8 Tips for Using Technology to Curb Food Waste

Jeffrey StoneWritten by Jeff Stone, CEO of Compeat for Hospitality Technology

Restaurant food waste has been an increasingly hot topic due to global sustainability concerns. Food waste may take the form of spoiled inventory, nonadherence to recipes, trim waste, overproduction and more. But with the growing day-to-day complexities of running a restaurant, who wants to think about what’s going into our trash?

I believe that the key to reducing food waste lies in prevention.  To determine areas where waste can be reduced, it is critical to track every food product – you can’t fix what you can’t see. Similarly, you can’t waste food that was never ordered, prepped, or served in the first place. Fortunately, we can use technology to guide us through alleviating the issue of food waste.  Below are ways we can make the intelligent decisions that are the key to operators preventing waste based on your inventory, ordering, and prepping data.

Tracking inventory. Inventory control is extremely important when you are trying to avoid waste.  Knowing your inventory and understanding how it moves will greatly reduce spoilage, yet many operators find the inventory control process so time consuming that they continue to take risks by simply avoiding it.  Tracking inventory does not have to be an overwhelming task, however.  There are software options available that can track inventory in real-time down to how many ounces of ketchup are left in every one of your locations so you only order what you need, when you need it.

Ordering Smarter.  Using sales history, you will be able to pinpoint how much product you will need for any given shift.  Smart software solutions will even account for special events in the area and weather forecasts. Looking into software with suggested ordering will make this process even easier by eliminating the guess work.

Viewing inventory across multiple locations.  Multi-unit operators with restaurants in close proximity can greatly reduce spoilage by moving product between stores.  Be sure to invest in software that allows you to view inventory across multiple locations so that you can avoid the daunting and time-consuming task of calling each location and having them all check their inventory.

End the over-prepping.  At some point, over prepping is unavoidable. However, if the waste journal reveals that a gallon of fresh salsa is being thrown out every two days, then there is a definite forecasting problem. Many operators would rather have too much than not enough, however, a prep production software helps to guide restaurants to prep based on shelf life – this helps restaurants save time from prepping every day and reduces associated waste.

Right-sizing portions.  Post-consumer waste refers to the leftovers customers leave on their plates and can be greatly reduced by monitoring portions.  Look into recipe software that allows you to use menu engineering to ensure both consistent food quality and comprehensive cost management throughout your entire operation. Make sure that your employees follow the prep sheets and par levels in the kitchen and that they are using a scale every time they prep and portion. Your customer satisfaction will also skyrocket because customers expect consistency when it comes to their favorite dishes.

Be sure you’re tracking waste. Waste should be tracked, at the very least, in the manager log.  For even more accurate waste tracking, find a software that includes a waste transaction screen to allow users to enter waste of either inventory or recipes items.  These transactions are reflected in the Count Variance report, which gives operators visibility into problem areas that need addressing.

Reduce Waste. Studying your historic usage gives you the visibility needed to order only what you will use in between deliveries.  If you are receiving a quantity-based discount, then talk to your vendor about storing the product in their space and only delivering it as needed because they will rotate out the supply with other customers to ensure fresh deliveries.  Once the order is received, reduce the amount of spoilage in your restaurant by using the first-in/first-out method. It may take a little longer to unload shipments but moving the older stock to the front of the shelves and putting the new stock behind it will ensure that you are not wasting product. Also, be sure to mandate date labeling on all perishable products to help with storage and rotation.

Multi-purpose product. Study your PMix report for items that are not big sellers but quick to spoil and use them in other recipes. If you only use cherry tomatoes in the house salad recipe, consider changing the recipe to take them out or finding new ways to use them before they go bad such as adding a pasta special. Days on Hand (DOH) reports can also let you quickly identify items that have been in inventory too long and need to move quickly. If you ordered a large amount of ground beef because it was popular at this time last year, but current sales aren’t meeting expectations, you can have a Taco Tuesday special to use the meat before it goes bad.

Food waste is one of the largest areas of potential cost savings in a restaurant. All this data is most likely hiding in broad daylight right in your POS system and Business Intelligence reports just waiting to be turned into something actionable. While investing in technology to reduce waste may find itself at the bottom of your list of concerns, remember that conquering the food waste issue is not only good for the planet, it also greatly benefits your bottom line.

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