How to Cut Food Waste AND Costs In Commercial Kitchens

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Avoidable food waste could be costing your hospitality business thousands every year.

Food waste is a global problem and we’re all accountable. The amount of wasted food filling up landfill sites is out of control. Even more shockingly, much of the food thrown away is still consumable.

The United Nations FAO states that just one-fourth of the food currently being wasted or lost globally would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people in the world.

Statistics are all very well, but as a busy restaurant owner, do you really have time to consider how many hungry mouths your food waste could feed?

Maybe you’ll reconsider if you realise just how much revenue you’re dumping in the bin.

According to a report by WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme), UK restaurants produce almost 200,000 tonnes of food waste per year. Food waste costs the restaurant sector alone around £682 million each year. The average cost of avoidable food waste for a business is £0.97 per meal. That’s around £10,000 worth of food you’re throwing away each year.

The keyword here is ‘avoidable’. Donating surplus food to charities and community networks is a great way to get surplus foods to people who really need it. But ultimately, you’re running a business and any preventable loss in revenue should be dealt with as a top priority. Every single ingredient needs to have a positive ROI, which means wasting as little as possible.

Absolute zero waste is impossible, however there are ways to effectively cut down on the amount of food you waste and ensure your hard earned profits aren’t ending up on a landfill site.

Here are the most effective ways to cut down on avoidable food waste in commercial kitchens.

Knife Skills

Knife skills aren’t just about speed and dexterity. They have a direct impact on food waste. Knowing how to get the best yield from a product means less scraps will end up in the compost bin. Whether it’s an onion or a whole salmon, ensure staff are trained to cut, fillet and debone correctly and use specialised knives for each task.

Food Safety

Following food safety procedures in both the handling and storage of food will inevitably cut down on wastage.

Follow a ‘first in first out’ food rotation system, so the oldest items are used first and not forgotten in the back of the refrigerator or store room.

Label everything with the name of the contents, ‘produced on’, ‘opened on’ and ‘use by’ dates. Once a product is opened it should be used straight away; the ‘use by’ date is no longer applicable.

Differentiate storage areas, countertops, knives and chopping boards for specific purposes to avoid the risk of cross contamination.


By cooking in smaller batches your dishes can be more accurately measured to meet demand, less ingredients are used and you won’t have large quantities left over at the end of service.

Create new dishes and prepare a daily Specials Board based on any left over ingredients from the day before.

Get creative. Fish heads can be used to make stock, cut offs can be used in pates and terrines, and salmon trimmings can be used in pasta dishes and starters.

Invest in a food dehydrator to dry excess veg. Then grind them up into powders and use as flavourings for soups and sauces.

Portion control

Conduct a waste audit to assess how much customers leave on their plate to help you adjust portion sizes. You could also give them the option of choosing their own portion sizes.

Offer doggy bags and let customers take any unfinished bottles of wine home with them. The Good to Go scheme in Scotland which provides branded doggy bags, has reported a 40% reduction in food waste from participating restaurants since the initiative began. Research by Zero Waste Scotland found that most customers would prefer to take home their unfinished meal, but are often too embarrassed to ask.


Bulk buying may be convenient and cheaper but if surplus supplies expire and have to be thrown out, it’ll end up costing you more.

Only buy what you need and make sure your orders are precise and exact. Only take advantage of discounts if you’re certain the products will get used within the next few days.

Examine everything on arrival, not just those on top. Don’t accept any produce that’s too mature or spoiled.


The smart kitchen system developed by UK innovators, Winnow Solutions is steadily gaining popularity in busy commercial kitchens. Comprising of a smart meter, a scale, LCD panel and wireless connectivity, the Winnow system automatically weighs the specific foods being wasted and calculates the cost of that waste. Chefs can then use the data to accurately calculate food waste and plan menus to ensure they are not overproducing, saving around 3-8% on food costs.

Unilever’s Wise Up On Waste app is another convenient tool to monitor and track food waste, as well as providing information and advice on food waste reduction. You can perform audits for each service and identify the areas where you are generating more waste.

Inevitably, even the most diligent commercial kitchen will end up with some food excess. Any surplus supplies can be shared in the community or donated to charities via free food-sharing app, Olio. Simply post a photo, description and pick up time, and someone will be more than happy to take them off your hands.

Over to you…

What are you doing to reduce food waste in your commercial kitchen? Let me know in the comments below.


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