Restaurants get a lot of flack for food waste and sometimes that waste is the result of over-buying, over-producing and even over-serving. However, a great deal of restaurant waste is also the result of customers over-ordering! Unless the customer takes it home, all of that extra food goes in the trash.
The fact is, most restaurants work hard to reduce the amount of waste their kitchens produce. They are a business after all, and throwing food out is like throwing away cash. You’ll also find that many great chefs have a deep respect for food and the work that goes into producing it.
Of course you’ll find exceptions where waste is common and no one seems concerned about it, but good commercial kitchens tend to be very much on top of food waste. And there’s a lot we can learn from them about reducing food waste in our homes, too!
Here are 5 lessons we can learn from low-waste restaurant kitchens:
You may have a good idea of how food is being wasted in your home, but a log can reveal some surprising sources - and show you exactly where to focus your efforts!
This is often the first step a restaurant takes when they know they have a waste problem. It’s a little tedious, but if you can stick with it for a full week, you should get some really good insights.
Write down everything that gets thrown out and why. Common reasons include: leftovers not getting eaten, over-buying or buying without a clear plan, over-serving at meal times, etc. The reason is important, but so is the type of food so that you know what you have too much of.
After the week is up, you’ll have a good idea of your greatest sources of waste and it’ll be easier to make a plan to change that.
Restaurants generally don’t buy food without a plan for it. They have a clear menu that serves as the basis of their ordering.
Additionally, in restaurants with changing menus, they incorporate what they have on hand into the upcoming menu. If they served chicken one week and have leftovers, they may have chicken soup, chicken tacos or chicken salad on the following week’s menu.
Meal planning ensures you only buy what you need, but also pushes you to use up what you have on hand so that as little as possible is wasted.
Over-serving is a big problem in restaurants for a number of reasons. One of those is waste. When restaurants want to reduce portion sizes without customers thinking they’re being cheated, they sometimes start using smaller dishes! Usually, they do this after keeping a waste log to find out not only what’s being thrown out, but also how much food people are actually eating. Why serve more than that?
We’re not suggesting you throw out your dishes, but maybe try using your salad plates or other smaller dish instead of large dinner plates. It will keep you from over-serving at home and you can always go back for seconds if you find it isn’t enough.
Every day, move the items from the back of the fridge towards the front. Unused leftovers and forgotten produce can be some of the biggest sources of food waste both in restaurant kitchens and at home.
By regularly moving older items to the front, they’re more likely to get used up before they go bad. When they get shoved to the back, they get forgotten, go bad and… let’s face it… who among us hasn’t thrown out an entire container because we were afraid to unleash the science experiment growing inside? Your fridge is not a lab. Keep it experiment-free!
Good restaurants get the whole staff on board to help reduce food waste. Whether it’s being aware of portion sizes, proper storage or even coming up with great ideas, everyone involved in a commercial kitchen has a role to play.
And it’s the same for your “staff”. Whether you live with family or roommates, get the whole team up to speed on what you’re trying to accomplish. If you don’t think they’d want to be involved, try approaching it in a way that’s asking them for ideas and support instead of assigning a chore. The more people involved, the better!
BONUS! Embrace the doggy bag
This is one that a lot of restaurants don’t do, but really should get on board with. Once food has been served to a customer, it obviously can’t be served again or repurposed. So, into the trash it goes. Encouraging people to take their leftovers home can help reduce a lot of waste.
No matter how well you plan, leftovers happen. Embrace them! Take them for lunch or have them again for dinner within the next 3-4 days.
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