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8 Steps Closer to Zero Waste in Restaurants

January 27, 2020

Original content c/o: National Restaurant Association

Environmental concerns are top-of-mind for the more than 600 American Culinary Federation chefs surveyed for the What’s Hot 2020 culinary forecast.

The desire to source eco-friendly packaging crowned the overall trends list and getting closer to zero waste ranked high as well in the National Restaurant Association’s What’s Hot 2020 annual culinary forecast. Zero waste is tough in any restaurant, but there are plenty of ways to make operations more eco-friendly.

  1. Environmentally savvy operators measure what they throw out. Before leftover and expired food and trimmings go into the garbage, set up a means to divert it to be measured. By tracking what and how much you’re throwing away, you get a sense of what you’re over-ordering or over-producing and what’s not selling. Use this info to scale back your orders and adjust your menu accordingly.
  2. Are you regularly scraping food from diners’ plates? How large are the leftover portions you’re packaging to go? Your portions could be off. Consider reducing serving sizes. Think about serving meals on smaller-sized plates that make a smaller portion look larger.
  3. Clean and organize your walk-in coolers to reduce waste. See-through containers and labels are key – they show you what’s stored and how long it’s good. Labeling makes it easy to use food on a first-in, first-out schedule, reducing spoilage. If you can see what you’ve got, you can find ways to use it.
  4. Leftover baked goods such as breads, pastries and pies also make great ingredients for stuffings and bread puddings. Some restaurants, unhappy about tossing uneaten “table” bread, have started charging a small fee on the menu for bread. If a customer complains, servers are empowered to bring them bread for free.
  5. Look for local craftspeople who build furniture from repurposed lumber and other materials or tap into the free-stuff apps and other social media platforms to find décor and furniture. Not only will you be recycling these materials, your restaurant will look like no other.
  6. If you brew your own beer, you generate spent grains. As long as they aren’t mixed with hops, these remains make tasty dog treats. Hand them out to pet-owning customers or donate them to local shelters, kennels, groomers and other dog-friendly businesses.
  7. Offering a salad bar with a gazillion things to choose from may look amazing, but how many of those choices are you mostly throwing away? Consider scaling back your offerings to those that move the most. Toward the end of a meal period, switch out deep pans for more shallow pans to keep them looking full.
  8. Use trimmings from vegetables, fruits and proteins in stocks, sauces, pesto and purées. Some chefs roast these scraps, dry and grind them into powder to add unique flavor to menu items and condiments, as well.