Reducing the amount of edible food that gets tossed is not only the best thing your restaurant can do for the environment – it’s also a great way to reduce your food and labor costs.
How to spot and stop food waste
We know you’re already running an efficient kitchen, but food waste can often be hard to spot, especially in the rush of prep, serving and clean up. Our green business advisors can help you conduct a waste assessment to understand the quantities and types of food ending up in your garbage.
When you see what gets tossed – from both back of house and front – you may see opportunities to make small changes to food prep, serving portions, or garnishes. These small changes can add up to big savings, on prep time as well as food costs.
You know your operations best, so from there we can work together to come up with effective ways to reduce wasted food and support you in your efforts.
- Watch this 1-minute video on how and why to track your food waste.
- Download this helpful two-page Waste Logbook to track food waste.
Identify food waste
- Watch this 1-minute video on how to do a waste audit.
- Reserve a DIY waste-sort kit from us: email@example.com
- Food Loss Prevention Options for Restaurants (EPA) – Designed for restaurants, good for promoting conversations with staff about best practices.
- How To Reduce Food Waste – Designed for restaurants and institutional kitchens, good for promoting conversations with staff about best practices.
More ways to reduce food waste and green your restaurant
- Find best practices and videos from the National Restaurant Association’s ConServe program.
- Find resource guides for grocery, restaurants, and large commercial kitchens from the state of Oregon’s Wasted Food, Wasted Money site.
Hotel kitchens and catering
- Hotel Kitchen provides a toolkit for organizing hotel management and staff to plan food waste reduction. They also offer webinars and case studies.
- If you’ve got extra edible food, don’t toss it, donate it to families or individuals in need. Your donation is protected by Good Samaritan laws and is tax deductible. Contact us for assistance.
Free, hands-on assistance
Advisors from the City’s Sustainability at Work program provide hands-on assistance and learn about your business so we can get you just the information you need.
Get ideas from your peers
Every kitchen is unique but seeing what works for other businesses can spark ideas for what could work at yours.
See how Embassy Suites found ways to reduce food waste by as much as 50 percent:
Watch more videos showing how restaurants around the Portland region are reducing food waste.
Our staff’s creativity in reducing waste through cross utilization can be seen throughout our restaurants, including:
- Using citrus peels and juiced rinds as a syrup base for cocktails and agua fresca.
- Turning broccoli stems into a new broccoli coleslaw side dish.
Staff pay attention to what goes in the compost and look for ways to use scraps before they get tossed. For example, we were producing over 150 pounds a week of lamb caps, a by-product of lamb chop ribs. We started collecting the lamb caps from three of our locations, cooking them down with shawarma spices, and turning the meat into a new carnitas dish. We also rendered the fat and it added it to our kebabs to keep them juicy.
We now have virtually no waste from the lamb chop caps and we’ve turned a loss into a profit!
Our kitchen has always been very conscientious of food waste but we still felt that too many food scraps were making it into the compost. We pay close attention to food waste and track it where possible so we can be smart about purchasing.
- We track traditionally slow volume days (certain holidays and times of year) and adjust PAR levels during those times.
- We use a waste sheet log to track all food that gets tossed (spoilage, over production, trim, etc.).
- We’ve reduced the number of items on our menu that need to be pre-prepped.
- We’ve increased our ability to cross-utilize ingredients.
We’ve reduced our food waste and substantially reduced our food cost percentages since implementing these efforts.
Even though we consistently meet our food cost percentages and we have a strong environmental ethic, we still find preventable food scraps making their way into the compost.
- We’ve built our menus to have lots of cross utilization.
- We ask purveyors to provide our food pre-prepped when possible in the amounts we actually use, and at the quality needed to reduce loss.
- We scrape pans, empty containers, and fully use everything.
- We use a waste log sheet to track overdone pizza, spoilage, and other food waste. We also give credit to managers who carefully track waste, which in turn improves their bonuses.
- We post recommended servings for many of our menu items that can be comfortably shared.
- We solicit ideas from customers about products we carry and portion sizes.
Reducing food waste not only helps our bottom line but also helps us to connect with our customers.
Read more about Pizzacato’s efforts.
Because we make everything from scratch, we often have meat, fish, and veggie trim. Guest waste is a large portion of food scraps wasted, especially tortillas.
- We invested in extra freezer space to save trim and overstock to be repurposed later into soup, stock, or sauces.
- In some cases, we switched to more expensive cuts of meat that need 25% less trimming before cooking.
- We started using visual guides to help staff properly size our fresh tortillas. Right sizing the tortillas has helped to reduced front-of-house waste.
We’ve saved on food and labor costs, and reduced food going into the compost from both the kitchen and from the guests.
Read more about ¿Por Qué No? Taqueria’s efforts.
Being a high-quality cooked-from-scratch kitchen, we break down our own meat, which produces lots of trim waste.
Instead of tossing the trim in the compost, we use everything we can. Bones are cooked into a rich stock and we render our own tallow.
Turning trim into ingredients not only reduced what is tossed out, but has become key to making the delicious au jus used on our steaks.
Our cafés have always been very conscientious of food waste but we still find preventable food scraps making it into the compost.
- We compost everything at the dish pit, so we notice what people leave on their plates.
- We noticed our breakfast garnish (a piece of fruit or two, depending on the season), was mostly being left uneaten and so we decided to eliminate it.
- We require café managers to report food cost numbers to their managers and co-workers each month. If their goals are not met, they have to conduct additional tracking and staff re-training.
The feedback loop of tracking and reporting wasted food shines a light on the opportunities to reduce food waste and run our cafés better.
Read more about Grand Central Bakery’s efforts.
We noticed our compost bins were filling up faster than usual, so we started tracking what was going into the compost. We used a spreadsheet that tracks the types and cost of items getting composted.
Through this tracking, we saw that a lot of pastries got composted at the end of each day. So we:
- Switched to a vendor that didn’t require minimum orders for delivery.
- Tracked which pastries were selling and which weren’t and adjusted orders.
- Considered which pastries had longer shelf lives.
After just one month, we had reduced pastry waste by 55%!
We recognize that all waste is an opportunity to be turned into a resource for the restaurant, and we give staff the flexibility to test ideas out and be innovative.
- We turn vegetable trim into fermented products, like house-made kimchi and pickles.
- We render our beef tallow and use it to make candles (reducing our use of Sterno-fluid).
Giving our staff the license to experiment supports our no-waste culture.
Guest waste is the largest portion of food scraps wasted. By paying attention, we’ve found that customers were barely eating salsas and sides (grilled onions, salad, pickled fruits and veggies, etc.).
- We educate customers by telling them how the sides “finish the dish” and how they must try them to “complete the dish experience”.
- We’ve reduced the salsa portion sizes to more accurately reflect what is being consumed.
Now we have less food waste, which is not just money lost on the food itself, but also money lost on the labor spent on preparing the food.
Two of our biggest opportunities to reduce wasted food are improving ordering accuracy and not cooking more wings than we sell.
We’ve put feedback loops in place where we can track ordering mistakes and overcooking so we can catch opportunities for staff to adjust. Tracking and sharing that information with staff is very effective at keeping food waste prevention fresh in their mind.
Tracking and sharing that information with staff has reduced both food waste and food costs.
Read more about Fire on the Mountain’s efforts.
Food Waste Stops with Me is a collaboration between Metro, Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association, Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality, as well as city and county governments, to support foodservice businesses in reducing food waste.