Food waste is a significant issue faced by the restaurant industry, leading to financial losses and environmental impact. By understanding how to calculate and reduce food waste, restaurant owners can improve their profitability and sustainability. In this article, we will explore effective strategies for measuring and managing food waste in restaurants.

The Impact of Food Waste in Restaurants

Food waste represents a substantial portion of the overall waste generated by the hospitality sector. In some cases, it accounts for over 50% of the waste produced by certain kitchens[^3^]. This inefficiency not only leads to economic losses but also contributes to environmental problems. Globally, food waste can cost up to about one trillion dollars annually. As the restaurant industry continues to grow, it becomes increasingly important to address the issue of food waste.

Understanding the Sources of Food Waste

Food waste in restaurants can originate from various sources. By identifying these sources, restaurant owners can implement targeted strategies to reduce waste. Here are the primary contributors to food waste in restaurants:

1. Food Spoilage

Food spoilage occurs when ingredients remain on the shelves past their expiration date. This can happen due to equipment malfunction, improper storage, over-supply, or the use of poor-quality ingredients. Proper inventory management and regular checks for product expiration dates can help minimize food spoilage.

2. Customer Plates

Portion sizes have increased over the years, resulting in a significant amount of unfinished meals left by customers. On average, restaurant customers in the US leave 17% of their meals unfinished. Addressing portion sizes and providing options for customers to customize their meals can help reduce plate waste.

3. Food Preparation

The majority of food waste in restaurants occurs during the preparation process. Inefficient chopping techniques, over-preparation of food, lack of proper kitchen tools, and sending out the wrong orders contribute to this waste. Proper training of kitchen staff and effective communication can minimize food waste during preparation.

Calculating Food Waste in Restaurants

Accurate measurement of food waste is crucial for understanding the extent of the problem and identifying areas for improvement. Here’s a step-by-step process for calculating food waste in restaurants:

1. Designate a Trial Period

Start by selecting a specific trial period, such as one month, to monitor food waste. This timeframe will provide an accurate snapshot of your restaurant’s food waste patterns.

2. Separate Food Waste Sources

To calculate the origin of your food waste, designate separate garbage bins for each waste source: food spoilage, customer plates, and food preparation. Instruct your employees to dispose of waste accordingly throughout the shift.

3. Weigh the Bins

At the end of each shift, weigh the bins containing food waste using an industrial scale. Record the weights in a spreadsheet or inventory management platform.

4. Compare Results with Inventory

Compare the food waste totals with your inventory and sales numbers to assess the impact on your bottom line. The average food waste in the restaurant industry ranges from 4-10% of purchased inventory. Aim to keep your waste percentage at or below 4% for optimal profitability.

5. Regular Audits

Conduct regular food waste audits throughout the year to track progress and identify any changes in waste patterns. This will help you maintain a proactive approach to waste reduction.

Engaging Employees in Food Waste Reduction

To effectively reduce food waste, it is essential to engage and educate your employees about the importance of waste reduction and their role in the process. Here are some ways to involve your staff in food waste reduction efforts:

By involving your employees in the food waste reduction process, you create a culture of sustainability and empower them to make a positive impact.

Strategies to Minimize Food Waste

Reducing food waste requires a combination of proactive measures and ongoing monitoring. Here are some effective strategies to minimize food waste in restaurants:

1. Implement Portion Control

One of the main causes of food waste in restaurants is over-preparing or over-serving food. Implement portion control measures to ensure that you only make and serve the exact amount of food needed. This helps to prevent plate waste and reduces overall food waste.

2. Use Leftovers Creatively

Instead of discarding leftovers, find creative ways to repurpose them in new dishes or offer them as specials. This reduces waste and allows you to utilize excess food effectively.

3. Track Inventory

Utilize inventory management software to track food inventory, including expiration dates and usage patterns. This helps you optimize purchasing decisions, minimize overstocking, and prevent food from going to waste.

4. Collaborate with Suppliers

Work closely with suppliers to ensure that you order the right quantities of ingredients. Adjust delivery schedules and minimum order quantities to minimize the risk of excess food waste.

5. Donate Surplus Food

Rather than throwing away surplus food, consider donating it to local food banks or shelters. This not only reduces waste but also contributes to the community and demonstrates social responsibility.

Implementing these strategies will not only reduce your restaurant’s food waste but also improve profitability and sustainability.


Food waste is a pressing issue in the restaurant industry, but with proactive measures and employee engagement, it can be effectively managed and reduced. By calculating and monitoring food waste, implementing strategies to minimize waste, and involving your employees in the process, you can make significant progress toward a more sustainable and profitable restaurant. Take action today to reduce food waste and create a positive impact on your business and the environment.

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