With slim profit margins, restaurant operators would like to think their inventory is so carefully ordered, there’s little to no waste.

The statistics tell a different story.

The Food Waste Reduction Alliance in 2014 found that nearly 85 percent of unused food in American restaurants was thrown away, 14 percent recycled and only 1.4 percent donated.

The anecdote? Take the guesswork out of ordering with a tracking system for food waste and donation.

Tackle food waste by charting several components: Why is food wasted—are you cooking a lot more than you sell on a regular basis? Did a cooking mishap mean tossing some food? (It happens).

Every week, employees enter the amount of food that’s not used. The numbers show seasonal demands (what sells when), as well as peak times during the day and days of the week. Employees document times when food is over- or under-cooked and needs to be tossed.

The data will help you order more accurately, provide training where needed in the kitchen, and promote where—and how often—you’re donating food to charitable causes.

It might surprise you that less than 1.5 percent of restaurant food is donated annually, but the logistics of food donation are complicated, including transporting it (or arranging for pick-up) and ensuring food is held properly so it doesn’t spoil after it leaves your restaurant. Sometimes food that’s past its hold time doesn’t reheat well or taste very good; that’s something to consider as well.

Food waste translates to between 25,000 and 75,000 pounds of food tossed every year by the average American restaurant (just one), according to the Green Restaurant Association. Its time operators got serious about food waste—donating what they can. It’s not only the right thing to do, but it will save you annually on food costs and tighten inventory.

First, take charge of your inventory and track what you’re using—and what you’re throwing away or donating. Then, take the steps to tamp down inventory, be smarter with what you’re buying (and when) and, finally, connect with food pantries and food shuttles in your area who will gladly pick up food. It may seem daunting, but ask around; once you get it set up, you’ll wish you had a donation system earlier.

Don’t forget to promote your food donations on social media. Customers love to know which businesses value sustainability and community involvement.

Americans in general throw away $165 billion worth of food annually, reports the Natural Resources Defense Council. Reducing waste by ordering only what you need—and donating the rest—is the right thing to do.

Ryan Yost is general manager for the Printer Solutions Division (PSD) for Avery Dennison Corporation. Avery Dennison Printer Solutions responds to the unique challenges of businesses in the food, retail and fulfillment markets. Its solutions are rooted in efficiency, cost savings, food safety and sustainability through intelligent innovations that solve business problems and improve business processes.
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