At Denver-based chain Snooze, food waste reduction is a multipronged effort. There is only one trash bin in each kitchen with multiple compost bins posted at each workstation. A quinoa bowl on the menu uses a ham broth that’s actually a byproduct of roasting pork overnight. Similarly, chefs use the remnants after they’ve cut away perfect circles for chilaquiles, which are served up to employees at one of the company’s regular family meals for staff.
These efforts largely began as ways for the breakfast and lunch concept to be better stewards of the planet. But they deliver another, more immediate benefit. “Those are actually things that are direct cost savings as well,” says Megan Jorgensen, the company’s sustainability director. “Yes, this is doing right by the planet, but it’s also better for the bottom line. … It all goes hand in hand.”
Of course, there are exceptions. In some markets, particularly outside of its West Coast stores, composting and recycling can prove pricey. But Snooze has learned that even small changes can have a large impact—both on the bottom line and the environment.
The chain implemented a sophisticated accounting system that closely monitors expected food costs versus the actual costs. Before using that software, kitchen crews regularly produced 6-pound batches of hollandaise sauce. But now, they make smaller, 2- to 4-pound batches to keep waste down. The simple change quickly added up for Snooze, which uses 15,000 pounds of butter a month.
“Our actual versus theoretical [costs] dropped 2 percent,” says Jon Schwartz, chef and regional operator at Snooze. “Just looking at butter—2 percent of 15,000 pounds a month—that adds up quickly.”
While vendors have rolled out a plethora of new sustainably minded solutions in recent years, restaurants can oftentimes implement simple, yet meaningful changes to curb food waste on their own, says Laura Abshire, director of food and sustainability policy at the National Restaurant Association.
The first and simplest step seems almost too good to be true: By simply tracking food waste, operators can often save 2–6 percent on their food costs, Abshire says. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Food Recovery Hierarchy prioritizes those actions that reduce the amount of food waste generated over other steps like diverting waste to compost or animal feed.
“We want to start with reducing the waste in the first place because that will help them reduce costs,” Abshire says. “It’s such a win-win for restaurants to save money on food waste.”
Food waste has become a higher priority for restaurants in recent years, thanks in part to legislation in some states that requires restaurants and grocers to divert food waste from landfills.
Abshire suggests operators start with a straightforward—and free—food waste audit and then look at things like composting or donating leftovers. Independent operators can also lean on their freedom to either tweak menus according to surpluses or implement practices such as nose-to-tail cooking that discourage waste.
Beyond trimming waste from the books, restaurants can also count on support from customers, who are increasingly interested in operators’ sustainability efforts.
“Honestly, consumers are demanding it,” Abshire says. “Consumers want to frequent restaurants that align with their values.”
When pitching his GoMkt app to New York City restaurateurs, founder Matthew Holtzman used economics as a basic argument. GoMkt allows retailers and restaurants to market surplus foods to nearby users, either through flash sales or recurring offers. The company takes a fee from app-driven sales.
“We say to those folks, OK, you’re offering this discount already,” Holtzman says. “Offer the same discount on our app, and we’ll drive traffic to your store … at no cost to you because all of that’s found money.”
He’s also working on a way to connect leftover product with food banks. While increased sales are a strong motivator, Holtzman says most operators sign on for moral reasons.
“The sustainability argument is the stronger one; it’s the one people are more interested in, and the economics comes second,” he says. “They want to reduce food waste.”