such as chips, on the side of someone’s plate. These carbohydrates will then often be left over. Allowing your customers to choose which sides they want with their meal ensures that they only have food on their plate that they are likely to eat.

Being able to choose between chips, jacket potato and rice, for example, can help to reduce wasted carbohydrates. Many diners also leave unwanted salad or vegetables on their plate, adding to the food waste. Allowing customers to choose whether they want a salad, vegetables or neither can significantly reduce restaurant food waste.

Cater to different meals and hunger levels

A customer who is dining at your restaurant for lunch may want a different portion size than a customer dining for dinner. Providing a different menu option at different times of the day, or including smaller meal options, can help to reduce the amount of food that is left uneaten on the customer’s plate.

Encourage staff to offer take-out options

As we have seen, a large percentage of diners will leave food on their plates at the end of a meal. Many of them will not ask for a doggy bag, as they may find it embarrassing, may not be aware that the restaurant offers this option or simply because they didn’t think about it. Make it customary in your restaurant to always offer a takeaway option for diners who have uneaten food.

Recycle any food waste

No matter what changes you make, some food waste is inevitable. A study by WRAP suggested that up to 26% of restaurant food waste cannot be avoided. However, you should ensure that any food waste your restaurant produces is not negatively impacting the environment.

To do this, never put food waste into your regular bins. Ensure your restaurant has a specific food disposal bin. This can then either be collected by your local council, by your waste contractor or you can arrange to have the food composted. Whichever option you choose will demonstrate to your customers that your establishment is eager to protect the environment.

Donate any leftovers

Consider donating any leftovers to your local homeless shelter or food bank. Any unsold food or meals that are still safe to eat can help to reduce your food waste and help your local community.

What are the benefits of reducing food wastage?

There are many different benefits to reducing food wastage.

  • Saving Money – You can save money by planning your menu better and purchasing less of the foods that are likely to be thrown away. By spending less money on food that is thrown away, you are going to save money overall. You may also save money on labour costs. By improving your kitchen operations, reducing over-preparation of food, and fine-tuning your menu, you will reduce the amount of time that your kitchen staff will have to spend on these additional jobs.
  • Increasing Profits – We have already seen that investing £1 into reducing restaurant food waste can result in a 600% return on your investment. This suggests that not only can you save money, but you can also increase your profits. Less of your food will be wasted, and any food that makes it to your customers’ plates equals a profit.
  • Improve Your Reputation in the Community – A restaurant that shows that they care about their impact on the environment, and also tries to help their local community by donating food and meals, is going to develop a positive reputation. Not only will the name of your restaurant be more recognisable, but you are also likely to attract new customers.
  • Reducing Your Restaurant’s Carbon Footprint – We have already looked at the huge impact restaurant food waste is having on greenhouse gas emissions. By reducing the amount of food you are wasting and improving your recycling behaviour, you can help to reduce the carbon footprint of your restaurant and ensure you are not having a negative impact on the environment.
  • You Can Help to Conserve Precious Energy and Resources – Growing, producing, manufacturing, transporting and disposing of food can all create pollution and have a negative impact on the environment. By improving your kitchen operations, not overbuying stock and reducing your food waste, you can help to reduce the pollution currently being caused by the food industry.

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About the author

Nicole Murphy

Nicole Murphy

Nicole graduated with a First-Class Honours degree in Psychology in 2013. She works as a writer and editor and tries to combine all her passions - writing, education, and psychology. Outside of work, Nicole loves to travel, go to the beach, and drink a lot of coffee! She is currently training to climb Machu Picchu in Peru.

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