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National Restaurant Association - Measuring food waste can bolster your bottom line

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Measuring food waste can bolster your bottom line

Are your hard-earned dollars going out with the trash or getting lost in the compost pile? Nationwide, restaurants throw away millions of pounds of food each day. Four to 10 percent of food purchased by a restaurant or foodservice operation is discarded before ever reaching a guest, according to LeanPath, a Portland, Ore.-based Conserve sponsor that specializes in food waste prevention. By keeping tabs on and reducing waste, you can cut food costs and increase profits.

Today’s restaurants are placing increased attention on food waste management to rein in costs. The topic even ranked among the top food trends for 2016, according to the National Restaurant Association’s annual "What's Hot" chefs' survey.

The first step in reducing food waste is measuring and tracking what’s being thrown away, says Andrew Shakman, CEO of LeanPath, which offers automated food waste monitoring systems. The company’s clients typically slash their waste in half, cutting their food cost purchases 2 to 6 percent, according to Shakman.

“Measurement brings awareness and drives change,” he says.

Record why each item is trashed — prep waste, cooking errors — so you can identify problem areas and training gaps. After more than 10 years of helping restaurants reduce waste, Shakman has found that most pre-consumer food waste is due to four factors. Here, he offers insight to conquer these problems:

  • Overproduction. Striving to prepare for variable crowds, restaurants often end up prepping and cooking more than needed and then trashing the leftovers. To prevent overproduction, Shakman recommends reviewing your forecasting process scaling your recipes for the demand. Factor in the weather, the day of the week and your sales during similar types of prior events. Note which menu items sell better under various conditions and use the information to guide your planning. “Make sure that your team is producing to the plan you established,” Shakman says. Select packaging sizes that make sense for your output. You’ll get a better unit price for a bigger package, but those savings will be wasted if you discard a large portion of the product.
  • Expiration. To match demand as closely as possible and, in turn, lessen food expiration, consider whipping up smaller batches. “Resist the temptation to produce to calm nerves; produce in small batches,” Shakman advises. Find ways to incorporate leftovers into a future dish, always keeping food safety in mind. Only use items that have not been exposed to customers and that can be chilled and stored safely. The National Restaurant Association’s ServSafe program can help train your team regarding how to safely hold, store and reheat leftovers.  
  • Spoilage. Watch out for ingredients spoiling before you have a chance to utilize them. Train staff on the first-in, first-out (FIFO) storage method. Store new items behind those already in stock to help ensure that you use the older products first. Also review your receiving procedures. “Check deliveries to make sure items are in the right condition when they arrive,” Shakman says. Promptly store items in the correct conditions.  
  • Trimming. Confirm your team isn’t trimming more than needed from produce and meats. Explore whether you can incorporate any necessary trimmings into other recipes like soups and salads. Creative chefs have transformed leftover Swiss chard stems and torn-off carrot tops into culinary delights. If your menu doesn’t fit this approach, consider whether precut items are more affordable when you take into account your actual yield and your labor costs, says Shakman.    

If you still have excess usable food after taking steps to reduce waste, consider donating it to the hungry. The National Restaurant Association’s Conserve program offers tips on how to safely donate food to those in need.

For additional best practices pertaining to food waste, consult the Food Waste Reduction Alliance toolkit, a joint project by the National Restaurant Association, Food Marketing Institute and Grocery Manufacturers Association.

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