Americans waste a ton of money on food. In fact, estimates show we throw away nearly 30% to 40% of our food supply.
How much does that total? Nearly $160 billion. Imagine if you threw away nearly a third of your money every time you opened up your wallet or pocketbook. It goes to show we don't need documentaries or people like Anthony Bourdain telling us to "use everything, waste nothing," though that certainly doesn't hurt.
The good news is our collective culinary conscious is quickly awakening to the food waste reduction challenge. This trend has been growing steady in recent years, making it onto foodservice trend lists ranging from the National Restaurant Association to our own 2019 Foodservice Trends Report.
So if everyone is starting to realize the importance (and profitability) of reducing food waste, what are some of the basic steps foodservice operations can take to make it happen?
Study after study tells us "sell by" or "use by" dates are subjective and not accurate. Societal training tells us an apple or a tomato with a blemish or bruise isn't worthy of serving or eating. We often tell ourselves something is bad even though that very well might not be the case. If we learn to retrain ourselves with facts and to work with foods that may appear imperfect, we've taken the first step toward reducing food waste.
RETRAIN OUR STAFFS
Like most sustainability practices, training team members to be mindful of food waste can go a long way. Just like you might include shutting off lights in a walk-in as part of a process manual, including best practices for reducing food waste can work too, especially when training includes the cross utilization of ingredients.
You can't reduce food waste unless you know how much you're throwing away in the first place. With food waste audits and data systems, operators can learn baseline key performance indicators that will provide goals for improvement in the future. Even better, the nonprofit ReFED recently issued a report called the Restaurant Food Waste Action Guide which states that tracking and analytics can benefit the restaurant industry by increasing profits by more than $250 million each year.
MANAGE THE ORDERING AND STORING
How is food packaged? Is there a way to break down shipments and store them in smaller, more useable portions? Are the storage facilities operating at optimal capacities? These are all questions that can help operations order the right levels of ingredients and store them in the right conditions. To reduce food waste, make sure production schedules are accurate.
We throw away so many items that can be used in other applications with just a bit of creativity. Let's take the orange, for example. In the front-of-house, a bartender might carve off a twist every now and then to top off the perfect Negroni. The orange itself might go unused and wind up in the trash at the end of the shift. In the back-of-house, the saucier might use fresh oranges as part of a light cream to top that night's special dish, scallops l'orange. The rinds will probably go in the trash at the end of the night. Do you think these two people could use the same orange?
RETHINK THE MENU
There's no doubt about it. Much food waste falls directly on the customers. According to American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It), guests leave about 17% of food on their plates on average. By reconsidering portion sizes, offering half orders, or providing greater customization, less food will go in the can and more profit will come to the man.
All across America, we have food banks and non-profits that will take unused foods and give them to those in need. After all, if we can prevent 30% of our food from going in the trash, that food needs to wind up in the hands of those who need it the most. For operators, giving back can also bring financial benefits as well as altruistic ones. Many operations can experience donation tax incentives for giving unused food to these types of charities.