How Much is Your Food Waste Really Costing You?

Every day food service operators throw money away. A study conducted by University of Arizona study found that 3 to 10 percent of food is wasted by restaurants. Using the common guideline that food costs represent an average of 35 percent of sales, that means that 1 to 3 percent of sales go to pay for garbage instead of profit.

Putting a waste program in place, to identify and fix the sources of waste saves money and increases profits. For this reason, more operators are focusing on waste. In addition to savings for food, waste reduction will also provide savings on the labor and energy used to prepare the wasted food as well as disposal costs.

Here are three ways to reduce food waste and reign in related costs:

1. Identify areas of waste

Waste can occur at the pre-consumer and post-consumer level. Common examples of pre-consumer waste include:

  • Improper Storage: Spoiled chicken is thrown out due to improper rotation in the cooler.  Instead of using up the old case of chicken first, the new case was used, allowing the first case to spoil.
  • Over Production: Dozens of unused stale rolls are thrown out at the end of the evening due to over production.
  • Not Using Trims and Scraps: Vegetable trims can be used to make broth, stale bread can be used for croutons, and beef trims can go into burgers.
  • Improper Training:  A case of bacon is pre-cooked for breakfast service.  The oven is not timed or watched, resulting in an entire case of bacon being burnt and rendered unusable.

Post-customer waste can also be a problem. For example, if a lot of fries are being left on the plate, consider reducing the serving size. A buffet line needs to be full, but shallower trays may reduce what is left at the end of the shift.

2. Determine ways to measure current waste output

Using the proper techniques, it is possible to clearly identify the major problems and measure the improvement. Do not rely on anecdotal evidence. Measuring both the extent of the problem and its improvement helps provide positive feedback to the staff, who will play a critical part in controlling waste.

Various systems can be employed to identify the waste problem. One system advocates weighing and counting every item that is thrown into the trash. This data is recorded and the totals for each item are calculated. Another system involves using clear food waste containers that must be visually inspected by the manager before they are emptied into trash receptacles. The manager notes any issues and looks for patterns of waste.

3. Communicate waste reduction efforts to staff

Whichever the system used to accurately identify the problem, the top waste items should be discussed at all shift meetings. The staff should be asked for ideas how to reduce waste. The levels of these top waste items should continue to be reviewed with staff each week until there is improvement. 

When the problem is clearly identified, tracked, and the staff is treated as part of the solution they will start to see that all food has monetary value and be motivated to reduce waste.

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