How Your Small Business Can Reduce Food Waste

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How Small Business Reduce Food Waste Restaurants

Did you know that, according to the folks behind World Food Day, the world throws away nearly a third of all the food it produces? Unfortunately, the US is one of the main culprits of food waste globally, as Americans waste nearly 40% of the food we buy.

Not only is this degree of food waste unacceptable when so many people go hungry every day, but it is also costing our businesses money. And when you run a small business, throwing food in the garbage is essentially dumping cash into a landfill.

The food waste issue is not just a problem for businesses in the food service industry like restaurants. Even your accounting firm or retail business might be wasting food in ways you don’t even realize. In addition, as outlined in this guide, the hotel industry can also work toward reducing their food waste footprint. So here are some tips for both small businesses and food service businesses on how to
reduce food waste.

Small Business Tips to Reduce Food Waste

Get over your love of bulk.

Yes, our minds were all collectively blown when we discovered Costco and the wonder that was at 3-pound bag of pretzels. But, seriously, do you think you can actually USE that many pretzels? Probably not. Bulk may appear cheaper initially but, when you throw away half of what you buy, it’s not. If you don’t realistically think you can use all of the food you’re considering buying in bulk, then don’t buy it.

Don’t live by expiration or “best by” dates.

Maybe when it comes to fresh produce, fish and other protein, tossing something once it’s past its prime is a great idea. But wasting an entire case of soda because it’s past some arbitrary date is just silly. Manufacturers create these primarily so you’ll buy more, so use common sense and use things until it seems like you shouldn’t.

Encourage employees to take leftovers home.

That giant platter of bagels and cold cuts you got for employee appreciation day was a lovely gesture, despite the fact that your employees only ate half of it. Actively encourage them to take leftovers home to their families, or just to save for lunch the next day.

Enjoy smaller portions at lunch.

On those occasions when you spring for a team-building lunch, consider portion sizes before ordering. If you go out to eat, pick a spot with reasonable, lunch-sized potions. If you order in, don’t go nuts and order 3 sandwiches for every employee because you want to look like the Santa Claus of Subway. Be measured when ordering food to prevent waste.

Stock your fridge the right way.

There is, believe it or not, a very specific science to how you stock your fridge. You may have picked it up subconsciously from watching your parents, but if not Foodrepublic.com has an infographic that breaks it down beautifully.

Store food appropriately.

Just because cheese puffs don’t need to be refrigerated doesn’t mean you should store them wherever you feel. Keep things that can go stale in airtight containers, and make sure you store food where it’s visible to avoid finding an unidentifiable black fuzzy mass in the back of your pantry.

Donate unused food.

If it absolutely looks like items in your office pantry will never be used, donate them to someone who will use it. Plenty of farmers will take your unused food for feed, and local food banks always welcome canned/sealed items.

Tips for Restaurants to Reduce Food Waste

Use the FIFO method.

Though it seems like these days even McDonald’s is touting their “fresh” ingredients, let’s be honest: Sometimes you don’t use a head of cabbage the same day you buy it. And that’s ok. Your restaurant can help prevent food waste by using the “First In, First Out” (FIFO) method to ensure you use the first stuff you bought first. If you think that this is affecting the quality of your food, then just buy less.

Make the most of your scraps.

You probably already know a few hacks to get the most out of your scraps, like using protein trimmings in stock and yesterday’s bread for croutons. But the New York Times published a fantastic list of tips to reduce food waste. Some of the highlights include:

    • Sauté lettuce that has begun to wilt in olive oil and season with garlic or shallot. 
    • Blanch and then purée carrot tops into chimichurri or pesto. 
    • Use sour milk to make pancakes or other baked goods that call for buttermilk. 
    • Use stale bread for French toast, croutons, and bread pudding.


Track what you toss.

This is about as common – and as typically ignored – advice as tracking the calories you eat to lose weight. But closely monitoring your food usage and tracking the amount of food you throw away will show where you can really cut back on orders. Or at the very least, it can inspire you to find ways to use the food in creative ways before it spoils.

Serve smaller desserts.

Really, you could take this a step further and just serve smaller portions all around. But chances are that your desserts are rarely being finished, and you can probably cut down the amount of food you use in them, cut the prices, and maintain the same profit margin. After all, recent surveys have shown that 71% of adults are trying to eat healthier at restaurants than they did two years ago. Take advantage of this trend by serving desserts with smaller portion sizes.

Avoid overbuying protein and produce.

Limited-time sales are all well and good when you’re buying register tape or paperclips. But when you’re buying broccoli? Not so much. Even if your vendor is offering the greatest discount on broccoli that you’ve ever seen, remember it’s going to go bad. So unless you’ve got a grand plan to move all of it, resist the temptation and buy protein and produce just because it’s deeply discounted by your vendor.

Inspect your vendors.

Supermarket rejection of vegetables might be one of the largest causes of food waste in the industrialized world. And you might feel a need to counter that by accepting sub-par produce. But don’t do it. More often than not, you’ll end up tossing it because it goes bad faster, and you’ve now just spent money to waste food.

Get creative with specials.

If you’ve ignored most of this article, bought in bulk, indulged in specials, and planned large portions, there is still hope for you. Tell your chef that you’ve got some stuff that needs to get sold and – surprise – that’s what we are going to feature as tomorrow’s special. Now get creative. That’s what you’re paying your chef for.

Whether you run a restaurant or a small business that’s not in the food service industry, you can certainly do your part to reduce food waste by following the tips we’ve outlined above.


Matt Meltzer

Matt Meltzer is a professor of business communication at the University of Miami. He is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps and holds a bachelors degree in business administration from UM, as well as a Masters of Mass Communication from the University of Florida.

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