How to Plan Your Restaurant Menu to Reduce Food Waste

by | Oct 21, 2022

According to a report from the Boston Consulting Group, each year, 1.6 billion tons of food worth about $1.2 trillion are lost or go to waste—one-third of the total amount of food produced globally. To put the figure in perspective, that’s ten times the mass of the island of Manhattan. But you can control your restaurant’s food waste with smart restaurant menu planning.

As a restaurant owner, you’ve probably seen first hand how this waste can take a huge bite out of your profits, (not to mention the damage to the planet). At Schenck Foods, we’re aware of the problem as well. And our strategic restaurant menu planning service is a great place for you as a restaurant or caterer to address food waste, by taking advantage of a service that is already free for our wholesale customers.

By reducing food waste with strategic restaurant menu planning and other smart food practices, you will go a long way to making sure that your restaurant is financially successful.

Reducing Food Waste and Increasing Restaurant Profits

Reducing food waste may be one of the easiest ways to see a fast return. On average, businesses save 7 times what they invest in reducing their food waste! This means that pretty much any food waste reduction strategy you try will be a financial success.

You already know that approximately one-third of your restaurant’s revenue is allocated to the cost of goods sold (COGS). If you end up throwing that food away, you’re effectively losing money that could have been profit or used to cover other expenses.

To reduce food waste, your first step will probably be to conduct an audit of what gets thrown out. One of the simplest ways to measure your food waste is by using separate bins/trash cans for different types of waste:

Bin 1: Preparation waste – the waste generated while prepping food e.g. broccoli stems or potato peels

Bin 2: Spoilage – Food that has gone off while sitting in your fridge or other storage.

Bin 3: Plate waste – Served food that customers didn’t eat.

At the end of each day you can weigh the bin, recording the weight of each category in a spreadsheet. It’s a hassle, it isn’t fun, and it’s extra work–but within a week you should have enough data to extrapolate your food waste for the year.

This is the information you’ll use to figure out where waste is occurring. If you notice a lot of a certain menu item in your trash, this might indicate that you could adjust your menu to eliminate an unpopular dish or side. If you’re heavy on trimmings from meat and produce, you might work with your staff on how to prep foods to minimize waste. If you find too much spoilage in your bin, perhaps it’s time to review your stocking habits. Is your vendor delivering more than requested? Is there a product quality issue that needs to be addressed with the vendor? Or is it an improper food storage issue that needs to be brought up with staff?

Going forward, keeping a waste journal can help you track food waste to get a better ongoing idea of what you’re throwing away and why.

Use the Data to Plan Your Restaurant Menu

Chef tossing a single portion dish in a wokYou’ve done the audit, and you’re keeping a waste journal. That’s invaluable data. Now you’re ready to make decisions to manage and reduce what goes in the landfill, and increase your profit margin by:

Stop over-preparing food

If you are consistently throwing the same pre-prepared foods away, you need to adjust accordingly.

Enforce correct food storage

Train staff on storing food correctly, especially perishables such as meat, fish and dairy. You’ll extend shelf life and reduce spoilage.

Label food correctly

This will help you to be aware of exactly what is in each container, the allergen information, and the expiration date. This can reduce the likelihood that food is thrown away in error.

Follow the FIFO method

First-In/First-Out is the gold standard for reducing spoilage in your restaurant. Every time you receive a food delivery, put the new stock behind the old stock. This ensures you use the stock closer to its expiration date first.

Stop over-buying stock

Only order stock that you need: don’t be tempted by special offers your food supplier is promoting, if it doesn’t match your menu. This is where Schenck Foods’ restaurant menu planning service can help you stay on track, while still taking advantage of seasonal items, local options, and special offerings.

Keep an accurate stock inventory

A stock inventory can allow you to always be aware of what food you have in stock. This prevents you from ordering food that you do not need and reduces the chance of spoilage. A stock inventory can also help you to be more aware of expiration dates and will help your kitchen operations to run more smoothly.

The next steps to reducing food spoilage and waste involve menu planning–which is just our thing.

Restaurant Menu Planning for Increased Profitability

At Schenck Foods we’re a wholesale distributor, plus we help you plan your restaurant menu. While we don’t design or write menus, we do work with you to plan your menu around ingredients that maximize your profitability while still catering to your particular style and cuisine culture.

With that in mind, here are four practical steps for planning your menu to increase profit per guest at your restaurant:

Plan your menu around ingredients, rather than dishes

By including multi-use meals and using the same food item in multiple dishes, you can help reduce waste and save money by allowing you to order in bulk. You can also look at what dishes are the least popular on the menu and consider removing them. Purchasing ingredients for dishes that are ordered less frequently is likely to result in more spoilage.

Work with your wholesaler to plan seasonal menus

Seasonal menus give you the opportunity to refresh your menu, but that often means an increase in cost of goods. By working with Schenck Foods ahead of time, we can advise you on leveraging inexpensive local produce.

Customer tossing food because poor menu planning gave too muchGive your customers more control over menu items

Most restaurants put a huge pile of carbohydrates, such as fries, on the side of the guest’s plate. These carbohydrates will then often be left over. Allowing your customers to choose which sides they want with their meal ensures that they only have food on their plate that they are likely to eat, which reduces your waste.

Many diners also leave unwanted salad or vegetables on their plate, adding to the food waste. Allowing customers to choose whether they want a salad, vegetables or neither can significantly reduce restaurant food waste.

Cater to typical meal-time portions

A customer who is dining at your restaurant for lunch may want a different portion size than a customer dining for dinner. Providing a different menu option at different times of the day, or including smaller meal options, can help to reduce the amount of food that is left uneaten on the customer’s plate, and reduce the cost per plate that you are serving.

The simple objective of menu planning is to increase profit per guest at a restaurant. This is achieved through a careful analysis of the profitability and popularity of individual menu items, followed by the placement of items on the menu to encourage guests to choose particular dishes.

Restaurant menu planning is therefore the combination of analysis of your ingredients cost and sales numbers (that’s us), combined with graphic design and psychological techniques that encourage certain behavior from restaurant guests, (your part).

The proven track record of the effectiveness of menu planning is based on making decisions based on data rather than intuition–with results that can be easily tracked and modified. It also gives you a way of refreshing your menu without the fear of losing profit.

Strategic Restaurant Menu Planning with Schenck Foods

Whether it’s a one-time partnership or a long term relationship, we’re familiar with the demands restaurants face. That’s where Schenck Foods’ wholesale pricing, local knowledge, menu planning, and long experience come into play.

We have competitive pricing, quick order processing, friendly and efficient staff, and rapid turnaround and delivery time. What we don’t have is a mediocre selection, slow corporate hassle, or hidden fees.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to ask questions or request special ingredients.