Perhaps the easiest and quickest place to cut costs in any foodservice operation is at the garbage bin. The food waste in that bin represents inefficiency, plain and simple. There is nowhere else where as many opportunities for improvement present themselves so dramatically.
Food waste reduction offers this tremendous leverage because operators pay for each waste item four times:
• on the invoice for food purchases;
• in labor costs to prepare items;
• for energy & water consumption during prep and clean-up;
• and in hauling and disposal costs.
While it makes sense to target all food waste, operators will find they have the greatest ability to directly influence pre-consumer food waste rather than post-consumer food waste. The former consists mostly of overproduction, spoilage, expiration and trim waste. The latter requires changes to the customer experience and relies on customer cooperation, things which are harder to control.
Seven Key Steps
Here are seven important steps to cutting pre-consumer food waste:
Learn the EPA Food Waste Hierarchy. There are many competing food waste management tools and methods and it’s often confusing for operators to know where to start. Fortunately, the EPA has created a simple Food Waste Recovery Hierarchy diagram which clarifies the order of priority (www.epa.gov/foodscraps).
Source reduction ranks as the highest priority because it means preventing and minimizing food waste before it ever occurs. By engineering your operation to avoid waste altogether, you maximize the financial savings and get the greatest environmental benefit. Every other strategy delivers much less value. The key to cutting waste is to focus on prevention first. Train your team on the food waste hierarchy to help them understand what matters most.
Create a Waste Preventing Culture. I'd love to share a specific list of "to-do’s" that would reduce pre-consumer food waste automatically, overnight, for every operation. Unfortunately, that is not possible. Every facility has different menus, customers, and expectations and each requires a custom approach.
However, there is one universal approach: treat the problem as a cultural challenge rather than a checklist or a forecasting problem/solution. Even if you had the most complete checklist or accurate forecast, food waste would still occur. That's because no team executes with robotic precision and customer demand is never totally predictable.
Instead, recognize that each person interjects some measure of personal experience, work ethic, prioritization and judgment to execute in a manner that makes personal sense. To be effective, a food waste reduction program requires that every member of a team think about food waste every day, in the same way we need them to think about sanitation, safety, customer service and quality.
Cover food waste topics in every employee communication, starting with new employee orientation and continuing in staff meetings, on communication boards, and with employee recognition. If you focus on the topic, so will your team.
Positivity, tracking and setting goals
Keep It Positive. Want to see a shockwave of anxiety advance through the kitchen? Try walking over to the waste bin, pull out a healthy head of lettuce, and ask loudly “who threw this away?” Actions like that, whether by you or a supervisor, only create a negative, fearful environment and encourage staff to hide the waste that inevitably occurs.
Instead, train staff to recognize that all large and complex operations have some measure of food waste. There’s no reason to assign individual blame when the system itself is often at fault.
Get everyone—managers, supervisors, chefs—to agree not to penalize others for identifying waste, even if that person created it. Instead, create a blame-free, “continuous improvement" mindset in which every team member receives positive feedback for spotting waste and suggesting positive ways to avoid it next time. Food waste may be “bad," but staff engagement with food waste is unequivocally “good.”
Track Food Waste Data Every Day. We all know “we manage what we measure” and that the things we measure improve. Operations collect information about customer satisfaction, sales, purchases, food temperatures, cash balances and numerous other metrics, yet most don’t have a regular metric for pre-consumer food waste.
They may have information from an occasional food waste audit, but lack detailed information about specific waste items, reasons, sources, dates, trends, and values.
When we consider food represents one of the top two cost areas an operation, there’s a clear need for daily metrics. Without them, reducing food waste remains a totally untended goal. To address this gap and get the information you need to make changes, start measuring all pre-consumer food waste daily. This discipline has roots in process improvement models such as Lean and Six Sigma.
Beyond simply generating useful information, the data collection process reinforces efforts to create a “food waste-aware” culture. Make a hard and fast rule: no pre-consumer food enters a waste bin without being recorded. You can use a paper-based system or bring in an automated food waste tracking system (which improves speed, accuracy, reporting ease and consistency); but do it, one way or another.
Set Goals for Food Waste Reduction. If you don’t know where you’re heading, it’s unlikely you will get there. Once you have access to detailed, daily food waste data, break things down into specific goals for improvement. Communicate these objectives to all staff members and share news regularly about progress.
Realize your program is "forever." Food waste cannot be fixed in one stroke nor can you expect to maintain gains without continuing effort. Food waste solutions aren’t difficult to develop; the hard task is making sure those solutions get implemented every day despite emergencies, changing priorities, and staff turnover.
By tracking food waste daily and monitoring your performance against your goals, you will ensure that food waste never slips out of sight.
Andrew Shakman is co-founder and President of LeanPath, a foodservice technology firm that provides food waste tracking systems and advice to operators. The company offers more tips for reducing waste and "re-imagining" leftover food at www.leanpath.com.