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Reducing Food Waste in Restaurants: How to Track & Save

Sydney Kida | May 5, 2023 |

Reducing Food Waste in Restaurants: How to Track & Save

How Can Restaurants Reduce Food Waste?

Reducing food waste in restaurants is one of the most pressing problems in modern-day America. As a restaurateur, you can do your part by taking mindful steps to avoid contributing to this problem. Here are some tips on how to reduce food waste in restaurants.

Food Waste Statistics

Reducing food waste in restaurants should be one of the primary goals of restaurateurs across the nation. Not only does it help the planet but it also reduces your overall costs. 

Here are some statistics about the food waste problem we have today:

  • America is widely known to be one of the top countries when it comes to food waste, but do you know by how much? Every year, Americans waste more than 80 billion pounds of food. That's roughly 40 percent of the country's total food supply. 
  • The food waste problem becomes even more prevalent if one looks at it from a financial perspective. Waste disposal costs America $161 billion every year. 
  • Food is the most significant contributor to waste in landfills in the US. This severely impacts the environment. When bacteria break down the massive amount of food in these landfills, excess methane is created. This greenhouse gas is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. 
  • The Food Waste Reduction Alliance, an organization dedicated to eradicating waste in the food industry, found the biggest culprit in the food waste trend was restaurants. Of the total food waste in America, restaurants and food businesses contribute up to 84.3%. That also means these businesses are burning $2 million in profits in the process.

One Food Waste Solution: Culture Change

The best way to change this culture is for the food industry to take charge and find ways to reduce food waste. After all, this industry has the most significant influence on it.  Plus, reducing food waste in restaurants makes good business sense. It turns out consumers care about food waste, despite the widespread practice of this culture in the country. 

A study by Unilever revealed that more than 70% of people cared about the handling of their waste disposal, with 47% that are willing to pay more to eat at a restaurant that has good waste policies in place. Limiting food waste is something where everyone wins, from your customers to our planet. 

How To Track Food Waste

Keeping track of food waste is one of the most effective ways of reducing it. The best way to do this is with a tracking program. The program doesn't need to be all that sophisticated or complicated for it to be useful. Having a simple system will make it easier for your staff to follow through. 

One of the easiest food waste solutions is to maintain a journal (or log) of wasted food as it occurs. You can instruct your staff to log down the weight and details of every disposed of trash item. 

Going beyond that, staff can even log trash types. For example, you can have your team record if trash was full of non-food items, or contained plenty of rotten vegetables. If it is the latter, something might be wrong with your inventory. That’s a signal for you to look into how you can better optimize your inventory management system. You can also explore composting food waste and have composting bins to help minimize waste. 

Benefits of a Food Waste Journal

First, this practice encourages accountability. You can track whether specific departments or shifts produce more trash than others, and then launch a more detailed investigation to find the root cause of the problem. 

Second, you'll know if your efforts are having an impact on your food waste. If the average trash goes down with everything else equal, then you know your current strategies are working. Not having an objective, data-backed waste tracking is like doing something with blindfolds on; you don't know if you're going the right way. 

Third, it provides data you can use to back up your decision-making. For example, if you get a lot of food trimmings in your waste, you can implement strategies to address that. You can help improve the cutting skills of your prep chefs to produce less waste, or you can choose to buy pre-prepped ingredients to reduce waste and time. 

Last, it can even help you with inventory control. If your inventory management system indicates that you're regularly throwing away certain food items (like poultry or produce), then it might be a sign that you're having excess stocks of these ingredients. Reducing your order levels might solve the problem, and save you money, too.

How To Do Food Audits

Another good way to reduce food waste is to start by doing a food audit. A food audit is an overview of your restaurant or business's food waste output. It can tell you how much waste you're disposing of and in what amounts. The goal is to give you a clear picture so you can see the problem areas that need improvement. 

There are many approaches to doing a food audit, but it mostly involves tracking two essential variables. One is the amount of food waste your business is producing, and the other is the number of customers you’re serving. The latter matters because customers also produce waste if they don't finish what they ordered. 

The simplest food audit method is a simple logging system. You can track waste separately for your business and your customers (or post-consumer waste). It can be as basic as using a sheet of paper and a pencil, or as advanced as using automated weighing scales. Either way, be sure to instruct your staff to jot down how much food is thrown out, what type it is, and why it's being thrown out. 

Food audits are best done daily for one week. One smart method is to segregate your trash into categories before you have it collected. You can decide on the specific categories depending on the nature of your menu and offerings. You then weigh each trash category and log down the results.

What Do Restaurants Do To Minimize Food Waste? 

With your audit done and tracking in place, you're now ready to explore solutions for reducing food waste in restaurants. Here are some of the strategies you can do for each waste category:


This refers to food waste that's a by-product of your operations and doesn't leave the kitchen floor. Since it's within the confines of your kitchen, it's also the waste over which you have the most control. There are plenty of strategies you can use here, but a lot of them involve good practices in inventory management. 

Use schemes like FIFO (first in, first out) to ensure older ingredients are used first. You also need to make use of robust inventory management systems to help forecast optimal stock levels. You can look into food reduction techniques, like proper food preparation to reduce trimmings. Food repurposing is also a cost-effective and creative strategy to reduce waste. Instead of throwing out day-old bread, why not use it as croutons on your soup or salad?


Post-consumer waste refers to food that's unfinished by your customers. There's not much you can do to control this type of food waste, but you can reduce its likelihood by using a few strategies. 

Proper portioning is one of those key strategies. If you consistently get considerable amounts of post-consumer waste, it might be an indication of portion sizes that are too large. 

Standardizing can help reduce waste and expenses as well. You can also try optimizing your menu. If individual dishes are left unfinished or returned by customers, it might be time to change or upgrade them. Make sure that customers are getting what is described in the menu to manage their expectations.


These are non-food items like paper napkins and plastic utensils. This is another area where you won't have that much control since disposables are part of the operation of certain restaurants. The workaround is to discourage your customers from using these disposables. Instead, incentivize them to bring reusable straws or coffee mugs when buying at your store.  

Reduce Waste With Revel Systems

Food waste is a big problem that can be solved with small steps, and it all starts with effective inventory management. With our restaurant POS, you'll have a robust real-time platform to manage your stock levels. Get in touch with us and see how our technology can impact your bottom line and carbon footprint.