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    How to Use a Food Waste Log to Cut Costs and Maximize Efficiency

    `Laurie Mega` : Posted on November 9, 2021

    You know how important it is to keep on top of your food costs. That's why you conduct regular inventory of your stocktake and keep a close eye on your COGS. You have recipe cards that guide kitchen staff in making consistent menu items with exacting detail and appropriate proportions.

    You've got your inventory totally under control.

    Or do you? Have you established a process for logging food waste?

    A 2017 Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) report found that between 4 and 10 percent of food purchased by restaurants becomes pre-consumer waste, meaning that it's thrown away before it reaches your customers.

    Think about how much you're spending on food, one of your biggest expenses, and then think about throwing 10 percent of that money away. Essentially, that's what you're doing.

    But if you implement a food waste logging system, you can track exactly where food is slipping through the cracks and make changes in both your kitchen and your FOH to reduce the amount of wasted food.

    Start by creating a food waste log.

    What Is a Food Waste Log?

    A food waste log is exactly what it sounds like. It's a central place to record every food item that doesn't make it into the customer's meal. That includes

    • Spilled or dropped food
    • Trimming and food scraps
    • Expired food
    • Food stolen by staff
    • Staff meals
    • Leftover food that can't be used the next day (think deep-fried foods that turn mushy)
    • Misfires
    • Remakes
    • Kitchen mistakes (burnt food or food prepared incorrectly)
    • Surplus food from overbuying

    Every bit of food wasted for any of these reasons should be accounted for using a food waste log.

    The NRDC also notes that certain food service business models lend themselves to higher levels of food waste. Those include restaurants with large menus, all-you-can-eat or buffet-style restaurants, and chain restaurants with strict food preparation guidelines that lend themselves to food loss.

    Using a food log template can help them refine their business practices to get the most out of their stocktake and meet their food waste reduction goals without sacrificing their restaurant concept.

    Why Use a Food Waste Log?

    Keeping a food waste log can help you and your management staff identify and fix supply chain, portioning and workflow issues. It could even identify underlying issues that you never thought of.

    For example, your kitchen manager looks at the food waste log and notices a large amount of food wasted due to spills and drops. Those entries are most often logged by waitstaff. Your manager checks in with the waitstaff and discovers that they keep tripping over a raised tile in the floor.

    On the other hand, you may discover that the spinach in your fridge is consistently wilting before it can be used. When you check in with your POS and your staff, you discover that the spinach salad isn't selling as well as it was previously. It may be time to consider making it a seasonal item or removing it from the menu altogether.

    If other food items in your pantry are expiring frequently, it may be time to consider moving to a lean inventory management system.

    When to Use a Food Waste Log

    A food waste log template can be as simple as a spreadsheet, like this one provided by the EPA. It simply tracks the time the waste was logged, the person who logged it, the reason for the waste, and the amount wasted.

    As the EPA logbook suggests, food waste should be logged as soon as it happens, or as soon as a member of your staff notices a waste issue. There are two reasons for that.

    First, your restaurant is a busy place. If a line cook drops a burger on the floor and makes a mental note to log it later, chances are it will never get logged.

    In that case, a spreadsheet pinned up in the kitchen may encourage that kind of behavior. Your staff doesn't want to step away from their stations to write down waste events. Even a Google doc requires a few minutes and several clicks to get to.

    A cloud-based tool such as MarketMan, on the other hand, allows staff to log wasted food in real time, and then hop right back into their duties.

    Second, logging food waste in real time cuts down on theft. If management is trained to conduct regular audits and flag missing food as soon as possible, staff members are less likely to try to slip something in their backpacks on the way out the door.

    How to Conduct a Food Waste Audit Using a Food Waste Log

    Traditionally, analyzing food waste meant rolling up your sleeves and digging through your trash or compost. With a logbook your staff can update in real time, however, food waste management becomes a lot easier for you and your staff.

    Once you have your staff trained on logging food waste, it's time to conduct an audit to see exactly what is wasted and when. To do that, let your staff record food waste for a month or two. You'll need enough data to begin to see patterns.

    Once you're certain you have a large enough log to analyze food waste, compare your log to your inventory logs, as well as your POS data from the same time period.

    By cross-referencing all of this information, you should begin to see not only what kinds of food are most often wasted and how, but underlying reasons for waste, as well.

    You can restructure your ordering system to account for excess food due to overordering or retrain staff to fix mishandled food, over-trimming, uneven use of ingredients, or cooking too much food at once, for example.

    A restaurant food waste log can uncover a variety of problems in your restaurant, some that you may even not have known were there. Coupled with solid inventory management and POS tools, you can save on food cost, overhead, and even labor by reducing stocktake, creating more efficient food prep processes, eliminating theft, and keeping good food from going to the landfill.

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    Related Resources

    The Comprehensive Guide to Zero Waste Restaurants 13 Undisputed Ways to Reduce Restaurant Food Waste (And Data to Prove It) Eco-Friendly Restaurant Guide: Lower Food Costs and Food Waste and Make a Difference Reducing Restaurant Inventory Waste: The Essential Guide to Maximizing Your Profit Margins Analysis: How restaurants can use business intelligence and forecasting to reduce food waste