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5 Ways to Reduce Food Waste in Your Restaurant

Tiffany Walden, Writer

What is food waste? It’s food that is farmed and produced but never eaten. And restaurant food waste in Australia is a major problem. According to government studies, unused food in Australia (food waste produced by restaurants and other sectors) ends up in the bin, an annual waste of 7.3 million tonnes, or 300 kg per person. Across the globe, about 1.3 billion tonnes of food are wasted annually, and 40 percent of it comes from restaurants.

Considering the number of people who don’t have access to healthy food options, not understanding how to fix food waste is a shame. Think of how that food could benefit the number of people who go hungry each day because they live in a food desert or lack access to food completely. According to OzHarvest, almost 4 million people, one quarter of which are children, experience food insecurity each year.

Many restaurateurs and organisations around the world are seeking solutions for reducing food waste in restaurants and beyond. Here are some tips on how restaurant owners can use food waste solutions to help combat the issue.

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The reality of food waste at restaurants

Food waste hurts the environment in many different ways. For one, food waste threatens the whole food system. According to the IPCC, one big problem is the methane released by food that ends up in landfills, which is more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Water wastage to grow food that is never used equals 1,460 gigalitres each year. Additionally, some experts note that the amount of land used to grow wasted food is estimated to be the size of China. Food waste in Australia contributes to the global problem. In Melbourne alone, yearly food waste is responsible for 2.5 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

As for business owners, waste produced by restaurants hurts their bottom line. The scraps from guests’ plates have a monetary value. Essentially, owners lose money every time food scraps end up in the bin. It’s in their best interest to find ways to reduce food waste in restaurants because the reduction can save them money on the front end.

The cost behind restaurant food waste

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), food waste adds up to roughly US$700 billion in environmental costs and around US$900 billion in social costs. Each year, businesses in Australia waste about 40 percent of food. That accounts for AU$20 billion each year. The financial implications are yet another reason it’s so important to find food waste solutions.

How can restaurants reduce waste?

Think about the monetary value of your food: Food is much cheaper than it used to be. Because of this, restaurateurs can minimise the costliness of food waste. Experts suggest visiting a local farm or starting a garden to get a better feel for the farm-to-table process. Understanding what it takes to grow food could help restaurateurs see the value in the food that ends up in their kitchen.

Keep track of your food: A specialised restaurant POS system has inventory capabilities that can help restaurateurs learn how to calculate food waste in restaurants and keep count of the amount of food purchased, used, and thrown away. Additionally, systems with integrated online order management capabilities aid food waste efforts. Human error is bound to happen, and sometimes servers ring up wrong orders, resulting in wasted food. Square’s online order integration allows restaurants to automatically receive online orders straight into their point of sale, in real time. Restaurants are able to integrate food delivery service orders, so all orders appear in the restaurant POS.

Reduce the amount of fresh produce you buy: Large amounts of fresh produce are the quickest way to waste food. If fresh produce isn’t cooked or used quickly enough, it can rot and land in the bin. Think about ways to better purchase fresh produce and use it efficiently instead of stocking up on it. Also consider using wasted produce for compost. When it comes to restaurant food waste, composting helps reduce produce that creates greenhouse gases in landfills.

Donate leftovers: There’s a fear of donating food. Restaurateurs worry about being sued if someone gets sick or hurting their reputation if people don’t like how the food tastes. The Civil Liability Amendment (Food Donations) Act 2005, known as the Good Samaritan Act, limits the liability of restaurants that donate food that meet safety conditions. Find a local group to partner with and make sure your food gets to those who need it most.

Educate your staff: It’s one thing for owners to be concerned with reducing food waste in restaurants, but it’s ineffective if staffers are not on board with limiting the amount of food scraps that end up in the bin. Educate employees on the issues surrounding restaurant food waste and how it affects the restaurant individually.

Tiffany Walden is a contributor at Square where she covers everything from the importance of mentorship for minority entrepreneurs to how business owners can use technology to combat challenges within their respective industries.