Strategies to Minimize Waste and Save Money in the Food Service Industry

Businesses are all seeking efficiencies in their operating processes and wise companies don’t leave waste out of the equation. In this two-part series, we look at the strategies and technologies that can help businesses in the food service industry drastically cut their waste bills and procurement costs.

Benefits of Implementing Waste Minimization Strategies

Capturing pre-consumer food loss can offer a vital boost to profitability, with food costs representing between 28 – 35% of gross income in restaurants. It’s no wonder that sustainable foodservice is now a goal which many operators are pursuing aggressively.

By reducing the amount of waste you produce, you will save money on commodities, labor, energy and disposal costs. When you consider that 4-10% of the food you purchase will become pre-consumer waste before ever reaching a guest, waste minimization is therefore one of the first and easiest ways to control costs.

The benefit-to-cost ratio of food waste minimization efforts in the food service industry is also compelling: for every dollar invested, restaurants can realize approximately $8 of cost savings.

Engagement and awareness at the corporate, restaurant, and franchise (if applicable) levels on food waste minimization can help integrate best practices into the culture of the business and improve staff motivation and retention.

What practical insights can be used to minimize costs? Let’s start with auditing…


When waste is monitored, it is better managed. Waste tracking increases awareness of food waste within the company and focuses attention on front- and back-of-house prevention activities. Out of all solutions, auditing offers the greatest financial benefit to restaurants.

Businesses should start with an audit of pre-consumer waste (overproduction, expired, trim waste, spoilage, contamination, overcooked, etc.) to determine a baseline. This includes everything through preparation and production, whether it be on a hot line, a deli area or a salad bar.

A similar audit should then be conducted of all post-consumer waste to determine a baseline for this. Although the cost savings for post-consumer waste are less significant, this is still an important metric from a waste disposal perspective.

Once baselines have been established, it is then important for each facility to track and measure pre-consumer food waste on an ongoing basis. This will allow for managers to determine the areas of greatest loss in their processes. As waste minimization strategies are carried out, both pre- and post-consumer waste should be continually monitored to track the impact of the changes made.

Menu Design

Restaurants can increase their bottom line by designing menus with food waste reduction in mind. This is principally achieved by reducing the number of ingredients and repurposing food prep trim and overproduction.

All new kitchen team members should receive training in optimizing food preparation, batch cooking, portion sizes, cross-utilization and repurposing of food trim and excess food. Recipes should be clearly marked with the number of portions that can be created from packaged ingredients and how much yield a cook should expect to get out of a product.

At Haven’s Kitchen in New York, chefs are creative with trimmings and off-cuts, using parts of the food that most would consider as inedible. “People throw out tomato stems, but we put the tomato stems in the tomato stocks. Because if you ever smelt tomato stems, they’ve got an incredible amount of tomato flavor, and that’s something that they’ve been doing in Italy forever. Another example is cauliflower. About 40% of the actual cauliflower is just wasted, the leaves. It’s a huge waste. Now, what we can do is we can take those, and we wrap fish in them, and we steam them like you would a banana leaf.

Smaller Plates and Portions

Post-consumer waste can be significantly reduced by offering customers a range of portion sizes so that they can choose the size that best fits their appetite. Standard menu items like fries can be provided in smaller volumes, with an option for refills so that customers receive the amount they want and the restaurant reduces its food waste.

Similarly, reducing plate sizes can reduce food waste. For buffet-style dining, a study has found that smaller plates can reduce waste by as much as 20%. Diners can be reassured that they can attend the buffet station as often as they want so that those with greater appetites aren’t left unsatiated.

Staff Engagement

The whole team needs to be involved in order for any waste minimization campaign to be a real success. The uptake of new practices and techniques in the kitchen relies on team buy-in.

The following elements are key to positive staff engagement:

  • Communication: Good communication is at the core of all good results. Speaking to your team and showing them relevant data will help to increase buy-in and drive change.
  • Inspiration: Getting teams to collectively come up with food waste minimization solutions, and then implementing those solutions is generally the most inspiring and motivating technique.
  • Shift the mindset: Shifting the food prep team’s mindset so that they make waste minimization decisions earlier in the production process will result in an optimized workflow and less food waste.
  • Assign responsibilities: Allocate responsibilities to team members and agree on what success looks like. Include waste management objectives in job descriptions or add bonus targets for existing employees.
  • Share successes and support positive behavior: Incentivize teams to achieve waste reduction targets and celebrate any milestones achieved. Publicize the organization’s waste minimization achievements to motivate and thank staff for their hard work.

Staff Training

For effective waste minimization, it is also essential that staff are well trained. Ensure that all waste programs make it clear as to how waste is classified, sorted and stored before it is collected. Give your staff an overall perspective of food waste and the associate costs and make sure that they are clear as to where food waste arises in the kitchen.


Purchasing Review

By working closely with suppliers and using the food waste data established from audit procedures, kitchens can adjust order quantities and pack sizes, keeping inventory low and stock fresh, while producing less food waste.

Use quality control assessments to share feedback with suppliers about product quality and specifications to improve ordering accuracy and produce quality. Explore packaging design options that will increase product shelf life and maximize the amount that can be used. Also consider whether the packaging itself is recyclable.

Corporate restaurants can leverage their buying power with suppliers and switch to
appropriate pack sizes and order quantities. They can also adopt mechanisms to provide
waste minimization feedback from the restaurants to procurement teams and buyers. Buyers can be encouraged to reduce food waste by basing incentives on both lowest costs procured and satisfying waste minimization targets.

Franchise models can optimize quantities and create positive marketing opportunities
with centralized purchasing on behalf of franchisees. Corporate-level managers can look to make deals with suppliers that encourage innovative packaging and other improvements.

Food Waste Donations

Find a food donation program near each of your facilities so that you can safely and responsibly re-use your unwanted product.

Recycling and Composting Programs

After the kitchens have minimized the amount of waste that they produce and reused what they can (either internally or through donations), then the next step is to arrange a collection program for both pre- and post-consumer food waste with your waste management provider. You should also discuss with them if there are possibilities to sell used fryer and cooking oil to bio-fuel producers.


Taking a systematic approach will ensure that your waste minimization strategies are sustainably executed throughout the organization.

Some companies integrate their waste minimization plans into their broader environmental management plans. This enables them to gain a broader oversight of how their waste management practices influence their environmental objectives and allows for the use of existing governance structures to ensure that the implemented changes will endure.

An expert waste management firm can help to identify the strategies for your organization that will generate the fastest ROI, and then guide your sites through the necessary steps to help them achieve your minimization goals.

Need help to make your waste minimization plans a reality? Talk to our waste minimization experts today by calling us at 1-888-692-5005, or emailing

©2021 National Waste Associates