Reducing Food Waste: How Restaurants Can Use Technology to Implement Sustainable Practices

Wasting food isn’t only terrible for the environment. It also amounts to a significant financial loss for restaurants.
By Peter Dougherty, General Manager of Hospitality at Lightspeed - 6.20.2023

Food waste is a pervasive problem in the restaurant industry. One-third of food production is wasted, amounting to about 1.3 billion tons per year. While this is a global issue that spans many industries, restaurants are a leading contributor to waste. US restaurants alone waste an estimated 22 to 33 billion pounds of food each year.

Wasting food isn’t only terrible for the environment. It also amounts to a significant financial loss for restaurants. By 2030, food wasted could result in a $1.5 trillion loss.

As key contributors to food waste, restaurants need to understand their impact on the environment on a global scale, and embrace more sustainable habits that can benefit their surroundings and their bottom line.

Analyzing food waste
Most restaurants see a combination of factors that add up to their total waste.

  1. Overproduction Overproduction occurs when restaurants prepare more food than is sold and consumed. Inadequate forecasting tools and lack of data analysis contribute to this issue. While it’s impossible to forecast with 100% certainty, using advanced analytics tools connected to a point of sale system can aid in planning and adjusting production levels to minimize overproduction.
  2. Spoilage Improper storage and failure to adhere to food safety codes can lead to food spoilage, rendering it inedible and potentially hazardous. Foodborne illnesses resulting from consuming spoiled food pose significant risks to customers. To prevent spoilage, restaurants need to prioritize proper storage practices, including temperature control and adherence to expiration dates. Safety protocols and regular staff training are crucial to reducing this type of food waste.
  3. Spillage Spillage is a common source of food waste in restaurants, often resulting from accidental spills or dropped ingredients. This issue becomes more pronounced during busy periods or when there is high staff turnover. The best way to reduce spillage? Training. Routine practices such as shadowing and supervision and making adjustments to the restaurant layout can also help.
  4. Incorrect orders Mistakes happen. And in a fast-paced kitchen environment, mistakes lead to unintentional food waste. If a customer comes in requesting a burger without cheese due to an intolerance, and you send a cheeseburger by mistake, this will likely result in wasted food and having to resend the order. Thankfully, efficient order taking tools are readily available to help reduce these types of scenarios. Mobile and tablet ordering that send orders directly to a kitchen display system in the kitchen, help facilitate communication between front and back-of-house staff, which can greatly improve order accuracy. Clear communication channels and thorough training for staff members during order taking are key to reducing waste.

Ultimately embracing technology, implementing efficient training programs and fostering a culture of waste consciousness can pave the way for a more sustainable and profitable future in the restaurant industry.

Updating your restaurant technology
From automated inventory management to kitchen display systems, there are many ways technology can help reduce the amount of food waste for restaurants. On one end,  updating your restaurant’s technology with mobile and cloud-based alternatives can significantly contribute to reducing paper consumption. By implementing a comprehensive point of sale system that includes tableside ordering, automated inventory management tools and analytics, restaurants can effectively reduce their carbon footprint.

Transition to automated inventory management:

Waste can happen everywhere, but inventory practices are one of the first places to look when looking for sustainable initiatives. Adopting an automated inventory management system can revolutionize the way restaurants handle inventory, leading to more accurate demand forecasting, reduced food costs and decreased shrinkage. Traditional manual inventory management methods often result in human errors and mistakes during the ordering process. By integrating automation tools with the POS system, restaurants can minimize errors, streamline the ordering process, and lower costs.

With advanced inventory tools and analytics, restaurants can:

  • More accurately forecast demand and trends
  • Monitor current stock levels and their corresponding value in real-time
  • Receive automatic deductions and replenishments when items are sold or reordered
  • Minimize loss and food waste caused by spoilage or theft
  • Calculate recipe costs and gain a clearer understanding of profit margins

By transitioning from manual spreadsheets to an automated inventory management system, restaurants can reduce the risk of inaccurate ordering and ensure inventory is replenished precisely when needed.

Reduce ordering errors and improve the guest experience

To minimize food waste effectively, proactive measures are crucial. All it takes is a small mistake during the order taking process for an entire dish to go to the trash. Implementing tableside ordering and self-order menus empowers customers to have more control over their selections, resulting in fewer mistakes caused by miscommunication between servers and customers or poorly written orders misinterpreted by kitchen staff. Customer requests a change in their order? Servers can easily update it in the POS system, triggering an immediate notification on the kitchen’s display system.

Accurate ordering not only improves the overall dining experience for guests but also serves as a proactive measure to reduce potential food waste.

By embracing technology, restaurants can enjoy a range of benefits, including:

  1. Reduced paper usage, promoting sustainability and environmental responsibility
  2. Improved communication between kitchen and service staff, leading to smoother operations
  3. Enhanced guest experience through accurate orders and efficient service
  4. Lower risk of order errors, resulting in cost savings and increased customer satisfaction

Combat food waste, lower expenses and increase margins
While addressing the global food waste crisis requires collective efforts from various stakeholders, restaurants have a unique opportunity to make a significant impact, while also saving on costs.

In an industry where profit margins are slim, taking steps to minimize costs while appealing to eco-conscious customers is crucial. Seize the opportunity to combat food waste and transform it into a profitable endeavor.

By understanding where their food waste comes from, implementing processes that tackle these issues headfirst and embracing technology to reduce human error and make better inventory and forecasting decisions, restaurants can begin setting up practices that will pave the way for a less wasteful future.

Peter Dougherty leads the hospitality line of business at Lightspeed, a global commerce platform empowering high-performing SMBs. With over 10 years operating in the SaaS and payments fields, Peter has extensive experience bringing new products to the hospitality market as well as building and leading teams within high growth organizations. Prior to leading the hospitality team as a General Manager, he launched Lightspeed Retail and Lightspeed Restaurant in the Americas, as well as the company’s inside sales and business development teams. Peter has brought his experience to international settings, running core hospitality businesses in EMEA and APAC regions. Dedicated to enhancing communities with independent restaurants, Peter has played key roles in growing Lightspeed from startup to scale and helping restaurants leverage technology to expand their margins and deliver excellent guest experiences.

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