A white male chef wearing a black shirt, smiling and seasoning a meal in his restaurant

Reduce food waste in your restaurant or café in just 10 easy steps

WRAP estimated that the UK created around 9.5 million tonnes of food waste in 2018, with 70 per cent of that total intended to be consumed by humans. This total doesn’t include the waste redistributed as animal feed or via charity and commercial routes.

While the 2018 figure was down from 10 million tonnes in 2015, I think we can all agree that action urgently needs to be taken to dramatically reduce the volume of food waste being created in this country.

Hospitality and food service contribute 12 per cent of the country’s total food wastage, which costs the sector approximately £682 million annually.

This blog post will explore why food waste in restaurants and cafes needs to be reduced and how that can be achieved.

Why reduce food waste?

As the above restaurant food waste statistics and facts show, food waste is a big issue in hospitality. But why is it something you should be concerned about?

Every time you waste food in your establishment, you are losing money — whether it’s due to you overordering supplies or serving portions that are too large.

While you may only lose pence per meal, the total will soon add up to an amount that makes a vast difference to your business and profits.

In addition, wasted food is terrible for the environment. Food production has an environmental impact; if food is wasted, that environmental impact was for nothing.

If food waste ends up in landfill, it creates further issues there as it gets trapped beneath other waste and begins to generate methane and, therefore, impact climate change.

If you’d like to learn more on this topic, we wrote a blog post that contains further details on why food waste should be prevented. You might also be interested in reading this article: ‘Why your business should recycle its food waste’.

How to reduce food waste in restaurants and cafes

Below are some ideas to get you started with your restaurant food waste management strategy.

1.      Allocate a team member to the task

Firstly, you need to decide who will be responsible for your food waste management. This ensures the task will be managed and won’t get forgotten about — someone can be held accountable if changes aren’t made.

2.      Carry out an audit

Before tackling the problem, you need to know the size and details of the problem; carry out a food waste audit to learn more about where changes need to be made.

This task might take several weeks as it’s a good idea to track and analyse your waste over time and see if your problem is food wastage pre-customer or post-customer — or both.

Record your findings in a spreadsheet, including the type of food waste and quantities involved. Weighing the waste is probably the easiest way to measure quantity.

On the topic of waste audits, Forge Recycling offers free waste audits to all businesses in our area of coverage. Get in touch today if you’d like to learn how to save money on your commercial waste collections and give your corporate social responsibility a boost by switching to us.

3.      Educate all employees

Three Asian restaurant staff members in a meeting at a wooden table

Once you have identified how to reduce the amount of food you waste in your establishment, every staff member must be on board with your plan.

Update the employee handbook to include details of your food waste reduction plan and hold regular meetings to keep staff updated on progress or any new changes you are implementing.

4.      Store food correctly

As you’ll be well aware, storing food in the right conditions is crucial.

However, when was the last time you checked the temperature of your fridges and freezers?

Make it a policy to check these temperatures regularly and store items in the right places inside these appliances (for example, low-risk foods above high-risk foods).

By doing this, you’ll ensure the longevity of your ingredients.

5.      Avoid purchasing too much food

We know this can be tough because there’s always that little voice in the back of your head saying, ‘but what if we get a rush on?’

Ignore the little voice and make ingredient purchases based on your recent and seasonal sales — not what you hope to sell or what you might sell if you have an unexpectedly hectic weekend!

While a customer might feel disappointed if the meal they wanted has sold out, it shows them that it’s a popular dish they should return for soon.

Also, avoid buying in bulk if the amount is more than you need — unless you can split it with another local restaurant or café.

Instead, buy only what you need. By doing so, your ingredient bill will remain low, and you won’t be creating raw food waste.

6.      Rotate your stock

Always use the oldest ingredients up first. To do this, ensure all stock is rotated regularly, with the newest ingredients being placed at the back of the shelf.

Without stock rotation, your older ingredients will expire and have to be thrown out.

If present, pay attention to use-by dates and consider those when rotating your stock (as the oldest stock may not necessarily have the shortest use-by date).

7.      Exercise portion control

Your internal food waste audit will have let you know if your portion sizes are an issue.

If most customers leave food on their plates, either the food quality needs improving, or the portion sizes are too big.

You’ll know if the food needs working on as you’ll get complaints and diners won’t return.

8.      Change your menu

If your menu is vast, consider downsizing it; the more dishes on your menu, the more ingredients you’ll need to purchase.

If there are dishes nobody is ordering, remove them from the menu, as you’ll be buying the ingredients just in case.

As a bonus, you could create a new menu that incorporates lots of the same ingredients, so you aren’t buying, for example, four butternut squashes just in case someone orders that one meal on the menu.

9.      Offer a ‘doggy bag’

A Black female cafe worker, wearing an apron and face mask, holding a bag of food

Further reduce your restaurant food waste by offering to box up any leftovers for the customer to take home with them.

Most diners like to do this, but some may be shy to ask, so be proactive and ask every customer.

10.  React to your food waste audit

We have provided plenty of examples above, but your food waste audit may have suggested another change that is unique to your establishment.

Take learnings from your audit and react to them to reduce your waste most successfully.

Published by

Lucy Ravenhall

Lucy is a long-standing editor of the Forge Recycling blog and loves writing about her environmental passions.