Slice Food Waste

Food cost for restaurants is typically 30 to 34 percent, and the key variable here is waste. Several factors make the difference, from ordering and inventory tracking to portion control and effective storage. Can you spot ways to improve? Even small adjustments will help subtract from the whopping $31 billion wasted in Canada each year—9 percent of that by restaurants and hotels—while benefiting your own bottom line.

On Track

Ideally, you’d take delivery of the products and quantities that you then sell out—no more and no less. Impossible, true, but there’s plenty you can do to be more exact. The first step is to track: what you buy and when, what’s currently on your shelves and in your coolers and freezers, and what you throw out. Keep tabs on it all. Special containers with your own “received by” dates assist you in practicing FIFO—first in, first out. Or, make sure storage is organized to put “use soon” items right up front. Many experts suggest taking inventory at least bimonthly, always at the beginning or end of a day. Note: It’s easy to create checklists when your menu stays fairly consistent.

Order Down

When you are constantly aware of the items you need to use up and those that spoil before you get to them, you can adjust your ordering quantities. You may also want to request particular types of products, such as medium-sized carrots, to help with recipe consistency and portion control. Switching to canned or frozen items could be helpful as well. Precut, prebreaded and precooked options may save you money and waste in the end. Ask your rep for suggestions and available products.

Trash Check

Tracking food waste can be easier than you think. Put a small waste bin next to each worker’s station. Or place separate bins for throwaway produce, meat, plate scraps, and so on. Vancouver’s Four Seasons Hotel uses scales to weigh the waste, because organic waste is banned from the waste stream in that city. Some operators use clear trash bags to make toss-outs more obvious. A daily inspection could be a real eye-opener, leading to money-saving changes
in purchasing, storage, preparation and portioning.

It’s All Good

Much of what gets thrown away is actually usable, say many chefs. Including kitchen veteran and celebrity Jacques Pepin, who specifically calls out using leftover rice for rice pudding, for example. Carrots often need just a good scrubbing rather than peeling, and the tops are good for soups or for pesto—purée with basil, parmesan and pine nuts. The greens from other produce like broccoli, radishes and fennel can be sautéed or stir-fried into dishes.

Stems are often tasty, too. Peeling means the stems of broccoli and cauliflower can be diced or sliced for cooked dishes or shaved thin for salads. The ribs of kale and chard can be used in all kinds of dishes—just make them small as well. Meat bones, shrimp shells and even poultry and fish skins are common flavour enhancers in both classic and ethnic cooking techniques.

Plate Size

How much of what you serve isn’t eaten? Pay continuing attention to what comes back to the kitchen, either to get dumped or to get wrapped and taken home. Again, knowledge is power. Portion sizes can be adjusted to appear generous but not wasteful. And presentation can be changed to make smaller amounts look larger. Example: slicing and fanning proteins. Another strategy: using plates and bowls with a wide edge, or simply choosing smaller containers.

Break It Down

Then there’s composting: Many communities have composting centers that are available for use. You could feed your own garden certain toss-outs, too. Or contact local farmers, either directly or through an extension service. They might appreciate (and even haul) your scraps for their own compost beds or animal feed. Remember, there are many items that can be composted successfully, including fruits and vegetables, eggshells, nut shells, coffee grounds, and even some paper products.

Blades & Temps

Keeping knives sharp—and using manual and electric slicers when appropriate—can reduce waste by enhancing uniformity and portion control. Be sure refrigerators and freezers are maintaining the proper temperatures for optimum safety and quality: 4°C /40°F and -18°C/0°F, respectively. Test oven calibrations periodically; don’t let a burned or undercooked piece of food tell you something’s wrong.

Basket Cases

Forage, another Vancouver venue, found that only 50% of their breadbaskets were being eaten (macleans.ca, 5/5/15). What do you automatically put on the table, or include in meals, that doesn’t get eaten? Put uneaten cooked or fresh food to use another way: Pack it up and donate it to a local shelter or food bank. Food Banks Canada/Banques alimentaires Canada can be a resource for where and how; also search online or in the local phone directory. You may even qualify for a tax deduction.

The Staff Factor

Having systems in place for cutting food waste comes to nothing if employees don’t follow them. Training is important for every aspect, from ordering and storage to preparation and tracking. New hires should understand that this is part of their job; veteran staffers should know that waste reduction affects performance reviews, salaries and promotions.

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