Menu on table

Take Waste Off the Menu: Tips to Help Restaurant Owners Limit Food Waste

There’s something about your menu that you may not have noticed — a lot of it is trash. But it’s not the quality we’re talking about, it’s the waste.

Food waste makes up about 20 percent of the material buried in landfills, and a large amount of that comes from restaurants. Just one restaurant sends on average about 50,000 pounds of food to landfills each year. Once at a landfill, food waste generates methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. But food waste isn’t just bad for the environment, it’s bad for business. Pounds of food equal thousands of dollars of revenue that are thrown away.

And food waste isn’t just impacting cash – it’s impacting customers. Food waste is a growing consumer concern. A study by Unilever showed that 80 percent of U.S. diners are concerned about the amount of food thrown away every day in restaurants and cafeterias. Almost half are concerned enough to spend more money at places actively reducing their waste.

With so much at stake, it’s time to start tightening our waste-lines and we have ten tips to help.

1. Conduct a food waste audit

Business owners often don’t know how much they’re tossing out, or why. Take a close look at how many customers you get each day, and what’s most frequently thrown away to start making adjustments.

2.Refresh your menu

This is where profitability and food waste go hand-in-hand. Mark trends to see when your big-batch items are the most popular and profitable. Updating your menu based on customer interest will save you money while saving food from a landfill.

3. Repurpose ingredients

Stalks of veggies can be tossed in a soup or used as a garnish. Yesterday’s bread can be today’s croutons. Allow your chefs to be creative and see opportunities in the excess.

4. Avoid purchasing perishable items in bulk

Buying bulk produce might seem like a good way to cut upfront costs, but what happens when you can’t use it all before it goes bad? Before tossing out more bad apples, talk to your vendors about purchasing in various stages of ripeness instead of all at once.

5. Watch out for spoilage

Train your staff on the first-in, first out method of storage by teaching them to use the oldest products first. And have your staff label items with the date they were last used to make sure you aren’t over-ordering.

6. Start composting & converting

For restaurant owners, sending excess food to a composting facility or anaerobic digester (which converts food into energy) can help manage food waste in a more sustainable and cost-effective way. We know from experience that diverting food waste in this way can add up to serious savings on your waste bill.

7. Find new revenue in recycling

It really does pay to reduce, reuse and recycle. There’s a market for used fats, oils and greases that can add some extra cash to your business or result in reduced-fee oil supply arrangements.

8. Set up color-coded waste bin stations

Sorting your waste with color-coded bins helps increase recycling adherence while reducing contamination. Teach your team to toss waste in separate bins specifically for organic material. Using graphic signage, like icons of food, can also help your employees throw food waste in the correct bin.

9. Send food home with the staff

If you can’t reuse food from the night’s dinner service — invite your staff to grab a bite. Cutting down on food waste and boosting employee morale is a win-win.

10. Consider donating food

Whether it’s getting involved with a food bank or establishing a connection with a local farmer, donating food and food scraps can make a huge difference. Scraps can be used in animal feed, and still-safe for consumption meals can help the millions of people who struggle with hunger.

Alternative Food Waste Prevention Tips

Replace your disposables

Food waste isn’t just limited to the food itself. Things like Styrofoam cups and individual ketchup packets have more sustainable alternatives. Things like reusable condiment bottles can cut down on unnecessary waste material.

Get your customers involved

Make sure they know exactly what’s in a meal and encourage them to order only what they want. Offering smaller portion choices will help make sure your customers are not sending back near-full plates of food.

At Rubicon, we serve up more than just tips; we offer savings and solutions for restaurant owners. We can help you implement organics recycling—which covers natural waste products like food scraps, used oil and restaurant grease—and divert waste from landfills. Our waste audit process helps us develop a customized program that fits your business’ needs best. And with our nationwide network of haulers, you won’t have to worry about any added transportation costs. 


Interested in learning more about how restaurants can better manage waste disposal? Read this.

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