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One of the most efficient ways to improve the bottom line in your restaurant or food program is reducing waste. You’re already buying the products, so why not make them go farther and increase your sales? The questions is, how can you reduce waste? Through years of experience working with our customers, we’ve provided seven ways you can reduce waste that we know can increase your profits.

1. Less More Often

Making fewer food items more often helps ensure you not only have fresh, rotating product available, it also allows you to better manage how much of any item you have left over. Small batches increase quality which improves the customer's experience and keeps you from overproduction towards the end of the day which then limits the amount of food left over.

2. Having PM Shift Cooks

Some locations try to save labor by not having a PM cook. They will have the kitchen cook large batches to fill the case, then shut down and leave early before the evening rush. This requires cooks to guess how much product to put in the hot case and ends up causing the product to get old by sitting too long.

Plus, you have waste left over if the quantities were not guessed correctly. Say this results in $30 of waste a day. What if you paid someone $10 an hour to stay for two extra hours and then only had $10 in waste. It is the same amount of money spent. Except, in this case, you will have freshly made product and the right amounts being made throughout the evening rush that should increase the evening sales. You will also be able to tell what customers want to buy versus what they bought just because there were only so many options available.

3. Day Averages

Taking the time to write down what you make each day and then reviewing, allows businesses to adapt based on their customers. You can see trends for what your opening, mid, and evening food volumes are. Take the last month of Mondays for example and add a 10% to 20% buffer to that average amount prepared.

This gives the operators a system that tells each shift how much to make and how much to order. It keeps food quality up since you limit over-prepping. It keeps customers happy since it reduces under prepping and becoming out of stock on the items they may want. It improves cash flow since you know how much of each item you need to have on hand between delivery trucks while increasing product turnover.

4. Cold Packing

Saving your leftover food items to be repurposed reduces waste and adds more purchase option value to the customer. You can take proteins and pack them in clear containers with a label. Pull the meat apart and use for wraps, salads, soups, toppings and more. Save the sides and package into single or family-sized serving containers.

When you cold pack it then becomes EBT eligible for those who want a quality product but cannot purchase as a hot item through that program. Cold packing is also good for those who have to take a lunch with them to work. They can grab a cold packed ready to go meal the night before and microwave it at work. This helps reduce your waste and improve sales through multiple channels to your customers.

5. Portion Control

Another form of waste is portion control. Over serving kills the bottom line. For example, a 4oz side is overserved to a 5oz side instead. That one ounce means a 25% increase in the amount served. Put another way; it is a 25% decrease in profit for that one item.

You want to have set scoops for each item and per piece amounts and then test a couple of times a week by having them make a meal for you. If you are overserved, don’t turn it into a "you’re in trouble" moment. Make it a constructive coaching session on how to properly serve the customer. Serving by the pound can be easier to manage, but you want to keep in mind when serving hot case items, the longer they sit in the case, the less weight they have due to drying. You want to make sure you have fresh, rotating product with high moisture. I repeat, the more it dries, the less it weighs.

Also, consider that frying some items will lose some of their initial weight also. Try testing how much a few pieces of something weighs before and post-frying. Then sit a few in the hot case for several hours and weigh again. These results will be of great value.

6. Feed Your Kitchen

Instead of playing the cat and mouse game of catching your kitchen staff eating food on the job, offer them one free employee meal when they work. It allows you to factor in that cost and keeps everyone on board. They know they can have a free meal and you can easily manage what items to make available.

This does not mean free steak and shrimp, but chicken-based dishes are very cost effective. It also adds an employee benefit to your company. If you are paying someone $10 or less an hour that free meal five days a week equals 5 hours of work they did not have to spend on food. With food cost being 25% for restaurants and upwards of 50% for grocery delis/c-stores, you are talking about 2 to 3 dollars cost to the company for the meal.

Those that sneak food and snack all day are probably already eating this amount, if not more, while on the clock. Instead, it would be, “Hey, you get a free meal each day. Have another team member make it for you and clock out for a break to eat.” This saves labor since they eat off the clock, adds value to those working for you and is easily managed.

I also like to suggest giving 50% discounts to those who work for you outside of the kitchen. It encourages them to become fans of the food and gives them a benefit too. You are not making money off your team purchases, but realize you are not losing money either. Then they become public voices for your brand to their friends and family. If anyone asks why the kitchen gets free meals when they only get a discount, offer them the option to work in the kitchen. They will either be interested or not.

7. Cross Training

Though this does not tie directly to food, it does improve it. The more people you have that know and understand how everyone else’s job functions the better your bottom line will be. When you understand what each person’s job entails, you respect it more. You have increased knowledge of total business operations. It allows you to have people who help fill gaps when shorthanded. These all improve the bottom line.

If you’re short an employee in one section of the store, if you have someone from another department that has been cross-trained, they can fill in. You can rotate them to help get through rush hours and better serve customers versus being short-handed in critical parts of the day that then reduces sales and the service experience for that customer.

Wrap-Up

Taking the correct actions to reduce your waste can also help make your company more successful. Many of these tenants are great business practices that you can apply to other areas of your business as well.

Take the time to reduce waste, and you’ll find that the upfront effort pays off in the long-run and will reduce the energy you and your team has to spend on a daily basis. Your bottom line will benefit, your customers will be happier, and your employees will feel less stressed.

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