restaurant waste management
Tips to reduce restaurant waste

How to Reduce Waste in Restaurants

Restaurants serve up lots of waste every day. Unsurprisingly, food waste is the main culprit, including leftovers, preparation waste, and spoiled ingredients. With more than 40,000 restaurants in the UK it soon adds up to plenty of food being thrown away, as well as paper, plastic, other materials, and products.

Careful planning and a proactive approach can reduce restaurant waste, as most of it is avoidable or can be cut back with minimal effort. Restaurants in the UK create around 200,000 tonnes of food waste every year, so working to reduce this will significantly benefit the environment and budgets of restaurants across the country.

Use the following tips to minimise waste whether you run a family-owned village restaurant, a city centre franchise, or are just starting up a new eatery. Discover how to reduce waste in restaurants of any size, cuisine, and location with these tips and advice.

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Why do restaurants need 
to reduce waste?

It’s estimated that restaurants around the world lose about £2 trillion due to food waste alone. Then there are all the smashed glasses, damaged tablecloths, broken electricals, and mountains of other waste. Waste disposal costs soon rise when you’re dealing with lots of waste. Reducing waste in restaurants will save your business money.

There’s also the environmental impact of restaurant waste. Organic waste such as food releases methane when it rots, which is an incredibly potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Reducing food waste in restaurants reduces how much methane your business generates. There’s also the carbon footprint of transporting all waste from your restaurant.

Food waste from restaurants should never go to landfill with composting and anaerobic digestion alternatives that better control the release of methane. Recycling glass, paper, metal, and plastics is important for restaurants but minimising waste at the source will help cut back your waste management costs and carbon footprint.

Read some restaurant waste facts
diners eating in a restaurant.

Ways to reduce restaurant waste

Preparing meals, creating a presentable environment, and dealing with food and drink packaging all cause waste in restaurants. Restaurants, pubs, and bars can generate around 200,000 tonnes of glass waste each year and more than 600,000 tonnes of non-food waste. There are many areas to focus on when aiming to minimise restaurant waste.

Consider these ways to reduce waste in restaurants:

  • Stop single-use plasticsthe single-use plastic ban means your restaurant should have stopped using any disposable plastic cutlery and straws. You should also avoid single-use plastic chopsticks, plastic cups for water, and containers for takeaways.
  • Introduce paperless menus and receipts – switch to an online menu and put a QR code on the table (or even provide a tablet for diners without smartphones). Small restaurants could simply use a chalkboard. It makes changing the menu without wasting paper easy. Offer email receipts to save more paper – many diners aren’t bothered about a receipt anyway!
  • Reuse cooking oiloil waste is a big challenge for restaurant kitchens. Rather than storing it and throwing it away after frying food, find ways to reuse it. Some cooking oil can be cleaned, filtered, and used to fry foods again in your restaurant kitchen.
  • Reduce fried items – an easy way to reduce cooking oil waste is to simply minimise how many fried food items you serve. Adapt your menu to grill, poach, steam, or bake items where possible. It’s healthier for diners and will help minimise oil waste in your restaurant.
  • Say sayonara to sachets – small sachets of salt, pepper, sugar, butter, and ketchup create unnecessary plastic and paper waste. Most of this is contaminated with food waste so unfortunately gets thrown out with general waste. Instead, bulk buy condiments to reduce packaging waste and put the full bottles and jars on the table in your restaurant. It’s cheaper and should reduce general waste.
  • Provide jugs of tap water – putting a jug full of tap water on every table when diners arrive makes them less likely to order bottled water. This should help reduce plastic or glass waste from empty water bottles.
  • Focus on draught drinks – offering a wider range of alcoholic beverages and soft drinks on draught is a great way to reduce plastic and glass bottle waste in your restaurant. Serve up drinks in glasses that can be washed and reused to easily eliminate empty beer, juice, and even wine bottles.
  • Choose cloth napkins and tablecloths – single-use paper napkins and tablecloths get thrown out after one use and normally go in with general waste, as they’re often contaminated with food waste, become damp, or are too thin to recycle. Use cloth napkins and tablecloths (or ditch the tablecloth completely) instead. These can be washed and reused many times.
  • Ditch paper hand towels – like paper napkins, any paper towels in your restaurant bathroom end up in general waste. Install a hand drier or provide small cloth hand towels to avoid creating paper waste.
  • Ban buffet trays – get rid of those plastic trays if your restaurant has a buffet service. They encourage diners to load up more than they can eat and the trays themselves are hard to recycle if broken or damaged. Set out a few different plate sizes so diners can choose smaller portions to minimise the risk of plate waste.

How to reduce food waste 
in a restaurant

Food is the biggest challenge when it comes to waste for restaurants anywhere in the world. It’s estimated that 10% of food bought by restaurants never reaches customers, while about 17% of food is uneaten after being served to diners – even though it should be edible. Food waste also costs UK restaurants nearly £700 million each year.

Tackling restaurant food waste is a priority. Consider these steps for ways to reduce food waste in a restaurant:

  • Run a food waste audit – the first thing to do is look at what types of food your restaurant regularly throws away and where it originates. If there’s lots of food waste from your kitchen then the storage and preparation processes may need changing. Should it mainly be leftovers then review your portion sizes and menu.
  • Avoid over-buying – only purchase ingredients your restaurant will use within designated use-by dates. Bulk buying is cost-effective and great for long-lasting foodstuffs but overordering fresh ingredients increases the chance of them spoiling before use.
  • Correctly store food – ensure fridges and freezers run at the correct temperatures and keep dry food storage areas clean at all times. If food storage areas become too hot or cold it will speed up the spoilage of ingredients and lead to food waste, so regularly check temperatures and conditions.
  • Practice regular stock rotation – adhere to the “first in, first out (FIFO)” rule when storing food. When deliveries arrive move any existing food and drink items to the front of fridges, freezers, and storage areas then place the new items behind them. This should minimise the risk of food going out of date.
  • Label items correctly – if you decant ingredients into different containers, label them with relevant information (allergens, product description and dates). Use a colour-coded system and ensure all staff understand it for good control of food.
  • Inspect all deliveries – only accept items in perfect condition and delivered at the optimum temperature. If food items arrive that are wilted, overly ripe, or damaged then they’ll likely be wasted soon.
  • Portion control – avoid dishing out huge portions, as customers are more likely to leave leftovers. If your restaurant experiences lots of plate waste consider reducing portion sizes (and price) to see if it helps – or offer a choice of sizes to suit those with smaller appetites.
  • Donate excess ingredients – local charities and food banks may be able to make use of ingredients you don’t use if they’re close to their use-by date. Farms and animal shelters might accept expired food to use as animal feed or for composting.
How to reduce food waste
  • Incorporate leftovers – vegetable peelings and animal carcasses/bones can be used to create soups and stocks rather than being chucked out. You could add a seasonal soup special to the menu based on vegetable peelings.
  • Compost food waste – add food waste to a compost bin and do your bit for sustainability if your restaurant has outdoor space and a garden.
  • Offer doggy bags – this can encourage customers to take leftovers home and reduce your overall waste footprint. Use recyclable containers and offer instructions for reheating if required.
  • Order in season – foods brought in from abroad out of season may spoil faster due to being in the wrong climate and conditions. For example, fruits from warm regions ordered to a restaurant in a cold winter snap may expire too quickly before they’re consumed.
  • Advertise specials – find a way to incorporate any ingredients going off into some dishes you can add to your specials board. This avoids wasting food and adds interesting items to your menu for a limited time.
  • Feed your staff – offering meals to staff on shift is a great perk to attract new employees and an easy way to minimise waste food. Make it clear they’ll have to eat set meals that use up dishes and items due to expire, rather than ordering anything from the menu.
chef preparing food in a restaurant.

Read more waste reduction guides

Restaurants aren’t the only businesses that create high volumes of food and other waste types. Explore ways to reduce waste across other sectors and how to cut down more material waste in our expert guides.

Waste reduction guides
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Get a fast FREE quote for your restaurant waste collection

  • Free quote within 1 hr
  • Any type of restaurant waste
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  • We cover all of the UK