Start with small changes and it will add up to a substantial difference over time.

The restaurant industry has been battling unfavorable conditions for the past two years due to COVID-19. Restaurants that have survived the pandemic have adapted to operational changes and dealt with declining profits. Margins are still tight for many operators, who are looking to cut expenditures without sacrificing quality. One way to save significant money is to reduce food waste.

Many restaurants are overbuying, overprepping, and inadvertently practicing other wasteful behaviors. This is due, in large part, to the lack of accurate, comprehensive data. If operators don’t have accurate data about their inventory, historical patterns of which days/shifts are busiest, and information about the best (and worst) sellers on the menu, they are probably not planning, ordering, and prepping effectively. This leads to food waste, which can be quite costly.

The restaurant industry loses an astonishing $162 billion each year in food waste. In the U.S., restaurants generate a whopping 22 to 33 billion pounds of food waste each year.

At a time when every dollar counts, your restaurant should proactively work to reduce food waste and associated costs. Here are some effective ways restaurant operators can accomplish this:

Elevate your systems. If your restaurant is still using antiquated manual systems—or if you’re using disjointed tech stacks—you aren’t getting a full, accurate picture of your business. That means you’re not making data-based decisions, and you’re probably wasting considerable money. Digital systems—like POS and predictive ordering technology—can help you keep a better handle on your inventory and avoid unnecessary purchases. Digital tools allow you to look at data for a better understanding of food order patterns, individual dish sell rates, etc., so you can make smarter decisions. One substantial tech investment on the front end could end up saving your restaurant thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars in food waste.

Make waste reduction part of your culture. Train your staff to reduce waste, educating employees about how to properly use and store foods with waste reduction always top-of-mind. This includes training staff to adopt implemented systems to help cut costs and reduce waste. Promote a waste-not-want-not culture, training employees how to follow sustainable strategies every day, with every shift.

Use food more efficiently. Use every scrap of food to reduce waste. Excess greens can be reinvented as pesto. “Ugly” but still good tomatoes can turn into sauce or salsa. Chicken or meat bones and vegetable scraps make amazing homemade stocks and broths. Day-old bread is perfect for croutons or breadcrumbs. Transform leftovers, excess ingredients, and unattractive produce into exciting specials.

Store food properly. While it’s both standard practice and legally mandated, surprisingly, improper food storage accounts for a dramatic amount of food waste. Help team members develop habitual patterns of healthy food storage. There are a variety of ways to help reinforce these habits, both through training and tech solutions like Quality Management Systems.

Inspect all food deliveries. Carefully check each delivery before accepting it or you may be immediately throwing spoiled food (and money!) away. Buy produce in season for best quality and most cost-effective prices. Today’s tech tools allow you to track supplier certifications easily and accurately to be sure your suppliers are consistently practicing proper food safety and quality protocols. 

Practice good stock control. Organize your inventory so the oldest ingredients are up front so they’re the easiest to grab and the first to be used. Proper stock rotation will help minimize food spoilage and waste.

Stop overprepping. While you might be trying to get ahead, don’t prep too much fresh food or some might spoil before you can use it all. Use tech tools to analyze historical patterns and create better forecasts. As a result, you’ll be able to predict busy (or slower) shifts and prep foods accordingly.

Feed the hungry. A lot of the food we toss is perfectly edible. Donate unused but still good food to food banks and soup kitchens to reduce waste and feed the food insecure in your community. In virtually every city there are now organizations that will work with your restaurant to pick up safe, unused foods at the end of the evening. Also, consider giving food scraps to local farmers to feed to their livestock.

Recycle and compost. Food takes up more space in US landfills than anything else. Recycle what you can so your waste doesn’t end up in landfills. And compost your food scraps, like fruit and vegetable peelings, old bread, eggshells, and coffee grounds. Partner with local farms and gardens who will gladly accept your nutrient-rich compost.

Be more sustainable overall. Use reusable napkins rather than paper, eliminate straws, get rid of paper menus. Use silverware instead of plasticware. Encourage customers placing takeout orders to bring their own containers, offering a small discount to those who do. Think of different ways to reduce waste throughout your restaurant and you’ll save money and the environment.

Reducing food waste is easier than you might think with these proven strategies. 

Start with small changes to reduce food waste and expenses, and this will add up to a substantial difference over time.

Dallas Henderson, a 25-year veteran of the service industry, is an Account Manager at RizePoint. RizePoint is disrupting traditional market software with their innovative, new product platform Ignite Supplier Certification Management, which helps small to medium sized businesses simplify the supplier certification and maintenance process. To discuss RizePoint’s solutions, please contact Dallas at

Expert Takes, Feature, Sustainability