How to reduce food waste in your restaurant

Do you know how much waste you create every day? Do you have an idea how much it costs you and are you able to effectively reduce it?

Food waste and waste in general, is a growing issue for many hospitality businesses. It never seems important enough to pay attention to it and it doesn’t directly affect most of us. Or is it?

I have covered a few basics of why you should reduce your food waste in your restaurant before, and I will get to more practical stuff in this article. The struggle seems to stem from multiple places, sometimes the staff is not interested in reducing your waste even if the management is pushing them, maybe they don’t have the means to reduce your waste or the management is not even interested.

There is often a lack of creativity or time on the chef's side and it just seems like too much effort. While effort is certainly required, it’s important to know that focusing your efforts correctly can bring more results than expected, such as gaining popularity or creating better brand perception. So how can you reduce food waste in your food business?

1) Change the mindset

I’ve talked about this before and it seems to be the most important thing. If you don’t believe in what you are about to do, then no change will happen. You and your staff must know why it’s important for you to reduce your waste.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to have clear values and provide strong leadership that will be followed by others. You have to believe in it first before you can tell others what to do.

2) Look in the bin

Okay, so you are determined to reduce your food waste, got your values clear and shared with others, the obvious next step is to find out how much food you actually waste. If you don’t know what you want to reduce then you are not going anywhere. I will assume that you already have a separate food waste bin but if you don’t then you will need to set up one and make it clear to everyone.

If you have a large kitchen then you can have separate bins for the sections, and always have a separate bin for the ‘plate waste’- the food that’s left on the plates. Check the bins regularly and question every item that it’s in there. Is it really necessary for it to be thrown away, and if not, how could you possibly use it?

3) Think outside of the box

If you are lucky to have multiple kitchen gadgets then it’s a bit easier, but you can go a long way with basic equipment as well. Often there are lots of flavours hidden in what we are used to call ‘waste’, so ask yourself how could you get the most out of it? After all, it’s in a chef's interest to maximize the flavours, so it might be easier than you think. Dehydrate what you can, use it as the crispy element or grind up to a powder.

Don’t be afraid to showcase the ‘wasted product’ on the plate. Pickle the herb stems, sautee the salad butts, ferment the trimmings and be creative. Extract the flavour. Stop looking at it as a waste, call it a new product.

4) Watch the plate waste

The so-called plate waste is everything that your customers leave on the plate, unfinished. While it’s technically not the restaurant's waste, there are ways you can reduce it and influence it. It’s not all about the correct portioning, but also making sure that the food was cooked properly and up to the standards.

Every chef thinks he cooks tasty food until there is too much food coming back on the plate. Trust me I’ve been there too, customers sending back my food not finished. There is always space for improvement. Also, make sure the front of house communicates with the customers clearly, so there is no unpleasant surprise about the ingredients and flavours.

5) Smart menu design

This is a big one. So many restaurants have 30+ dishes on their menu. Heck, I have even seen over 50 dishes on one menu. If you are saying that ‘you want to make sure everyone can choose’ then you are not valid. The more choice you offer, the more will the customer struggle to choose, and gastrophysics science shows that if there is too much on offer then the customer is more likely to end up being unhappy about their choice.

Reduce the menu and when thinking about new dishes, make sure you plan for the preparation. Can you actually keep all the items fresh, or do you need to compromise on quality?

6) Embrace the change

Last but not least, talk about the changes you’ve made. Not because you want to brag, but because you want to inspire and help others to make changes in the same direction.

Communicate clearly with your customers about the fact that you are changing for the better and why you decided to do so. Be proud about how far you’ve come and don’t forget why you’ve started in the first place.

Don’t expect the change to happen overnight. Take it step by step, not to overwhelm yourself or your staff. If one thing doesn’t work for you then think about a different way that you could try. Don’t let the perfect to be the enemy of the good.

Stick to the changes you’ve made and have regular checks that everyone is feeling the same about it. It’s easy to get distracted and prioritise other things when it gets a little bit hard. Once it becomes a habit, you can print out a few reminders and keep them in the kitchen for everyone to remember what you do and why you do.

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