How to Reduce, Control, & Recycle Food Waste in Restaurants

March 31, 2024

Are you grappling with the issue of restaurant food waste? This challenge can significantly impact your operational costs and environmental footprint. But what if you could turn this around? 

This article explores practical strategies for reducing, managing, preventing, controlling, recycling, and tracking food waste in your establishment. Ready to make a positive change? Let’s dive right in.


Restaurant Food Waste Statistics

Understanding the magnitude of food waste in the restaurant industry is the first step toward creating effective solutions. Here’s a snapshot of the issue:

The waste percentage can be even higher in buffet-style establishments or restaurants with extensive menus, leading to significant financial and environmental repercussions.

Causes of Restaurant Food Waste

Food waste in restaurants is a multifaceted issue, with several underlying causes contributing to the problem. Understanding these causes is crucial for devising effective strategies to mitigate waste. 

Here are the common reasons behind food waste in restaurants:

1. Overproduction

Restaurants often prepare more food than needed to ensure they can meet customer demand, especially during peak hours. This leads to excess food that is not sold by the end of the day and cannot always be reused or stored for future use.

2. Portion Sizes

Large portion sizes are a significant contributor to food waste. When portions are too big, customers often leave a considerable amount of food on their plates, which then becomes waste.

3. Menu Complexity

A wide-ranging menu requires more ingredients, which increases the likelihood of food spoilage before it can be used. The complexity also makes it challenging to predict which dishes will be popular on any given day, leading to overpreparation of certain items.

4. Customer Preferences and Orders

Customers often request modifications to dishes, which can lead to waste if the discarded ingredients cannot be repurposed. Additionally, incorrect orders, either from customer or staff error, often result in perfectly good food being discarded.

5. Improper Storage and Handling

Food spoilage due to inadequate storage conditions or improper handling is a significant cause of waste. This includes not storing food at the right temperature, not following first-in, first-out (FIFO) procedures, or improperly preparing ingredients.

6. Supply Chain Inefficiencies

A significant factor contributing to food waste is the complexity of the supply chain. When restaurants overorder or receive perishable goods nearing expiration, they face a surplus that often goes unused. Additionally, logistical challenges can result in delayed deliveries, leaving kitchens with less time to use ingredients before spoilage.

7. Lack of Awareness and Training

Staff may not be adequately trained on how to minimize food waste or may not be aware of the environmental and economic impact of food waste. This can lead to careless practices, such as throwing away food that could have been repurposed or donated.

8. Regulatory and Safety Concerns

Restaurants often cite food safety regulations as a reason for discarding food. While safety is paramount, there is sometimes a misunderstanding or overly cautious interpretation of these regulations, leading to unnecessary waste.

9. Inadequate Waste Tracking

Without systems to track food waste, restaurants may not be aware of the extent of the issue or understand the specific areas where waste occurs. This lack of data makes it challenging to implement targeted waste reduction strategies.

10. Failure to Forecast Customer Demand

Predicting customer preferences and the quantity of food needed can be challenging. When restaurants miscalculate demand, they often prepare too much food, leading to a surplus that eventually becomes waste.

11. Lack of Proper Inventory Management

Efficient inventory management is crucial to preventing food waste. Restaurants that fail to track their inventory accurately are more likely to order and prepare more food than necessary, exacerbating waste issues.

Recognizing these causes is crucial for any restaurant aiming to minimize waste and enhance sustainability. As we explore solutions to these challenges, remember that reducing food waste in restaurants benefits not only the environment and society but also your bottom line.

3 Types of Food Waste in Restaurants

Understanding the different types of food waste in restaurants is the first step toward implementing effective waste reduction strategies. Here's a closer look at where most waste occurs:

1. Client Food Waste (CFW)

This refers to the leftover food customers don’t consume and leave behind on their plates. It can happen for various reasons, such as overestimating their appetite, ordering too much food, or simply not liking the taste of a dish. It can also result from customers’ inability to customize their orders to their preferences.

2. Kitchen Food Waste (KFW)

This is food that is prepared but not served to customers. It can include spoilage, overproduction, trimming scraps, and spills. Spoilage can occur due to improper storage or if food is past its prime. Overproduction can happen if customer demand is miscalculated or if ingredients are prepped in large quantities in anticipation of a rush that never materializes. Trimming scraps are the leftover pieces of food that are removed during prep work, such as vegetable peels and meat trimmings. Spills are simply accidents that happen in any kitchen.

3. Service Food Waste (SFW)

This type includes waste generated during the service to customers, including order mistakes, over-preparation of dishes, and uneaten extras. Buffets contribute significantly to this category, as customers and restaurants often overestimate consumption, resulting in considerable amounts of food that cannot be reused. Recognizing these patterns can help adjust preparation and serving practices to minimize waste.

By identifying the primary sources of waste in your restaurant, you can tailor your waste reduction efforts more effectively, ensuring that strategies are focused and impactful.

How to Track Food Waste in Restaurants

Efficiently managing restaurant food waste begins with understanding the extent and nature of the waste being produced. Tracking food waste involves recording the amounts and types of waste and identifying when and why it occurs. 

Here are steps to effectively track food waste:

  • Implement a Waste Audit: Start by conducting a waste audit to identify the major sources of waste in your restaurant. This could involve sorting waste into categories (such as prep waste, spoilage, and plate waste) and weighing them over a certain period.

  • Use Technology: Leverage technology solutions like waste tracking apps, inventory management systems, and restaurant data analytics platforms to monitor waste in real time. These tools often provide insights and analytics that can highlight patterns and areas for improvement, allowing for more informed decision-making. Integrating restaurant CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems can also be crucial in managing customer-related data and influencing waste management strategies by aligning menu planning with customer preferences and feedback.

  • Staff Training and Engagement: Train your staff to properly record waste, emphasizing the importance of accuracy. Engage them by explaining the financial and environmental benefits of reducing waste, and consider implementing incentive programs to encourage participation.

  • Review and Adjust: Review the data collected regularly to identify trends and areas for waste reduction. Use this information to adjust purchasing, prep, and menu planning to minimize waste.

By understanding where and why waste occurs, you can take targeted actions to mitigate it.

How to Reduce Food Waste in Restaurants

Reducing food waste within your establishment is achievable through several strategic steps. Here’s how:

1. Audit Your Food Waste

Begin the journey towards waste reduction by understanding exactly what and how much you're throwing away. Keeping a detailed journal of wasted items can pinpoint areas of excess and highlight opportunities for improvement. This initial step is pivotal in crafting a targeted strategy for waste reduction.

2. Buy Imperfect Ingredients

Opting for ingredients that might look imperfect but are perfectly edible is a smart move. This not only reduces food waste but also can lower your purchase costs. Many suppliers offer these products at a discount, aiding in cutting down food waste in restaurants.

3. Repurpose and Multi-Use Edible Ingredients

Creativity in the kitchen can reduce food waste. Look for ways to use all parts of your ingredients. For example, vegetable peels can be turned into stocks, and stale bread can become croutons. This approach not only minimizes waste but also maximizes food costs.

4. Offer Takeout Containers

Offering takeout containers can significantly reduce food waste by encouraging customers to take home leftovers. This practice enhances customer satisfaction and sustainability and positively impacts restaurant branding by showing your commitment to reducing food waste.

5. Regularly Review and Update Menus

Analyze your waste log to inform menu updates. Dishes that consistently result in leftovers might need resizing or removal. Seasonal menus can also encourage using fresh, local produce, reducing the distance food travels and the waste generated.

6. Offer Specials to Use Up Ingredients

Creating specials to utilize ingredients nearing the end of their shelf life is an excellent strategy. It keeps your menu exciting and dynamic while significantly reducing potential waste.

7. Optimize Ordering with Technology

Leveraging technology such as self-ordering kiosks, tablet POS systems, handheld ordering devices, contactless payments, and QR code ordering can significantly reduce restaurant food waste. These technologies streamline the ordering process, allowing for more accurate orders and reducing the likelihood of surplus food being prepared. By optimizing how customers place their orders, you reduce waste and enhance customer experience.

8. Ensure Proper Handling and Storage

Proper handling and storage of food, especially Time/Temperature Control for Safety (TCS) Food, are crucial in preventing waste. TCS foods require specific storage conditions to prevent spoilage and foodborne illnesses. By adhering to these guidelines, your restaurant can ensure food remains safe to eat and reduces unnecessary waste.

9. Train Your Staff

Educating your staff on the importance of reducing food waste is vital. Training should cover efficient food preparation techniques, correct storage practices, and waste management strategies. Staff awareness and involvement can lead to more thoughtful handling of ingredients, minimizing waste at every stage of the food preparation and serving process.

10. Monitor Plate Returns

Paying close attention to what comes back on plates can provide valuable insights into customer preferences and portion sizes. This information can be used to adjust menu items and portion sizes accordingly, reducing the amount of uneaten food being thrown away. Monitoring plate returns helps to tailor offerings to meet customer demand more accurately, thus minimizing waste.

11. Optimize Kitchen Processes

Integrating a Kitchen Display System (KDS) can significantly enhance the coordination between your front-of-house (FOH) and back-of-house (BOH) operations. By digitizing order tickets, a KDS ensures that the kitchen staff has real-time access to orders, reducing the chances of miscommunication and subsequent food waste. This synchronization between FOH and BOH helps streamline kitchen processes, ensuring that food preparation is efficient and waste-conscious.

Reducing food waste in restaurants not only benefits your bottom line but also contributes to a more sustainable and responsible culinary industry. By implementing these strategies, your establishment can significantly minimize waste and enhance operational efficiency.

How to Manage Food Waste in Restaurants

Effective management of food waste is about adopting a holistic approach to how food is handled from the moment it arrives at your restaurant to when waste is disposed of or repurposed. Here are critical strategies for managing food waste:

1. Customer Awareness Initiatives

It is crucial to raise customer awareness about efforts to minimize food waste. Restaurants can highlight their commitment to sustainability by incorporating digital menus and in-store digital promotional materials.

Customizing digital interfaces, such as self-ordering kiosks, to showcase food waste reduction efforts not only educates customers but also promotes a culture of sustainability. 

Social media platforms offer another avenue to engage with customers, sharing insights into the importance of minimizing waste and the practical steps your restaurant is taking.

2. Smart Menu Design and Preparation

A thoughtfully designed menu can significantly curb food waste. Opt for dishes that share common ingredients to minimize the risk of unused stock. Introducing a variety of portion sizes can cater to different customer preferences, reducing leftovers. Embrace the creative use of food trimmings and opt for seasonal produce from local suppliers to decrease spoilage and waste.

3. Portion Control

Customizable portion sizes can directly influence the amount of waste produced from uneaten food. Keep a close eye on the dishes that frequently return uneaten, and consider adjusting their portions or ingredients. Utilizing customer feedback for portion adjustments ensures that your servings align with consumer expectations, further minimizing waste.

4. Employee Involvement

Involving employees in waste reduction efforts can lead to innovative solutions and foster a team-oriented approach to sustainability. Encourage your staff to propose ideas for minimizing waste and recognize their contributions through rewards or recognition programs. A united team effort can make a substantial difference in reducing your restaurant's food waste.

5. Waste Segregation

Implementing a system for separating waste at the disposal point facilitates easier recycling and composting. By segregating waste, your restaurant can significantly reduce the volume of waste sent to landfills, contributing to a more sustainable operation.

6. Streamline Food Prep Processes

A critical examination and optimization of your food preparation methods can lead to significant reductions in waste. By training staff on cutting techniques that maximize use and implementing standardized recipes to reduce variability, your kitchen can decrease the amount of food that ends up unused. Additionally, efficient prep scheduling can ensure that only the necessary amount of food is prepared, reducing the likelihood of having a surplus.

7. Implement a FIFO System

The First-in, First-out (FIFO) approach is critical in managing perishable inventory. By organizing your storerooms and refrigeration units to use older items first, you can greatly decrease the amount of spoiled food. This system helps reduce food waste but also aids in maintaining the freshness and quality of your dishes.

8. Regular Waste Assessments

By conducting frequent evaluations of your waste management strategies, you can pinpoint which areas are performing well and which require improvement. This ongoing process allows for the adjustment of practices in real-time, ensuring that your approach to waste minimization remains effective and adaptable to changing business needs.

By integrating these key strategies into your daily operations, you can significantly enhance your approach to managing food waste, leading to more sustainable and cost-effective practices.

How to Prevent Food Waste in Restaurants

Preventing food waste requires a proactive approach, focusing on reducing the amount of waste generated in the first place. Here are strategies to help prevent food waste:

1. Inventory Management

Effective inventory management is crucial in preventing food waste. By conducting regular inventory checks and adhering to first-in-first-out (FIFO) practices, you can ensure ingredients are used in the order they were purchased, minimizing spoilage. Adequate storage solutions and clear labeling can also play a significant role in keeping track of stock levels and expiry dates.

2. Accurate Forecasting

Leveraging historical sales data to forecast future demand can lead to more accurate preparation levels. This strategy reduces the chances of over-preparation, which often results in food waste. By adjusting your inventory and preparation according to predicted customer turnout, you optimize resource use and decrease waste.

3. Supplier Selection

Choosing the right suppliers is integral to minimizing food waste. Opt for those who offer flexible order quantities or accept returns on unsold items. This flexibility allows for more precise stock control, reducing the likelihood of excess inventory that could lead to waste.

How to Control Food Waste in Restaurants

Controlling food waste goes beyond mere management. It's about putting systems in place that prevent waste before it happens and ensuring these systems are adhered to consistently.

Policy Implementation

The first step in combating food waste in restaurants is establishing clear policies. These should define waste reduction strategies and outline the roles and responsibilities of staff members in minimizing waste. By fostering a culture of sustainability, you encourage your team to be more mindful and proactive in their daily operations.

Set Clear Waste Reduction Goals

Without concrete objectives, efforts to reduce food waste can become unfocused. By setting specific, quantifiable targets, you can monitor your restaurant’s performance against these benchmarks. This process lets you celebrate victories and identify areas needing adjustment, keeping your team motivated and on track.

Integrating these practices into your daily operations creates a solid foundation for minimizing food waste. Implementing clear policies and goals helps reduce waste and improves your restaurant’s overall efficiency and sustainability.

How to Recycle Restaurant Food Waste

Recycling restaurant food waste is a pivotal step towards sustainability and operational efficiency. Here’s how you can make a significant impact:

  • Composting: Start or participate in a composting program to turn food scraps into valuable compost for gardening and landscaping. This can significantly reduce your environmental footprint and may also provide marketing benefits.

  • Food Donation Programs: Partner with local food banks, shelters, or food recovery programs to donate unserved food. This not only helps reduce waste but also supports your community.

  • Biodigesters: For restaurants producing large volumes of food waste, investing in a biodigester can be a sustainable option. Biodigesters break down food waste into water, carbon dioxide, and compost through microbial action, offering an on-site solution to food waste.

  • Animal Feed: Some types of food waste can be safely repurposed as animal feed. Collaborating with local farms to take suitable food scraps can be a win-win solution for reducing waste and supporting local agriculture.

  • Biodiesel Conversion: Partner with companies that convert waste oil into biodiesel, a more sustainable fuel alternative.

By implementing these strategies, your restaurant can significantly reduce its environmental impact, save on costs, and contribute positively to the community.

The Impact of Food Waste

Understanding the broader impacts of food waste helps reinforce the importance of reduction efforts within the restaurant industry:

  • Environmental Impact: Food waste contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions, water waste, and the depletion of agricultural lands. By reducing waste, restaurants can play a crucial role in mitigating climate change and conserving resources.

  • Economic Impact: The cost of wasted food affects not only individual restaurants but also the global economy. Reducing waste can lead to substantial savings for restaurants and reduce the strain on global food production systems.

  • Social Impact: With millions of people facing food insecurity worldwide, the ethical implications of wasting food are profound. Redirecting surplus food from restaurants to those in need can help address this disparity.

Addressing food waste in restaurants thus has far-reaching benefits beyond the immediate operational advantages.


Tackling restaurant food waste is a multifaceted challenge that requires commitment, creativity, and collaboration. By understanding the sources and impacts of waste, tracking and managing it effectively, and employing strategies for reduction, recycling, and prevention, restaurants can significantly reduce their environmental footprint, save money, and contribute to a more sustainable and equitable food system. This journey towards waste reduction not only enhances your restaurant's operational efficiency and profitability but also positions your business as a responsible leader in the fight against food waste.

Transform how you manage your restaurant with Chowbus POS, an all-in-one restaurant POS system solution designed to enhance operational efficiency and increase revenue. Embrace the future of restaurant management and take a significant step towards sustainability. Contact us today to see how we can assist you.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Restaurant Food Waste

This section addresses some of the most common questions related to food waste in the restaurant industry. Discover the significance of minimizing waste, the top benefits of reduction efforts, strategies for tracking and lowering waste, and the reasons behind high restaurant waste levels.

Why Should Restaurants Reduce Food Waste?

Restaurants should reduce food waste to cut costs, minimize environmental impact, and improve sustainability. By managing food waste effectively, they can lower disposal expenses and reduce their carbon footprint, supporting a healthier planet. Additionally, adopting waste reduction practices can enhance a restaurant's reputation, attracting customers who value environmental responsibility.

What are the Three Biggest Benefits of Reducing Food Waste?

Reducing food waste in restaurants offers three primary benefits:

  1. Cost Savings: By minimizing waste, restaurants can significantly lower their expenses. This is achieved through more efficient food usage and inventory management, leading to a reduction in over-purchasing and spoilage costs.

  2. Environmental Impact: Less food waste translates to reduced landfill contributions. This also means a decrease in methane emissions from rotting food, a potent greenhouse gas, contributing to a more sustainable planet.

  3. Community Support: Donating surplus food to local food banks or shelters helps feed those in need, strengthening community ties and support. This not only aids vulnerable populations but also enhances the restaurant's reputation within the community.

How Do Restaurants Track Waste?

Restaurants track waste by implementing inventory management systems, conducting regular audits, and utilizing waste-tracking software. For those without automated systems, log books or paper tracking methods are used. These approaches help identify waste patterns, facilitating strategic decisions to minimize excess.

How Can We Reduce Buffet Waste?

To reduce buffet waste, we can adopt several effective strategies:

  • Portion Control: Serve smaller portions to encourage guests to take only what they can consume.

  • Menu Planning: Carefully plan menus to include items that are popular and less likely to be wasted.

  • Live Cooking Stations: Offer live cooking stations where food is prepared on demand, reducing the amount of precooked food that may go to waste.

  • Guest Awareness: Educate guests on the impact of food waste and encourage them to take smaller amounts initially and return if they want more.

  • Donation Programs: Partner with local food banks or shelters to donate untouched, leftover food, ensuring it feeds those in need instead of going to waste.

  • Composting: Compost organic waste to minimize environmental impact and support sustainability efforts.

Implementing these practices can significantly reduce buffet waste, benefiting both the environment and the community.

Why are Restaurants So Wasteful?

Restaurants often face high levels of waste due to several key reasons:

  1. Unpredictable customer demand makes it difficult to accurately forecast food needs, leading to surplus ingredients that may spoil.

  2. Strict health and safety regulations require establishments to discard food that doesn’t meet specific standards, even if it’s still safe to eat.

  3. The emphasis on serving fresh and visually appealing meals sometimes results in rejecting perfectly good food that doesn’t meet aesthetic criteria.

These factors combined contribute to the significant waste seen in the restaurant industry.


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