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We talked earlier this week about proper food inventory management. Expanding on that we are going to look at ways to reduce food waste to extract the most value out of the products you order.

Proper Inventory Management

If you haven’t read the article earlier this week on food inventory management systems, start there. If you aren’t able to track your waste, you won’t be able to improve it. That article will give you some tips on set locations, receiving in food from distributors, and rotating stock.

Order Proper Sizes

This one may seem obvious, but you should only

order what you are going to use. Many times restaurants will order in bulk because they save a couple of cents per pound. However, if you end up throwing away half of the box because it went bad, are you really saving? Do the math to determine which is more profitable.

Every Ingredient Should Have Multiple Uses

We will talk about this more in a later article, but make sure every item in your restaurant has multiple uses. By having avocado in two different entrees and as an ingredient in the guacamole for the nachos appetizer, you have a much greater chance to rotate the avocado stock than if it was just in one menu item. If you have an ingredient that only exists in one dish, what happens if no one orders that dish this week? You will likely have a lot of spoilage. Alternatively, what if 40 people order that dish the next week? You will likely run out of the menu item because you don’t have enough of that one ingredient in stock. By including your ingredients in multiple menu items you can help to normalize your stock levels and reduce waste.

Track Your Waste

Track your waste. Have a waste sheet that records every potentially usable item that was thrown in the trash. Was a tomato rotten? Was a burger overcooked? Did a chicken breast fall on the floor? All of these items should be recorded on a waste sheet. See the inventory management article for a little more information on implementing this.

Improve Prepping

Another way to reduce waste is through proper prepping. By being more meticulous in your prepping you can reduce the amount usable product that goes in the trash. If the top quarter and bottom quarter are hacked off of a green pepper you will have a lot more waste than if you only cut off the unusable parts like the stem and the very top and bottom. You may even be able to re-purpose the top and bottom parts, minus the stem, into a soup or salsa, further reducing your waste and increasing your total food yield.

Proper Training

Along the lines of proper prepping, make sure you are training your line cooks thoroughly. Ensure every cook is able to cook a steak to the proper doneness. Waste cost increases rapidly when you are throwing away full entrees because they were burnt, under-cooked, or soggy. Work on your timing to make sure food comes up together so that items aren’t returned cold.

Next, be sure that the product in the front line coolers gets properly rotated as well. It doesn’t do you any good to properly rotate in the walk-in cooler only to have a head of lettuce get stuffed into the back of the line cooler until it’s iced up and brown.

Food waste isn’t all on the back of the house though. Train your servers and bartenders to ring things in correctly and to double check their orders before sending them. Your cooks can cook everything correctly to eliminate their waste but if your server rang in the wrong item, it’s still wasted food.

Point-of-Sale Streamlining

To help your staff, streamline your point-of-sale system by putting everything in proper categories and having prompts to ensure all components are properly rang in.

Ensure that items print cleanly on the kitchen printer. Menu items should be separated well and modifiers should be clear and in a different color when possible. This allows your point-man in the kitchen to clearly read and call out the orders reducing mistakes.

Eliminating Pilferage and Theft

Finally, the dark side of food waste, pilferage and theft. Pilferage, if you are unaware is employee theft in small quantities, that is typically not viewed as theft. For instance, if an employee grabs a fry off a plate and eats it, that is technically theft (and a likely health code violation), but is typically not considered to be a big deal as, “it was just a fry.” However, this type of behavior needs to be eliminated when you see it. Sneaking a cup of soup, a dessert, or a couple fries may not seem like a big deal but these losses can add up quick and cut into your food cost.

For those that say, “Well there was like 3 fries left in the bowl, I didn’t steal it off a plate.” Ask you kitchen staff why they aren’t sticking to proper portion control. If portions are properly adhered to, you shouldn’t have extras sitting in a bowl.

Then, there is the more serious, theft; When employees flat out take items from your restaurant. They may cook a meal for themselves free-of-charge, without ringing it in, when they aren’t supposed to. Or they could take a case of hamburgers and put them in their truck. Finally employees may be taking home two leftover pork chops from the Saturday night feature because, “We weren’t going to run the feature with just two, so I thought it was good to take them home instead of letting them go to waste.” This is theft and severely affects your waste losses. Re-purpose as much as you can into other entrees.

With proper inventory management you can help ensure that you notice any theft that does occur. Also, if employees notice you doing consistent inventory, they will know you are watching and we’ll be less likely to try anything.

Reducing Food Waste

Using the suggestions of above, you can significantly reduce your food waste. It takes time, training, and effort, but you’ll see dividends on the back end with less food that you need to order and less spoilage going into the trash.