How to Deal with Food Waste in Quick-Service Restaurants

Quick-service restaurant (QSR) owners and managers nationwide recognize top-quality ingredients are essential for crafting exception dishes. However, obtaining these ingredients comes at a cost, especially in today’s economy. Amidst rising expenses, the good news is reducing restaurant food waste presents an often-overlooked opportunity for QSRs to significantly increase profits.

The U.S. generated approximately 133 billion pounds of restaurant food waste in 2010, resulting in a staggering $162 billion loss in profits, according to the USDA. In fact, on average commercial kitchens waste between 4% and 10% of purchased food before it even reaches the table. And that doesn’t even account for additional costs associated with labor for purchasing, inventory, preparation or service.

If you’re looking for ways to increase your profit, it’s time to understand how to tackle food waste in your restaurant.

Why reducing food waste in restaurants matters

Reducing restaurant food waste can increase your profits, reduce environmental harm, build a reputation for social responsibility, and keep your operation in compliance with state or local regulations.

1. Profit increases

Cutting down on restaurant food waste directly impacts the bottom line of QSRs. A study of 114 restaurants in 12 countries revealed that every $1 invested in reducing food waste in restaurants resulted in and average profit increase of $7, with 75% of operations recouping their investment within the first year.

2. Environmental impact

Food production requires significant resources, including energy, fuel and water. Waste accounts for one-third of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and generates 8% of annual greenhouse gases. Improperly disposed food in landfills emits methane, a potent greenhouse gas 25 times stronger than carbon dioxide.

3. Social responsibility and customer perception

Doing the right thing is good for everyone, but it is also good for business. Sustainability and addressing food waste are increasingly important to consumers. Restaurants that demonstrate social responsibility and contribute to community issues like hunger and food insecurity often earn customer loyalty and positive perception.

4. Regulatory compliance

Food waste is such a problem that five states currently regulate the amount of food waste generated by restaurants, with other states closely monitoring these efforts. Other regulations surround how waste is handled, including the separation of organic waste from other materials. Compliance with waste management regulations reduces operational costs associated with waste processing and disposal.

How to reduce food waste in quick-service restaurants

There are many areas to consider when trying to reduce food waste in restaurants, including using proper breading techniques, maintaining your frying equipment, handling cooking oil, considering additional equipment for operational efficiency, managing and predicting your inventory, and repurposing or donating excess food and ingredients. Let’s take a closer look at each of these.

1. Equipment for operational efficiency

Equipment such as vacuum sealers, marinators and composters can improve your workflow to reduce time, labor and food waste. These added efficiencies also allow you to respond more quickly to increases in demand.

Vacuum sealers preserve fresh foods longer, allowing you to benefit from discounted pricing for larger quantity purchases. Marinators achieve the same amount of flavor as overnight marination with fewer ingredients and less time, reducing wasted food due to over-preparation. And composters help reduce the amount of food that is sent to a landfill, significantly reducing methane gas emissions.

2. Inventory management and predictability

Most QSRs rely on past experience to determine the amount of food to prepare in advance, but this leaves room for under-preparation, which can lead to lost sales, or over-preparation, which can lead to wasted food. But if you’re trying to figure out how to deal with food waste in your restaurant, it might be time to consider other methods.

Inventory management systems can often be tied to point of sale systems so you can always be notified when it’s time to order something before you run out.

Food trucks are a good example of operations that follow a completely different workflow. With precious little room to store prepped food, they make almost all their products to order, creating little restaurant food waste. If your operation relies on time- and labor-consuming processes, such as marinating and breading, automation can get the job done with a fraction of time and effort, while providing more flavor consistency and allowing you to prep foods in smaller batches.

AyrKing’s Mixstir, for example, can prepare batters, liquid seasoning mixes and any menu item that requires constant stirring without injecting air in the product and disturbing the flavor profile.

Our DrumRoll can automate your breading process, using 13% less breading and 5% less fryer oil, and providing 32% greater consistency and 25% faster production time than hand breading.

And AyrKing’s automated marinators can reduce the time needed to marinate proteins from hours to minutes through a timed tumbling process.

3. Proper breading techniques

A great place to start reducing ingredient waste is by observing how your kitchen staff handles ingredients during the breading process. Proper coating techniques minimize product loss during various stages of the breading and frying processes.

Automating the sifting process with an AyrKing Breader Blender Sifter (BBS) eliminates most variations in technique between workers, maximizing breading efficiency while ensuring consistent coating and flavor profiles from shift to shift.

The BBS makes it fast and easy to extract doughballs from the mix, preserving more good breading in every batch, and comes with a convenient cover to keep leftover breading fresh overnight.  Consistently producing chicken with the right amount of breading also helps extend the life of your cooking oil.

4. Fryer maintenance

Purchasing the right frying equipment that has the temperature controls and agitation mechanisms appropriate for the foods you serve can help achieve more consistent and efficient frying results with less risk of over- or undercooked products. It’s also important to regularly clean and maintain your fryers to keep them operating optimally and extend the life of your cooking oil.

5. Cooking oil conservation and disposal

Conserving cooking oil isn’t just about cost — it’s also important for the environment. Because producing oil contributes to deforestation, chemical runoff, pollution and emissions, maximizing your operation’s oil efficiency reduces environmental impact. When you’ve made the most of your oil, and it’s reached the end of its useful life, it needs to be properly disposed of through oil collection or recycling programs.

6. Repurposing or donating excess

Thinking outside of the box can inject some fun into your menu and allow you to repurpose dry breading with other ingredients, such as running a special on fried pickles or fried zucchini. If repurposing isn’t an option because you’re a part of a chain that requires strict adhesion to set menu offerings, you can always look into partnering with local food banks or food rescue organizations to ensure your excess doesn’t go to waste.

As an added incentive toward donating, you can gain affiliation with charitable organizations you help support as well as opportunities for posts on social media, which can positively impact customer perception.

When less food is wasted, everyone wins

Taking the time to review your processes to find and improve areas where your operation can reduce food waste not only benefits the environment and fosters customer loyalty but also boosts profits and enhances brand reputation. affect your operation. Explore how an AyrKing Breader Blender Sifter could optimize your operation with our BBS Savings Calculator.

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No matter where you are around the globe, AyrKing is always ready to help you find the best commercial food prep equipment for your operation. Use our convenient online locator to connect with a distributor or representative in your area.
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