Solutions for Bar and Restaurant Food Waste

Food waste is a massive problem in restaurants and bars.

This year, it’s estimated that the amount of food waste produced by restaurants will exceed 11 million tons.

It doesn’t have to be this way. And the fact that food waste reduction programs can address hunger and food insecurity, are eco-friendly, and save operators money should help change take hold in the industry.

According to ReFED, a non-profit network committed to reducing food waste in the United States, 52 million tons of food are sent to landfills each year. Food waste consumes 21 percent of landfill volume, along with 21 percent of all fresh water in the US.

Do the math and the result is that restaurants are the source of over 20 percent of food waste. Overall, more than one percent of America’s GDP is spent on this waste, from production to disposal. That’s $218 billion per year, nearly a quarter of which—$58 billion—comes from consumer-facing businesses (like bars, restaurants, nightclubs, hotels, and casinos).

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ReFED has identified several solutions to reducing and preventing food waste, including packaging adjustments, food donations (leveraging donation matching technology as well as donation liability education), smaller plates and portions in restaurants, and composting. In total, ReFED has come up with 27 solutions that fall into three main categories:

  1. Prevention (stop it before it occurs)
  2. Recovery (redistribute food waste to people in need)
  3. Recycling (repurpose for energy, agricultural and other needs)

Another organization, the Food Waste Reduction Alliance (FWRA), is dedicated to solving this problem through food donations or recycling. The FWRA consists of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Food Marketing Institute, and the National Restaurant Association seeks to achieve three goals:

  1. Reduce the amount of food waste generated.
  2. Increase the amount of safe, nutritious food donated to those in need.
  3. Recycle unavoidable food waste, diverting it from landfills.

A solution for bars is championed by Trash Tiki: anti-waste. Iain Griffiths and Kelsey Ramage of Trash Tiki acknowledge that becoming a truly zero-waste bar operation is basically impossible. And because every operation is different, they prefer the anti-waste mindset.

Trash Tiki suggests operators look at the waste they produce and work the problem backwards. What single-use items can be eliminated? What can be cross-utilized, given two or three additional uses? They also advocate for zero-waste cocktails, drinks made with repurposed items and house-grown garnishes, served at room temperature.

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FoodMaven, a food supplier headquartered in Colorado, is a solution to the waste problem for restaurants or bars with culinary programs. Counting Hilton, Fast Fit Foods, Lucky Dumpling and Four by Brother Luck among their customers, FoodMaven sources “imperfect” or surplus product—or product from local suppliers without wider distribution—and sells it to their customers to keep it out of landfills.

“One of my favorite customer stories is Chef Brother Luck talking about how cool it was to purchase hail-damaged onions last year,” says Megan Corish, vice president of external affairs at FoodMaven. “The onions were going to get thrown away, but FoodMaven rescued the onions and found great chefs to buy them.”

Their zero-landfill policy means food that food pantries in communities in which they operate receive donations of products that can’t be sold. FoodMaven has an online marketplace, no contracts or delivery fees, no minimum order requirements, and a comprehensive return policy.

“Upcyclers seek to end food waste by rescuing, reviving and/or reinventing ingredients before they go to waste. I look at upcycling as a scaled version of what has been going in kitchens forever: bones and vegetable bits become the base for your soup du jour—you do not waste ingredients!” says Mike Oraschewsky, CEO of TBJ Gourmet. “In the case of TBJ Gourmet, we seek out ends and pieces of bacon that will be discarded because they do not look pretty in the pre-sliced package and use them in our bacon jam.”

The infographic below shows the stark reality of food waste in the US. Operators concerned about this problem can reach out to ReFED, the FWRA, and local food waste management and recycling services. Trash Tiki will address this topic at Nightclub & Bar Show 2020 on Wednesday, April 1.

Restaurant Food Waste by the Numbers infographic by The Digest of Hoboken, NJ


ReFED website

FWRA website

Trash Tiki website

FoodMaven website

Infographic sources

Montanez, Abby. “Restaurant Food Waste by the Numbers.” The Digest. January 24, 2020.

  1. A typical American restaurant throws out approximately 85% of food that isn’t used. Source:
  2. 95% of a restaurant’s food waste could be either recycled or composted.  Source:
  3. For every meal served in a restaurant, a ½ pound of waste is created. Source:
  4. The average fast food restaurant accumulates 200,000 pounds of food waste per year. Source: 
  5. On average, restaurants would save $7 in operating costs for every $1 invested in programs to reduce food waste. Source: 
  6. In one year, the restaurant industry is estimated to generate more than 11 million tons of waste. Source: 
  7. 15% of all the food that ends up in landfills comes from restaurants. Source: 
  8. A single restaurant can produce up to 75,000 pounds of food waste a year. Source: