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Re:Menu- Managing Restaurant Food Waste

When it comes to reducing food waste in the professional kitchen there are some tried and true methods for achieving optimal results. In this case, not only are the results reduction of overall waste, but better yet; increased revenue! More on that later.

Let's break this down into what I call the "Food Waste Reduction Timeline".


- Use Cycle menus when possible

Cycle menus are reoccurring menus on fixed timelines. 2, 3 or 4 week rotations. Simple right? That way you know you'll use up inventory before spoilage and you can use how the menu did last time to solve waste issues.

Menu cycles will ensure the ingredients for the week/month sync up with each other. Focus on the best seasonal ingredients for that timeframe for freshness.

Here's an example: Fresh tomatoes daily: salsas, bruschetta, roasted at entrée station etc.

Order on what's on menu and needed

-Eliminate all standing orders for food. All food orders should be reviewed daily to ensure appropriate adjustments.

-Make one large order and one “supplemental” order per week.

-Establish the minimum or maximum of food that needs to be maintained between deliveries based on the menu. Consider building in population fluctuation for weather and holidays.

- Before placing an order, inventory walk-ins and storerooms for items already on hand. (Do not guess- I know silly but you'd be surprised how much it happens)

-Keep a good, detailed and accurate inventory. Food on hand should not exceed it's shelf life.

-Remember to inventory "Food in Process": it's not just about what's in the store room and cold holding. (fridge freezer) Look at what's being prepped for the day, and set up in the kitchen (on station)

-Utilize everything for the day and put product back into menu (lunch/dinner specials). Chef should create a list of things that can be produced from leftover product.


Develop Recording tools

- Update and utilize production tools. Some examples are production records (what you produced for each meal), shopping lists (ingredients you purchased to create the menu), waste logs (what you produced, but didn't use) and use all of these to generate forecasts for future production(the balance between the tools mentioned, and how much was actually used).

-Be aware of changing prices, and react

- Make substitutes to the menu when item prices are high and manage prep waste


-Use prep sheets and recipes for all menu items.

-Centralize production- have one associate cut all of the produce needed for that day based on production needs.

-Training is very important for minimizing waste. Poor knife skills cause cutting too much off when trimming the top/stem/root of produce

-Set up staff trainings- peeling fruit/cutting vegetables and proper labeling of food. (may seem like basic stuff, but you never know, until you know)

-Train associates of the “Anatomy of a Vegetable” to understand usable portions versus potentially hazardous Example: Tomato stems, and leaves are toxic! Beet stems and leaves, are delicious!

Adjust menu as necessary to use up product. Tip: Keep a running “use first” or shrink list and create daily featured items using these ingredients

During service

- Ensure every station is recording waste.

- Make sure appropriate portion sizes are sold

- Promote batch cooking- especially with main course / hot food production. Items cooked in batches during service allow adjustments to be made to the volume cooked and any excess can be kept in refrigeration for other use.

- Cross utilize ingredients in menus and alter menus to use excess/unused product.

- Use par sheets to track surplus product.

- Keep it Cool-Pre and post service chill process

Extends shelf life (salad bar, deli), allows surplus production to be safely returned to inventory.


-Take note of high selling items

- Adjust forecasting for future menus based on what sold and what didn’t in the café.

- Remove slow selling items.

- Seasonally adjust menus to meet customer expectations.

- Share findings with your team. Ask for insights

- Look for stations that are consistently creating high volumes of waste. » Ask why?

- Engage ALL staff into working with food waste including the dishwasher and wait staff.

- Look at week over week results and see if there are patterns.


As I mentioned before, all of this food waste reduction does something spectacular to your bottom line- as you spend less and use more; your bottom line becomes healthier! If that's not a win, win- I'm not sure what is?


- Aim for 15% waste reduction year over year.


-Look to food donation once addressing all other areas of waste (over production, production and out of date/inventory levels).

For more tips on reducing food waste, at home in your restaurant and in your cooking check out my other blog posts, and join the fight to #stopfoodwaste

Chef Chris Aquilino

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