Food waste is a serious environmental and humanitarian issue. But restaurant food waste poses a huge problem for overall profitability in the business: The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that restaurants waste $162 billion in food each year.

Food costs are responsible for most of the expenses a restaurant has. Operators may already have methods and procedures to better control food costs, but if food waste controls aren’t included, the program won’t be as impactful as it should be. After all, when food is wasted at a restaurant, money and profits are, too.

Let’s explore the common causes of restaurant food waste, how to reduce it, and how to track waste events so you know exactly where money is being lost.

restaurant food waste types

What Causes Restaurant Food Waste?

Several different factors contribute to restaurant food waste. The four most common reasons for food waste include:

1. Spoilage

Food can become unfit for consumption due to improper handling, storage, or packaging. Common examples include improper refrigeration, over-ordering, and poor restaurant inventory management methods.

2. Miscalculated Portions

Incorrect or inconsistent kitchen training can lead to larger portion sizes than planned. As much as it may please customers to have leftovers to bring home, you risk creating more waste—and losing valuable margin on the plates.

3. Food Spillage

Food spillage is quite common in restaurants. It can include anything from a server dropping a tray of food as they make their way through the dining room to a prep cook accidentally knocking over their cutting board. Those mistakes, however small, can add up to large monetary losses.

4. Refires

Refires occur when a plate of food is sent back to the kitchen and needs to be remade. Maybe a diner received the incorrect order, they failed to mention they’re allergic to something, or the food wasn’t prepared to their liking. Whatever the reason for the refire, it’s costing your kitchen twice as much to make one plate.

Understanding the most common ways that restaurant food waste is generated better prepares you for knowing how to reduce it!

restaurant food waste causes

How to Reduce Food Waste in Restaurants

There are many ways to reduce food waste. Here are four methods that can be implemented to directly address the most common sources.

1. Order to Par to Reduce Spoilage

You can reduce the amount of food spoiled in your kitchen with better inventory controls and placing orders based on par levels. Par levels are the minimum amount of inventory needed to maintain demand while including a small margin of error to account for changes in daily demand.

To forecast your par levels, refer back to past sales data. For example, you can estimate holiday sales forecasts by exploring sales over the same period last year. Those projections, along with seasonal recipe modifications, should be used to better anticipate what you’ll actually use.

Software can make par level ordering even easier. Modern inventory management solutions that are integrated with procurement tools can automatically generate order guides based on what’s already in the kitchen and what’s needed to maintain par, so there’s less guesswork in ordering—and less food to be wasted.

2. Use Correct Recipe Yields for Proper Portions

Proper recipe management in restaurants will give you the yield, or batch size, that each recipe creates. Knowing what each recipe yields is an important step both in calculating plate costs and maintaining correct and consistent portion sizes.

Manual recipe management is complicated and prone to human error, but recipe management software helps you create, cost, and manage recipe yield with ease. Use it to accurately convert all ingredients in your kitchen to the units of measurement your staff uses to cook, along with correctly calculating proper yields for each dish. Share recipes across locations to ensure each dish is the same size and flavor, no matter where your customer consumes it.

You should also train kitchen staff to make each recipe exactly as it’s written, including its final serving size.

3. Implement Restaurant Policies to Reduce Waste

Though some restaurants have successfully implemented zero-waste policies to reduce waste and food costs, it’s not the industry norm. It’s more realistic to take small steps in every corner of the kitchen to set the expectation that everyone is responsible for reducing food waste.

For example, Toast’s 2019 Restaurant Success Report states that 38% of restaurants reuse kitchen trimmings to reduce waste. If you aren’t doing that just yet, it’s easy to get started. Extra vegetable trimmings and bones leftover from prep can be repurposed for broths and soups. Things like day-old bread can be given new life as croutons.

Excess that can’t be repurposed can be considered for composting instead. If you have space, use composted food waste to create nutrient-rich soil that can support the growth of your own herb and vegetable garden.

But remember: it’s better to reduce food waste up front than find ways to eliminate it after it’s already been created. For example, prep cooks should know how to correctly cut, clean, trim, and portion food, and servers should always ask about customer preferences and allergies up front to eliminate refires. Proper team training can go far in reducing food waste at a restaurant.

4. Use a Food Waste Tracker

Tracking restaurant food waste helps you understand what’s not selling from your menu, gives you a clear picture of the types of food waste you’re generating, and helps you find patterns to find the root causes of that waste.

Keep reading to learn how to track food waste with ease.

restaurant food waste tracking

How to Track Food Waste in Restaurants

Monitoring and documenting every instance of food waste at your restaurant is vital not only for better food cost control, but also for overall restaurant accounting best practices. You’ll get much more visibility into why your cost of goods sold (COGS) numbers aren’t adding up the way they should and why inventory values are off.

Waste tracking can be as simple as updating a spreadsheet every time a waste event occurs. Simply set a sheet up with columns for the ingredient or recipe that was wasted, the date and time of the event, the name of the employee responsible for the waste, and an area for additional comments or context.

Once a tracker is set up, you can use it to find patterns in waste events. For example, if food waste from refires regularly increases on days when a certain front of house employee is working, it may indicate they’re making mistakes that can be fixed with additional training.

However, manual food waste tracking does not account for the monetary value of what was lost. Luckily, software for food waste tracking combined with real-time invoice data makes it easy to see exactly how much those mistakes cost the business.

xtrachef waste tracking

Reduce Restaurant Food Waste with xtraCHEF

Track your restaurant’s food waste with xtraCHEF! We allow you to document every type of food waste, from spoilage to spillage, directly within our inventory management feature.

Just add a waste event against an inventory item and choose a waste type, cause, and quantity. You can also upload photos of the exact waste event and assign it to specific employees, reasons, and times to uncover patterns. Our software automatically calculates the cost of the waste based on your latest invoice data!

Waste tracking is just one of the valuable food cost management features that xtraCHEF offers. Request a demo with one of our Product Specialists to see how else we can help restaurants reduce food costs.

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