Sustainability Doesn’t Always Mean Energy-Efficiency: Reducing Food Waste Has Economic Benefits for Restaurant Owners

Steve O'ConnorBusiness Operations, Cashflow, Restaurant, Small Business Trends, SustainabilityLeave a Comment

In the restaurant business, food is money. Reducing the amount of wasted food in your restaurant reduces the amount of wasted money in your business’s cost structure. But there are other ways that reduced food waste contributes to reduced operating costs.

Pick your favorite search engine and run a search for “sustainability.” What do you see? If your search engine is like ours, you’ll find a laundry list of resources and articles focusing on energy efficiency, “going green,” carbon footprints, climate change, and the like.

But sustainability is garnering some attention within the restaurant industry, too; specifically, the National Restaurant Association (NRA) is looking at the issue of food waste, and is working with the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, a joint effort between the Grocery Manufacturers Association and Food Marketing Institute, to reduce, reuse, and recycle food waste.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “more food reaches landfills and incinerators than any other single material in municipal solid waste.” In fact, 36 million tons of wasted food wind up in landfills every year; some sources estimate that America wastes 40% of its food. Sadly, these statistic fly in the face of the more than 50 million Americans who do not have access to enough food.

Diverting food waste from landfills to more productive uses, however, has considerable environmental, social, and economic benefits. According to this release from NRA:

[B]y reducing food waste, restaurateurs can save on their operating costs. Add to that the ability to create additional revenue streams, such as compost. Also, companies that participate in food donation programs are eligible for tax credits.

To achieve these objectives, the NRA is working to help change the way we think about and manage food in this country.

How Reducing Food Waste Reduces Restaurant Operating Costs

In the restaurant business, food is money. And obviously, reducing the amount of wasted food in your restaurant reduces the amount of wasted money in your business’s cost structure. But there are other ways that reduced food waste contributes to reduced operating costs:

Lower disposal costs – With less food going into the dumpsters, restaurants can expect their trash pickup costs to decline. Moreover, when food is separated from the rest of the trash, it can be dedicated for composting, a potential revenue stream for the restaurant. (Composting has significant environmental benefits, too.)
Improved staff efficiency – By preparing less wasted food, restaurant owners may find that staff efficiency improves; they’re focused on profit-driving activities, rather than food disposal activities.
Decreased tax burden – Some restaurants may choose to donate unused food to food banks and similar organizations. Not only can restaurant owners claim tax benefits, they’re contributing to the greater good.
Over the coming months and years, look for the NRA to publish educational materials that help restaurants reduce the amount of wasted food within their establishments, reductions that can translate into real dollar savings. In an economy where restaurant owners are so concerned about cash flow, keeping doors open, meeting payroll needs, and so on, food waste and sustainability can offer a fresh new look at operating costs.

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