The topic of reducing and eliminating food waste is nothing new to anyone in the Food & Beverage industry. From the supplier to the person who is serving the food to the customer, we all have reasons to prevent and eliminate food waste. The reasons can generally fall into one of two categories: financial or social. The great thing is that no matter what your motivation is, in the end, eliminating food waste accomplishes both.

    The Worst-Case Scenario

    In today’s environment, you will seldom see an operation that is not focused on food waste for one reason or another. However, it was not that long ago that I witnessed the worst-case scenario. The operation’s only concern was to show their customer appreciation through excess, and the importance of abundance outweighed everything else. There was no regard or concern for food waste, and it was seen as a cost of doing business. I am certain if a customer witnessed the bins of food being thrown out when the buffet ended, they would have accepted a salad bowl that was a ¼ full instead of the full one that was put out to serve the last two customers.

    Thankfully that operation realized the error of their ways and started to make changes. It was a long road because of the culture that they had created. Their team lost perspective on the social impact and looked at the food waste as someone else’s issue and cost. They had to relearn how to execute an event and properly plan to eliminate waste.

    How to Relate to Food Cost

    When we first start out in the restaurant business, we hear the rumblings of food cost and the reactions when food is wasted, but what was missing was how to relate to food waste.

    You may have seen a board in the stewarding area that looked like a bad art project. It contained samples of every dish used in the restaurant. Sometimes it was a broken dish to drive the point home. Beside each item was the cost of that specific piece of china, glass, or silverware. Although there are better ways to communicate the importance of not breaking dishes or losing silverware in the garbage, it is very relatable.

    The True Value of Waste

    There are likely events or conversations that occurred in the last six months that you are unable to recall. Yet, you can recall things you learned many years ago with the utmost clarity. Why is that? It is likely that the event or interaction was very interesting, and you could relate to it. I was very fortunate to experience that in my first year of cooking school when we first learned about food cost.

    As an eager student, I was ready to pounce on the opportunity to show my worth to my professor. He asked what I thought at the time was the most ridiculous and simple question.

    The question was, “What is the value if $10 in food is wasted?”

    Quickly, I raised my hand and answered his question. “$10,” I stated as I looked around awaiting the accolades from my professor and fellow students.

    “Thank you, Patrick, that is incorrect. I already know the cost. Can anyone tell me the value?”

    Silence, no one would say a word after my enthusiastic display.

    He went on to explain that the value of the $10 in food waste was the amount it could have been sold for. That is the true cost of food waste.

    He wrote out the problem on the board to show us how to calculate the value and the selling price based on a food cost %.

    Cost $10 ÷ Food Cost 30% = $33.33 selling price.

    The true value or cost to the restaurant for the $10 in food waste was $33.33 because you are wasting the revenue that could have been received from selling the food.

    I hated being wrong, and I was hooked.

    Instead of telling your team that the wasted chicken breast cost $4.00, tell them the cost is the $20 that it could have sold for. It will have more meaning from a financial perspective.

    Looking at the cost of waste, whether it be through spoilage, overcooking, or yield, makes it more relatable, and by showing a higher $ value, the waste had more meaning.

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