Datassential estimates food waste accounts for 4%–13% of total food costs. These tips will help create a more sustainable off-premise dining program, eliminate waste, and protect your bottom line.

Not only is food waste a pressing environmental crisis, it’s also an area of huge financial loss for restaurant operators. With off-premise dining in the form of catering, delivery, and takeout representing a big chunk of the pie, it’s important to look at strategies for reducing waste and becoming more sustainable to improve your restaurant’s impact and the bottom line in these areas.

Create a Plan

The first step toward improving sustainability is to create a food waste plan. Perform a critical analysis of your operation to identify opportunities for waste reduction, and create practical, trainable solutions that you can implement immediately. Your food waste plan should address inventory, ordering/receiving, recipe standardization, and employee communication. It should encompass both on-site and off-premise dining, with equal attention for both. You may also find it helpful to create logs for food waste so that you can see exactly where your gaps are.

Recyclable and Compostable Packaging

Help your guests be part of your push toward sustainability by using recyclable and compostable materials for takeout packaging. Make sure you provide signage and resources so that guests understand what type of materials they have and how to dispose of them properly. A compostable takeout box in a landfill is just as much of a problem as a non-compostable one, so provide clear instructions for guests to dispose of their packaging the right way.

Use a Request-Based Model

For years, it’s been standard practice to include things like packaged plastic forks and napkins, ketchup, and straws in every order. This is extremely wasteful, as many guests will never use these extra items, and they end up going right into the trash. Instead, create verbiage on your menu that explains that these things will be available upon request and may include an additional fee (which helps cover your costs and creates a sense of value that may lead to customers using those items instead of wasting them).

Reusable Container Program

Creating a reusable container program can be a great way to reduce packaging waste. Think of it like a refillable growler from a brewery. The customer pays a deposit for reusable containers from your restaurant and uses them for their orders, increasing sustainability on every order. Customers then return the containers to receive their deposit back. This is an innovation that’s gaining traction all over the world with the aim to streamline the process for restaurants and guests.

Cater Smarter

Catering can be one of the biggest sources of food waste in your entire operation, so make sure you include catering in your overall plan. One strategy, especially if you are using a buffet for catering, is to use shallow steam pans, smaller serving tools, and pre-portioned items to make sure the food that goes out gets consumed without excessive waste.

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