Restaurants in the United States generate between twenty and thirty billion pounds of food waste every year. This is on top of the plastic, paper, and other waste that they generate like any other business. The average restaurant produces around a hundred thousand pounds of garbage every year. And this waste has a massive impact on everything from the environment to your bottom line. Here are 6 things restaurant owners can do to be more environmentally conscious and minimize their environmental impact.
Minimize Food Waste
Depending on the restaurant, anywhere from four to ten percent of the food they produce is wasted before it reaches the consumer, while all the food left on the plate at the end of the meal is wasted, as well. Why is reducing food waste environmentally conscious? You aren’t contributing to the production, transport, storage and processing of food that is never consumed. And you have less food waste to dispose of. A good starting place is a study of what gets thrown away. If people are tossing thirty percent of their fries or chips, reduce the serving size to what people are actually eating. Lower the price so that customers don’t feel ripped off, and those who want more can easily order a second serving.
One potential solution is streamlining your menu. Get rid of items that are rarely ordered. This simplifies your supply chain, and more importantly, you reduce the risk that you have to throw out half of that item in stock because it didn’t sell.
Another option is shifting to an inventory pull system instead of an inventory push system. Make items when they are ordered rather than making them in the hope that they’ll be purchased. If you make a dozen tuna sandwiches that don’t sell, your only option is to dispose of them. If you don’t make the food until it is ordered, then the bread and other ingredients can remain sealed and safe for future use. You may need to take people’s orders earlier in the drive through or via apps to ensure that you don’t increase customer wait time in the effort to reduce food waste.
Encourage Recycling by Your Customers
Your restaurant can start by encouraging customers to recycle. Buy serving utensils made from recycled materials, and label them as recyclable. Where possible, educate them about how to recycle their takeout boxes and disposable items. Ensure that the plastic takeaway boxes and cups are marked with the number or material identifying which bin to put it in.
Recycle What You Can
Provide recycling locations for the plastic containers along with anything else your customers bring with them. This reduces the amount of waste from restaurants that go into the trash. You could go one step farther by collecting food waste that is composted rather than simply disposed of.
It is easy to say that you’re going to recycle oily paper food wrappers, though paper recyclers cannot accept this type of mixed material. However, you can recycle your used cooking oil. Whether you’re frying chicken or French fries, the cooking oil can be collected. It can be turned into biodiesel and used in flex-fuel vehicles. Some organizations collect the cooking oil and add it to animal feed, increasing its protein content without adding potentially disease laden animal protein.
Note that recycling can apply to unused items. Ask people to put unused single serve condiments in a collection basket as they return their tray. You can reuse single serve utensils if they’re still in the plastic, though used ones clearly can only be melted down or composted.
Set Up Systems to Donate What You Can’t Use
Food waste may still be edible, and there are many hungry people in the world. Consider setting up formal processes for disposing of food at the end of the day in socially and ecologically responsible ways. For example, day old donuts would be appreciated by those at the homeless shelter. Week old bread could be donated to homeless shelters or food banks. If you no longer offer an item on your menu, have a plan in place to donate the remaining inventory to charity where possible. While meat that sat in the freezer for a month may not be salvageable, there’s no point in throwing away the cans of olive or jars of relish.
Minimize Material Use
A lot of restaurant waste is inadvertent. You give customers three napkins. They use two and throw away all three. One solution is giving them one napkin along with the serving utensils and providing the option to take more from a self-serve dispenser if they need it.
You might need to streamline the standard set of items you give people when served. For example, what percentage of your customers actually use the knife in the plastic silverware set you give them? How many of the salt and pepper packets in the single serve packs are thrown away?
You may need to assess your cleaning methods, too. Public safety and government regulations must be met. However, you might be able to use fewer cleaning wipes and paper towels in the process of cleaning tables, work surfaces and bathrooms.
Every restaurant should have a core menu that is offered year-round. Additional menu items may be added to attract new customers or keep current customers from getting bored with the menu. Don’t add new menu items because they’re popular like the chipotle pepper and honey mustard fads. Try adding seasonal foods to the menu. For example, you can create smoothies or desserts based on seasonal fruits. Now you have a core item like smoothies or desserts, but one of the major ingredients is constantly changing. It may be peaches in July, apples in September, and pumpkins in October.
This approach has several benefits. One is that there is less complexity in your supply chain, since the food prep and most of the ingredients in the seasonal item are unchanged. Another benefit is that you’re encouraging use of a seasonal food. Buying fruit when it is out-of-season is more expensive, especially if is imported from the other side of the world. And while pumpkin flavored items may be popular during the late fall, you won’t end up with a large unsold inventory of artificially flavored items in December because the menu relies on fresh produce.
The average restaurant is running on a one to five percent profit margin. If you can reduce the amount of wasted food, materials and labor, you’ll increase the profitability of your business without hurting customer service. And you’ll be helping the planet, too.