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FOOD WASTE: Driving Down Restaurant Profits


The instrument panel from a 1924 Ford Model T Roadster only included an amp meter, no speedometer, no fuel, oil, or temperature gauges.

The instrument panel from a 1924 Ford Model T Roadster only included an amp meter, no fuel, oil, or temperature gauges.


Imagine driving a car with an instrument cluster, that only included an amp meter, a speedometer you could only read during the day, no odometer, no temperature or fuel gauge, no way of knowing how efficiently your vehicle was functioning. That was actually the case if you were one of the many proud owners of a Ford’s 1924 Model T Roadster. You knew it was effective because it got you from point A to point B -most of the time, but, then, so does a bicycle. The question is whether point B was the Texaco at 4th Street and Florida Avenue, you coasted into because you ran out of gas (Dipsticks don’t detect leaky gas tanks on the fly.), or the local Hot Shoppes drive-in restaurant, your preferred destination, just two miles away. Even the most experienced, turn-of-the-century motorist might be forgiven for such an oversight; after all he had no real-time way of measuring. Not so for the 21st- century restaurateur, newly minted or inveterate, who fails to measure, manage, and, ideally, minimize the insidious and oftentimes inscrutable drain on profits that undetected, unchecked food waste represents.

This post, the first i of two, is a trip down Pre-Consumer Lane, one of two food waste roadways running through and, ultimately, out of restaurants. It is a one-way road leading from your kitchen onto Dumpster Drive, where it merges with Post-Consumer Court, the other major restaurant food waste artery, before turning onto Landfill Place. Along the way, not only will we examine the behaviors and practices that feed traffic onto our theoretical thoroughfares, we will also suggest some strategies for stemming and/or redirecting the flow.

But first, to ascertain whether there is even a need to conduct a comprehensive food waste flow analysis, we recommend that your restaurant conduct a food waste audit. Who knows? It might be the case that the 33 lb/$1000 rule, suggested by a 2014 Food Waste Reduction Alliance (FWRA) study, does not apply to your operation.

Up to 10% of food restaurants purchase is neither sold nor consumed. Weigh To Go!!!

Notwithstanding the variety of great back office applications, designed to help restaurateurs manage inventory, labor etc., very few require or even suggest that you measure, the amount of food waste flowing through your kitchen. For many, food waste reduction is, at best, a hoped-for side effect. However, in order to get an accurate picture of the impact food waste is having on your bottom line, you must measure it. After all, to quote William Thompson, a.k.a. Lord Kelvin, “If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.” And for the purposes of this proposed food waste audit, to measure is to weigh; weighing is the way to go to determine, unequivocally, the extent to which food waste is driving up your prime costs and driving your profits down.

Chances are you already have everything you need to create a food waste weigh station, including:

  • A designated space.

  • A scale with, at least, a 50 lb load capacity and a platform large enough to accommodate a 50 lb capacity garbage bin.

  • Two, preferably see-through, food waste bins capable of holding at least 50 lb of food waste. Designate one bin for scrap and trim; tag the other for all other forms of pre-consumer food waste, including expired, spoiled, overproduced, burnt, dropped and/or contaminated food.

Use see-through bins for their visual impact. What is depicted here has clearly been collected from both food-waste streams.

Your weigh station is now sufficiently equipped to serve as a checkpoint to quantify –even inspect the flow of food waste moving along Pre-Consumer Lane. What remains is to assemble the right stakeholder team, armed with the necessary data collection tools.

Chronicling Is Critical

There are various schools of thought on how long a food audit should last, ranging from one day to a week. In those situations where both traffic and diner behaviors are relatively predictable, it is quite possible to get some useful data over a short period of time. On the other hand, in high volume shops we believe the audit should considerably longer. In fact, regardless of the size of your shop, we believe the audit should cover no fewer than 14 days. Two weeks should be sufficient to begin to notice not only how much food is being thrown away, but also the days on which the greatest amount of food waste is generated and by which shift. As well, research shows that it can take at least 14 days to form simple habits.

In either case, when possible, it is critical that the output of your audit is as much a narrative, as it is enumerative. In other words, a good data collection tool should do more than just record; it should, as much as possible, tell a story.

A typical food waste log will include entries for date, time, food item, the amount of and the reason for the waste. It is usually a static document, on a clipboard, hanging on a wall somewhere near the weigh station. Entries are handwritten. Again, such a log might be sufficient for small to medium size facilities. High-volume kitchens may require something more dynamic, a little less labor- intensive, something akin to the example below. Feel free to download a copy. Once you have chosen an appropriate data collection model, it is time to assemble the team tasked with actually doing the work.

Click the image above to download WasteNEGATIVE's Food Waste Log

Teaming Up To Measure Up Much like its interstate-highway counterpart, your weigh station is essentially an information processing system. As is the case with any such network, the output is only as good as the input. And the quality and reliability of the data entered in your food waste log is only as dependable as the person(s) responsible for making those entries. To that end, as it relates to staffing your weigh station on Pre-Consumer Lane, we have two hard and fast rules.

That said, all that remains is for you to fully commit to the process. Yes, it will require you and your staff to step outside of your comfort zones. And yes, it will slightly interrupt your work flow until some automaticity is achieved. However, if you are driven by the desire to operate your business as efficiently as possible, like a fine tuned automobile, might the discovery that food waste is not having a significant effect on your bottom line be worth enduring the temporary inconvenience?

If instead, the 33 lb/$1000 rule does apply to you, and if a study commissioned by Champions 12.3 is correct, then conducting a preliminary measuring food waste audit could very well be the first leg of a journey, the ultimate destination of which is a permanent address on Success Boulevard.

As previously stated, along the way, we will posting additional installments to this article. In the interim, feel to leave any questions, comments, and/or criticism below.



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