Reducing Restaurant Food Waste

Reducing Restaurant Food Waste

A guide to greening your business this winter

The holiday season evokes images of gathering with friends and family among plenty of food and the joy of giving and receiving of gifts. This season of abundance and gratitude also gives us a moment to reflect on the needs of those less fortunate and the impact of our consumption habits.

So now is the perfect time of year to consider the issue of food waste in our restaurants. How much food is wasted? Can food waste be reduced practically? What could I do that’s better for my community and the environment than throwing food waste in the trash?

This article explores these ideas with the hope of providing solutions to this massive problem of restaurant food waste.

The big food waste numbers

As restaurant owners and managers, we’re dealing with large quantities of food on a daily basis. It’s our bread and butter and all the other ingredients we use to craft impressive meals for guests. And a full 40% of that food is thrown away according to a statistic from the NRDC. According to the same researchers, this is while one in eight Americans struggle to provide enough food for themselves and their families.

The U.S. EPA confirms that more food reaches landfills than any other type of solid waste. And in another statistic from the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, it’s estimated that there is roughly a half-pound of waste for every meal served in American restaurants. That food waste in landfills generates an extraordinary amount of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, 21 times that of carbon dioxide.

But why is the food wasted?

Food waste takes many forms, and it’s easy to justify the reasons it’s wasted. There is no magic solution to a complex problem.

Examples of food waste are:

  • Damage while harvesting
  • Damage from shipping and storage
  • Preparation waste
  • Mis-handling/breakage
  • Over-ordering (leading to expiration)
  • Customer waste

To make a noticeable change in food waste volume, every step in the process-cycle must be explored for potential waste-cutting and efficiency.

How to reduce restaurant food waste

Reduce waste through inventory management

The first step to reducing food waste is just sound business operations. Know how much you need to order to meet your projected sales numbers. Use restaurant analytics software and inventory reporting systems like that found in Rezku POS and our third-party integrations to accurately project how much raw ingredients to order.

Proper inventory management includes labeling and rotation. This is critical to reducing the amount of spoilage that occurs by ensuring fresh product goes to the back of the supply.

Reduce waste by donating unused food before it spoils

Even with good metrics in place, it’s hard not to overestimate supply needs at times. Fear of running out during an important service can trump a duty to thrift.

An important key to the next level of waste reduction is to identify food that can be rerouted to those in need before it spoils. While many restaurant owners are open to the charitable donation of excess food, there are some logistical challenges in delivery.

However, you may find that by contacting local charities they can send volunteers to pick up food donations. Food that would have otherwise been another heap of garbage in the landfill can now go to good use, benefiting your community, improving your brand image and a potential tax savings as well.

And to make it even easier, there’s an app for that.

Reduce waste by finding alternative uses

But there is still the problem of food unfit for human consumption. This comes from prep waste and leftovers from guests.

If you find that guests are often leaving large portions of food uneaten, consider reducing portions accordingly. This will improve your operational costs in a number of ways, and guests will be satisfied with the more realistic portions.

Animal feed

Some restaurants have found success by offering spoiled veggies to local farms for use as animal feed. Contact local agricultural organizations such as 4H and FFA to inquire about possible interest in recycling your restaurant’s plant-based waste into useful feed for livestock.


Another agricultural use for expired veggies is composting. Compost improves soil quality and while methane is still produced, it’s not done in a harmful way as it is in landfills. The same local agricultural organizations can help you find contacts willing to take food waste to be composted.

Resources to help reduce food waste

There are a number of organizations with an express purpose to help restaurants reduce food waste that makes it to landfills. Here are some additional resources to help you get started. Food Waste Alliance — The National Restaurant Association, the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association have combined efforts to create the Food Waste Alliance, committed to helping restaurants and other food retailers find alternative pathways for unused food that does not lead to the landfill.

Copia Food Recovery — An app to help restaurant owners find volunteers to pick up unused food for charity. Convert what would otherwise go in the garbage to tax benefits and community good will easily. Copia solves the logistics problem of restaurant food donation.

ReFeed — A research and advocacy coalition with the goal of reducing food waste and feeding America’s hungry. ReFeed is working to innovate the entire supply chain to reduce the amount of food wasted by 20%. Take a look at their reports and videos to learn more about the issue.

U.S. EPA Food Recovery Challenge — As part of the EPA’s Sustainable Materials Management program, the FRC awards organizations such as restaurants for their commitment to reducing food waste. Join the program and the EPA will help put you in contact with community programs designed to help reduce restaurant food waste, including feeding the hungry in your local area!


The holidays are a time of joy, abundance and remembering those less fortunate. Big holiday meals can remind us about the serious issue of restaurant food waste. As business leaders and members of our community, restaurant owners can find new ways to use excess food and scraps that are alternatives to the landfill.

Food waste from the restaurant can be shared with the needy, used as animal feed or composted, to benefit society and reduce environmental costs. The organizations linked above have an interest in this cause and there are resources available to you to make it easy!

If you like this article please share to social media. It’s just part of the extensive restaurant management library presented by the restaurant management experts at Rezku.

Since 2012 Rezku has provided innovative technology and services to the hospitality industry. To find out more about how Rezku can serve you, book a free consultation with an advisor today!

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