Food wastage in America contributes to the ever-growing issue of food security and availability. This is a major issue with the restaurant industry in particular, as up to 40% of food waste in the USA comes from restaurants.

The scale of food waste in restaurants is due to a few factors:

1. All You Can Eat Buffets

As buffets offer so many different options for meals and sides, people will often view the buffet as a convenient choice when it comes to eating out. However, the variety of food ultimately contributes to restaurant food waste.

As the food sits for long stretches of time and begins to cool, restaurants cannot serve the food for health risk reasons. Therefore, many restaurants throw away a significant portion of the food. According to this study by the University of California, Berkeley, buffets are wasteful and unstable because almost half the food on the buffet tables will be wasted. The overproduction of food needed for buffets causes up to 108 billion pounds or 54 million tons of food waste per year in the USA. This wastage is equal to 130 billion meals and, according to the study, is worth around a staggering $408 billion.

2. Portion Sizes

Having a plate overflowing with food is nice. However, many diners won’t be able to finish what they’ve got on their plate, and it ends up in the trash.

According to this study by Stop Food Waste, having the correct meal portions is not just important for your health but will reduce the environmental damage caused by landfills due to restaurant food waste.

3. Leftovers

Let’s be honest: How often do you really eat your leftovers…?

Some people may ask for a “doggy bag” or “to-go bag” to bring their leftovers home, but it’s common for the leftovers to just be thrown away at home later, contributing to the issue of big portion sizes served at some restaurants.

Innovative Approaches to Reducing Food Waste: How Restaurants are Revolutionizing Waste Management

Even though food waste in restaurants will never truly disappear (food inevitably spoils or a customer doesn’t like a meal), studies of food wastage and how to reduce it are becoming more prevalent.

The motivation to learn new, innovative ways to reduce food waste is largely connected to environmental needs as the amount of food waste increases every year, leading to higher levels of methane being released into the atmosphere.

We have researched some helpful approaches that restaurants can use to reduce food waste in restaurants. Here’s what we found: 

1. Food Charities/Soup Kitchens

A great way that restaurants can reduce food waste is to donate to food charities or soup kitchens. Not only is this socially responsible, but by saving the food and ingredients that restaurants may normally throw out, restaurants can reduce waste, feed people in need, and give back to their community. Partnering with local food shelters nurtures goodwill and ensures that any edible food is put to good use rather than being discarded.

2. Resizing Meals

Portion size and restructuring meals can not only reduce restaurant food waste but also create healthier meals. Restaurants can also look at what food items are left on the plate and use that to gauge what diners actually eat. For example, garnishes or sides that are consistently not eaten could be removed from future dishes to keep waste to a minimum.

If guests are taking home leftovers or sending them back to the kitchen, the portion sizes are too big. Resizing meals so that they’re smaller is a great way to minimize restaurant food waste and save the business money.

3. Inventory Management

Restaurants can easily track and control the quantity of ingredients in their kitchens by using an inventory management system. This provides valuable insights into usage patterns and upcoming expiration dates, which can help the staff avoid over-purchasing. With less overstock, operational expenses associated with waste disposal can ultimately be reduced. An inventory management system also allows chefs to make adjustments to their menus to lessen food waste in restaurants.

4. Business Incentives

Another practical approach on how to deal with food waste in restaurants is to have incentives in place. For example, some businesses in Italy can get tax breaks or other monetary incentives for practicing more positive food behavior that prevents food waste. Some states in the U.S. offer federal tax incentives when it comes to food recovery.

Success Stories: Restaurants Making a Difference

It can be challenging for many businesses to stay profitable while also reducing food waste, but with a little creative thinking, it can actually be quite successful, as it has been for these two restaurants!

1. Amelia’s Mexican Food

This restaurant uses almost every part of the ingredients for the meals, including the ends of onions and tomatoes, which are frequently thrown out. The staff also carefully measures their meals so as not to overuse ingredients.

Amelia’s also labels and date-tags all their ingredients stored in the kitchen as a way to make sure those ingredients are used before they spoil.

2. Bethany Public House

This Portland restaurant is excellent at reducing its restaurant food waste and is a great case study for restaurants looking to do the same. Instead of meal prepping for the entire week, Bethany’s will only prepare the amount of food they need for a day or two. T

Bethany’s also focuses on providing their staff with the proper training when it comes to waste reduction, storage, and food handling. The staff is trained to notice how much food is left on plates by diners and how to reduce the amount of ingredients to create smaller portion sizes. They also use seasonal menus to reduce waste by not using low-quality, out-of-season ingredients that need to be shipped in and become spoiled before they’re even used.

Practical Tools and Techniques for Minimizing Food Waste

Practical tools and techniques are needed for restaurants to cut down on food waste. Some establishments can use the FIFO system, which can help reduce food waste by better organizing the stock inside the restaurant. Inconsistent temperatures can spoil ingredients, so it’s important to implement methods that extend shelf life. Proper tools like temperature-controlled fridges and pantries to keep food fresh are critical to waste reduction practices.

Another simple yet effective strategy to reduce waste, save on costs, and practice sustainability is to repurpose ingredients. Rather than throwing away imperfect ingredients, chefs can incorporate them into new dishes. After all, what’s the point of throwing away a slightly imperfect-looking potato when it’s just going to be chopped up and put in a pot?

The Role of Technology in Managing Restaurant Food Waste

AI and other technologies can help restaurants reduce food waste by helping them analyze data that can accurately predict the food demand for the restaurant. Older methods of analyzing data, such as using spreadsheets, can take time and effort, which could be used on other tasks like cooking and preparing food.

By using AI technology and other tools, restaurants can reduce food waste by seeing when they need to buy ingredients and use intelligent labels to track them. Technology can now be used to show restaurants how to optimize the storage and preparation process of ingredients to keep the kitchen running as efficiently as possible.

Consumer Awareness and Participation: How Diners Can Contribute to Waste Reduction Efforts

An important step for restaurants to reduce food waste is to create consumer awareness programs that teach customers about food portions and the potential environmental harm food waste can cause.

Restaurants can study what meals and ingredients customers prefer to determine any unwanted meals and wasted ingredients, which can simultaneously lead to increased profits as the restaurant saves money on waste disposal and purchasing.

The Future of Food Waste Management in Restaurants

As the world seeks to become more sustainable, restaurants and businesses must keep up. The future of food waste management in restaurants is an important conversation that restaurants and their patrons need to have.

It is likely that we’ll see restaurants teaching customers about portion sizes and what it means to eat sustainably. While this may sound like a difficult endeavor, a study from a Chinese University explores a new trend that can help reduce food waste. This is done using colorful plates instead of food decor, like the green garnish that no one actually eats. So, while there’s still a long way to go to solve the problem of food waste in restaurants, we’re on the right track.