Published

Cutting it Fine: The Race to Control Food Waste in Kitchens

Waste management is always top of mind as a restaurant owner or food service provider.


Across the US, 54 million tons of food is wasted every year, with almost 27% of all food waste coming from a combination of food service and retail industries. For restaurants specifically, the statistics don’t improve.



Food waste across restaurant and food service industries is a big problem. According to the US Department of Agriculture, food waste is estimated at between 30-40 percent of the food supply, meaning that you actively put time, resources, and energy into the procurement, management, and service of food that ultimately goes to compost at best and a landfill at worst. 

So, what can be done about reducing food waste and ensuring that you’re set up for success when it comes to waste management? And how do these two areas impact the most crucial metric that you care about most: the bottom line?


Breaking down food waste

Food waste

Food waste is defined as food that completes the food chain cycle and is distributed ready for consumption but doesn’t get consumed due to spoilage or expiration. Food waste commonly occurs later in the food supply chain during the consumption stage.

Food loss

Food loss is defined as spoiled, spilled, or lost during the food supply chain before reaching its final destination: the plate. Food loss commonly occurs earlier in the food supply chain during harvest and production. 

How food waste impacts a business

Food waste occurs across all stages of the value chain, but according to the Boston Consulting Group study, waste is especially prominent during production and consumption. To counter this point, you need to become reactive during these stages to see the most significant gains in reducing food waste.

Source: Boston Consulting Group


Production

Food waste in the U.S. generally occurs due to excess and higher portion levels. Therefore, businesses need to re-examine these factors in their food service operations and streamline them to reduce waste. An easy way to do this is by measuring and improving precision to ensure that businesses are only using what they need to create a meal. 

According to research by the National Restaurant Association and Rethink Food Waste Economics and Data, reducing food waste by improving precision could actually increase jobs by 15,000 per year as businesses see an increased profit margin due to saving costs on food waste. 

Implementing better precision is also tied back to portion sizes. Food waste occurs within the restaurant and food service industry as larger portions increase the likelihood customers will not eat all of the food on the plate (Behmen-Milicevic, 2019). By being precise and accurate with serving sizes and portion control, restaurants can save substantial amounts of money. 


Source: Unsplash, Simon Peel

Consumption

You’re likely to be familiar with having to throw out spoiled or unwanted food—a problem that even the most streamlined operation will face. This is a consumption issue and one that businesses are tackling by introducing initiatives like repurposing food scraps into new meals and measuring their food waste. 

A 2019 study from the World Resources Institute found that restaurants that actively measured their food waste and found ways to reduce production, order less food, and repurpose scraps saw changes happen—fast. 

Swedish furniture megastore IKEA implemented food waste measurement in a handful of pilot stores and saw a reduction of 80,000 pounds of food in six months, saving them a cool $1 million. And that’s not all. Restaurants in the study cut food waste by an average of 26% in a year and 58% over three years and found that for every $1 they invested in tackling food waste, they saved themselves $7. 

How food waste impacts the environment

Climate change is one of the most critical topics facing the world, and food waste is part of the problem. The US Environmental Protection Agency outlines three key environmental benefits that come with actively reducing food waste: 

Reduce landfill methane

Wasted food often ends up in a landfill, which is “similar to tying food in a plastic bag,” as the wasted food decomposes and releases methane gas which traps heat and warms the planet. 

Saves valuable resources

Food waste isn’t just wasted food. Disposing of unwanted food also wastes water, energy, pesticides, land, labor, and fertilizers.

Helps the soil and future crops

Composting and recycling food helps eliminate dependency on landfills which is generally better for the environment.

How to control food waste in your kitchen

Measure your food waste

A quick formula to benchmark your food waste is to divide the total weight of your food waste over a set period of time (one week, a month, one service) by the number of covers in the same time period. This data will give you an insight into how much food you’re wasting per cover and should be the catalyst you need to make changes. 

You could even separate out the waste into separate categories, such as prep waste, spoilage, and leftovers, to gain valuable insights into exactly where you need to focus your food waste reduction efforts. 

Improve precision 

Introduce employee training around the importance of food precision or level up your kitchen by introducing automated prep stations that ensure accuracy in food preparation. 


Source: Unsplash, Alex Lvrs

Think local, act global 

Work with local suppliers to cut down on your business's carbon footprint and help to save the environment. Not only does this help support the local economy but you can also work with independent and local suppliers to repurpose imperfect food (dented carrots, soft plums, etc.,) into drinks, purees, and other ingredients to help eliminate food waste.

Repurpose scraps

Not everything has to be thrown away. Many restaurants focus on creating innovative dishes and menus by using odds and ends from the cooking process. Silo in London, England is a restaurant that only creates dishes using food waste, and Rhodora in Brooklyn, NY, follows a similar tack.

You’ll also have the opportunity to impress your guests with novel and exciting ideas, not to mention saving big bucks on the cost of ingredients.

Recycle

Not all your food scraps will make for tasty new dishes; some will have to end up in the compost. This is a surefire way to reduce reliance on landfills and helps to create bioenergy meaning fewer dollars spent on traditional energy sources.  

Level-up your tech stack 

The possibilities (or should that be POS-ibilities…) of upgrading your restaurant tech stack are endless. Cloud-based alternatives to the traditional paper methods save on administrative and labor costs and help you to actively reduce food waste by reducing order errors. 

Updating your kitchen technology is also an opportunity to introduce eco-friendly appliances to lower utility bills and use less energy, saving you even more money in the long run. 

Interested in learning more about how Picnic’s automated pizza assembly station can help you reduce waste in your restaurant operation? Contact us today.

Share this article