For Every $1 Spent Cutting Food Waste, Restaurants Get Back $7

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CC BY 2.0. Nick Saltmarsh

That's a 600% return on investment. What's not to like?

It stands to reason that reducing food waste would save restaurants money. Still, the actual Return On Investment on food waste reduction comes as quite a shock to me. According to a coalition of businesses, policy makers and campaigners, restaurants that invest in food waste reduction are, over a three year timeframe, seeing $7 in savings for every $1 spent. (I guess Danish restaurants must be raking in the profits.)

Whichever way you look at it, these numbers make cutting food waste a pretty compelling return on investment (600% ROI to be precise) – so much so that a full 76% of businesses participating in the study recouped their investment in the first year alone, with the figure rising to 89% in year two. What's even more impressive, from my perspective, is that many of the practices and policies implemented ought to cost very little moving forward, so once the initial investment is made, it's a gift that keeps on giving almost in perpetuity – as long as teams can remain disciplined and consistent in waste reduction practices.

Specifically, the report suggests restaurants and cafeterias focus on the following strategies to cut down on excess waste:

1) Measure where food is being wasted and how.
2) Engage staff, and motivate them to take the problem seriously.
3) Reduce overproduction, particularly by avoiding waste-heavy techniques or serving styles like batch cooking, casserole trays, and buffets in favor of cook-to-order preparation.
4) Rethink inventory and purchasing practices to avoid over buying.
5) Repurpose excess food, including formulating a safe Plan B for ingredients if a specific dish doesn't sell as well as expected.

I was a little surprised not to see portion control explicitly included on the list, particularly because I regularly find restaurant portions overly large and end up bringing some home. But I assume that's included under the "Reduce overproduction" banner.

Either way, this is a powerful reminder that doing the right thing is often good for business too. And as I noted in my post about Ikea saving $1 million by cutting food waste, this is a crucially important topic. So much so, that Paul Hawken's Drawdown project actually identifies food waste reduction as the #3 priority for tackling climate change, in terms of potential emissions savings.