Restaurant Briefing: Trash Talk — Reducing Food Waste

Promote Your Business Restaurant Industry By American Express April 1, 2015

According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2015 Restaurant Industry Forecast, food waste reduction/management ranked number nine on the Top 25 Tableservice Menu Trends for 2015 – the first time this topic has appeared in the top 25 trends. The Food Waste Reduction Alliance (a collaborative effort of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Food Marketing Institute, and the National Restaurant Association) estimated in 2014 that approximately 80 billion pounds of food are discarded in U.S. landfills each year and, while consumer and residential waste represents the largest source, restaurants account for 37%. (Rotting food in open landfills releases methane gas with 20 times more warming potential than carbon dioxide.) As restaurateurs increasingly focus on how food waste affects the environment, their communities, and their bottom lines, more are measuring and tracking waste, re-purposing food that was once considered waste, and composting in order to minimize the volume of food waste dumped into landfills. What’s working:

REDUCING PREP WASTE: Steven Satterfield, chef, Miller Union, Atlanta, GA, a participant in the Zero Waste Zones program, says, “We begin by focusing on prep. With greens, for example, we save the leaves, stems, and roots – we’re paying for them, so it makes sense to use them. We use stems in sautés and braises to add flavor and texture.” Steven advises, “Be smart about how you order – figure out interesting ways to use all parts of plants, and buy them with their tops on.” He says they buy whole chickens, using carcasses for stock and wings for family meals. He adds, “While a lot of what is thought of as waste may be edible, it’s not always a good fit for our menu, so our chefs come up with creative ways to re-purpose items for family meals.” Chris Ronis, partner, Northern Spy Food Company, New York, NY, also buys whole chickens, as well as halves of pigs and sides of lambs, using bones for stocks and sauces, scraps for charcuterie, sausages, and meatballs. He says some operators complain about high prices at the local farmers’ markets, however he feels that because the produce is superior – especially with greens – there is little waste. Every Sunday night, in addition to the regular menu, the restaurant features a low-key, three-course menu for $30, created from surplus ingredients that is made into chili, meatballs, pot pies, etc. Sunday Supper menus are tweeted out Sunday afternoons and often sell out, Chris says. At Uncommon Ground, Chicago, IL (certified as one of “The Greenest Restaurants in America,” with the first certified organic roof garden in the country), owner Helen Cameron minimizes waste by cross-utilizing ingredients over several meal periods. “When we buy locally-farmed trout we have trout sandwich at lunch, a ‘campfire’ trout at dinner, and trout hash at brunch. We also use our freezer to take advantage of great deals on produce and buy fruit seconds to use for jams at brunch and shrubs at the bar.”

MEASURING AND TRACKING:Four locations of Boloco in the Boston, MA area are using LeanPathZap*, an automated food waste monitoring system. “Since day one, we’ve been dedicated to getting as much of our waste into compost as possible,” explains Eric Kinniburgh, director of culinary. “Now we want to reduce what goes into the compost bin.” Food waste is weighed at the end of each shift, and data (weight, item, loss reason, employee name) is entered into LeanPath software on an Android tablet. We receive daily reports that we use for coaching and mentoring, never for disciplining, Eric notes. “Prior to using this system, we talked about what to do with the waste and now the conversation is about how to reduce it.” Recent reports showed overproduction of quinoa and proteins, which Eric says they’ve been able to reduce substantially, resulting in savings. He adds that they are developing limited-time offers, which will include leftover useable food, such as rice, to create a Chinese-style burrito with fried rice.

Greg Hernandez, vp operations, The Melt, hq San Francisco, CA, agrees that managing food waste starts with measuring and tracking. “If you can’t measure what you’re wasting, you have no idea if you’re bad, getting better, or worse.”He says that they use different colored containers for food that is wasted, over-portioned, or uneaten, and that they review waste measurements when doing inventory. Waste is tracked by individual item based on yield and cost of the recipe. They focus on managing 80% of waste dollars, which are made up by roughly 20% of ingredients. Of the approximately 200 ingredients used, Greg says 17 typically make up the greatest share of waste dollars. He adds, “Employees know we track waste, the manager talks about it with them once a week to let them know how they‘re doing. We engage them and make them aware of waste, and ask them what they’re noticing.”

COMPOSTING: Seattle and San Francisco are the two cities with laws mandating composting of food waste as of March 2014. New York City has a pilot program and Austin will require composting of food scraps by 2016. More cities are considering legislation. Even without laws, many restaurateurs around the country have begun to compost, some using it for their own rooftop gardens (Uncommon Ground in Chicago and Fifth Group’s Ecco in Atlanta), and others are hiring compost haulers (often their regular waste hauler). Miller Union’s chef Steven Satterfield cautions, “It’s important to find a hauling company that is doing ethical recycling of compost and not tossing it in a landfill, so be sure to ask questions.” Steve Simon, Co-Founder, Fifth Group, Atlanta, GA, and a participant in the Zero Waste Zones program, says they have been able to convert 8,000-10,000 pounds of food waste per restaurant per month, yielding close to zero waste. “Once you manage organics, then you get tuned into other kinds of waste, such as water, which we’re focused on now.”


*available to NRA members at a 10% discount


For more information and tools on how to reduce food waste, visit:

Elemental Impact:

EPA Food Recovery:

Food Waste Reduction Alliance Toolkit:


National Restaurant Association’s Conserve Program:

Zero Waste Alliance:

Zero Waste Zones: