With the constantly increasing awareness of world energy use becoming a more and more pressing concern with every passing year, many food service establishments are beginning to look for ways to reduce their waste production and excess energy use. The mental image of trash being emptied into slowly crowding landfills is powerful motivation for many restaurateurs to begin minimizing their waste – not to mention the increasing costs of waste disposal services. While taking steps to reduce waste is often slightly less convenient, and will take more time and effort from both you and your restaurant staff, the financial, environmental, and social impact of minimizing waste will almost certainly be worth it in the long run. Here are a few tips to start reducing your restaurant’s waste production.
Avoid excess ordering
This seems like a no-brainer, but it is not difficult to accidentally order more food than your restaurant will use, especially given the inherent unpredictability of the restaurant business model. Have a specific and well-organized plan before sitting down to place your next order, and try to avoid ordering more than your restaurant will need “just in case.” Risking having to make the occasional emergency stock-up may be annoying, but the cost incurred from frequently over-ordering is likely to be more detrimental in the long run.
Be wary of sales
Sales are great, but they often have a tendency to encourage us to simply buy more of the sale product rather than holding on to the extra money, especially when purchasing consumables. Think of food supply price reductions as an opportunity to put extra money toward other expenses, not an opportunity to buy more product than usual. Buying a little bit more while the price is low certainly will not harm anything, but keep in mind that there is a threshold. If you buy twice as much food during a half-off sale but then have to throw a third of it away, you have ultimately wasted money that could have been used elsewhere.
Donate unused food
No matter how efficiently your restaurant operates, it is inevitable that there will at least occasionally be leftover food that is perfectly good, but no longer usable according to the strict standards of restaurant health and safety regulations. Donating unused food to the needy is a humane alternative to throwing out remaining ingredients, and it is often not as much of a hassle as it may seem. Many food donation organizations will work with you to schedule pick-ups and make food donation a routine part of your operation.
Establish a system for stretching your food supply as long as possible. “Rotate” your food so that newer supply gets placed in the back (or on the bottom) of storage containers to prevent food that is closer to its expiration date from getting “trapped” behind or underneath a replenishing supply of new food.
Use automation tools where possible
Automation in the kitchen, although largely considered the forte of the fast food industry, is a great way to increase efficiency and reduce waste. Chopping and slicing tools, for example, are a simple way to speed up the prep process and encourage portion consistency, thus reducing the incidence of unnecessarily discarded food due to occasional chopping mistakes.
When possible, buy from local food suppliers. This cuts down on the environmental and financial costs involved in long-distance food transport and ensures that your customers are provided with the freshest ingredients available. Buying in bulk will also save money and will reduce unnecessary or redundant packaging, particularly when the product is just being dropped off by local suppliers.
Use Energy efficient appliances
Reduce your energy costs and usage by outfitting your kitchen with energy-efficient equipment. Energy Star® approved appliances are designed to use as little energy as possible while still maintaining optimal performance. This ultimately reduces harmful emissions at the energy source and – as an added bonus – will save you money on your monthly energy bills.
In a lot of ways, this one sort of speaks for itself. Reuse wherever possible. Try to minimize the number of disposable products that you use in the kitchen, as well as the disposables that you offer your customers (such as replacing paper napkins with easily washable cloth napkins). Minimize wear and tear on your cooking supplies by keeping any wooden cutting boards and cast iron pans well-cleaned and seasoned. For restaurants that offer fried foods, consider investing in an oil filtration system to extend the life of your shortening and reduce the time spent on and the waste from having to frequently dispose of messy, used oil.
Plan menus with common ingredients
Try to plan your menus so that a number of dishes share similar ingredients. This makes ordering food easier, and it cuts down on the waste potential caused by each dish requiring its own highly specific list of ingredients.
The list goes on and on, and each restaurant environment will have unique and very specific ways to minimize its waste production. If you are a restaurant owner, be sure to stress to your employees the importance of your waste management approach. Creating an efficient and cost effective waste management plan is a perfectly surmountable task, but even the best plan will not work to its full potential without the full cooperation of your team. As stated before, minimizing waste does take a bit of extra work, but with some careful planning and conscientious execution, your restaurant will be on the road to reducing waste and saving money in no time.