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Reducing Food Waste

Tracking and efficiently using the food you purchase for your restaurant is key to running a successful, efficient business.

Slash your food waste by following the food recovery hierarchy at right. Start with the most preferred method first and work your way down.

  The order in which you should deal with food waste. See full size image here.


Start with Source Reduction

Reduce the amount of food waste you generate by ordering the correct amount of food you need.

Begin by inventorying food and tracking what and how much you waste. If you need a technical solution, consider LeanPath software (NRA members get a 10% discount as well).


Need more details? See our track waste spending and perform a waste stream audit best practices.

Front-of-house focus

Also called post-consumer waste (leftovers after customers have eaten).


  • Monitoring portions and "right sizing" them as necessary
  • Providing half-portions on the standard menu
  • Transitioning from self-service buffets to "served" food stations

Hear from Dan Simons, principle of Founding Farmers one of the most booked restaurants on OpenTable, and how he deals with FOH food waste.

Back-of-house efforts

Often called pre-consumer waste, it is usually easier to manage than FOH food waste.


  • Adjusting food ordering accordingly
  • Using the whole protein (e.g.,"nose-to-tail" cooking, broccoli stems and leaves in soups)
  • Continually training staff to not waste food

Watch Marcus Samuelsson describe how he "cooks like his grandmother" to save food.

Minimize food waste at the source

Cut your kitchen’s food waste in half!

LeanPath gives your staff the tools they need to prevent food waste and gives you the ability to monitor losses from anywhere.

Slash food costs by 2% to 6% by easily tracking the food you throw away. NRA and SRA members also receive a discount. Learn more here!


Feed Hungry People

Many restaurant operators hate to throw away good food when they know thousands of people go hungry every day. With a record one in six Americans receiving food assistance, the need to tackle the challenge of food waste is urgent.

Try increasing the amount of safe, nutritious food donated to those in need. National Restaurant Association partner Food Donation Connection offers services to help link restaurants with charitable organizations, as well as tips for donating food.

Tips for Donating Food

  • Follow food-safety practices for handling, preparation, cooking, cooling and storing.
  • Don’t worry about donating complete meals. Chefs at homeless shelters and other organizations that feed the hungry create meals from donated proteins, vegetables, starches and desserts.
  • Look around your restaurant: you might find items to donate you didn't think about, such as unopened cases that can’t be returned or thawed product that wasn’t served and can’t be re-frozen.
  • Donate prepared food only if it hasn’t been served. Note that prepared food donations garner greater tax deductions than raw ingredients.



What if someone gets sick?

Won't I be sued?

No. The Good Samaritan Food Donation Act offers protection. 

Some restaurants are reluctant to donate their excess food due to fear of liability exposure if that food were to cause a foodborne illness.
Fortunately, federal law provides liability protection for food donated in good faith with the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act. The Act protects donors as long as they meet the following requirements:

1) The food must be donated to a nonprofit organization in good faith.

2) The donated items must be apparently wholesome food.

3) The food must be distributed by the nonprofit to needy individuals who may not pay for it.

4) The food must meet all federal, state, and local quality and labeling requirements; if labeling requirements are not met, the food must be reconditioned to meet them before donation.

See our fact sheet to learn more about the Good Samaritan act
For detailed guidance, see the Legal Guide to the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, by the University of Arkansas. 

Fighting Food Waste Together

Food Waste Reduction Alliance

NRA is a leading partner in the Food Waste Reduction Alliance (FWRA), an initiative with the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute.

FWRA's aims are twofold: 1) reduce the amount of food waste being sent to America’s landfills; and 2)  increase healthful food donations to hungry people.


Further with FoodShows further with food logo, which includes a green arrow

NRA is also a proud participant in Further with Food: a one-stop shop, virtual resource center of food loss and waste solutions for businesses, government, academics, and consumers.



Feeding Animals Your Leftovers

Farmers have accepted leftover raw foods for generations and they'll often pick up food at a reduced cost (compared to landfill hauling) or even for free. Regulations vary from state to state on what types of discarded food is acceptable for animal feed, but coffee grounds and high-salt content foods are usually not accepted and can be harmful to livestock.

Contact your county's agricultural extension office, state veterinarian, or health department to learn specific rules, state regulations and contact information for licensed farmers.


Find Industrial Uses

There are typically two ways to use leftover food for industrial uses: 1) converting fats, oils, and greases to biofuel, and 2) anaerobic digestion to produce methane, electricity, or both.

FOG to Biofuel

There is a robust market for regularly picking up restaurateurs' leftover FOG and converting it to fuel. According to NRA research, 74% of restaurateurs surveyed recycle their FOG. If not properly disposed of, FOG can clog your sewer pipes and you could be fined for proper cleanup. Contact your municipality's water department for proper handling instructions and an approved list of FOG service providers.  

Anaerobic Digestion (AD)

AD takes organic material and ferments it in the absence of oxygen. This creates methane (natural gas) that can be burned for industrial uses or to make electricity. You'll need to find an AD facility near you and contact a hauler for regular pickups.

See more materials below.

Also consider: filtering your cooking oil



What if you could take your discarded, unusable food and turn it into soil-enriching "food" for crops and gardens? That's basically what organic composting does.

Non-edible food scraps — plate scrapings, fruit and vegetable peelings, spoiled foods, etc. — can be collected and converted into compost that can be used to fertilize crops, lawns and gardens.

Food waste is often the largest waste stream in your restaurant and it is costing you! Food waste is full of water, making it heavy and more costly to haul to the landfill.

Composting can lower your hauling costs, remove tons of waste from water treatment plants, and divert reusable, organic matter from landfills.

Unfortunately, composting facilities are not available in all municipalities. Find one near you at: Composting Facility Locator (BioCycle Magazine).




More Resources

Step 1) Source reduction

Step 2) Food donation for people

Step 4) Industrial uses

  • Waste to biogas mapping tool (CA, AZ, and NV only), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency developed a map of haulers, FOG producers, landfills, and biogas production facilities.

Step 5) Compost

  • Find a Composter.com. Use this website to find a composter near you and begin feeding farms from your wasted food.