In the past few decades, the restaurant industry has been under constant barrage from ecologists and ‘green’ organizations about the high volume of waste generated by our industry. Fortunately, these groups have offered some interesting and positive solutions ranging from donations of surplus food to food banks and local charities to better processing of waste and recyclables.
But there are additional, perhaps more traditional methods that seem to have gone by the wayside as restaurateurs face other daunting tasks in the typical 70 hour work week.
As consultants, you see, we understand the ability of the restaurant owner and manager to focus their attention on things that come across the desk every day. We know how difficult it is to accomplish new things or to fix things that don’t seem broken.
We also took a look back in time, to an age before plastic wrapped foods, when restaurants produced absolutely everything from scratch, and yet had less waste than we do today. At that time, local purveyors sold locally grown and produced goods to restaurants that changed menus according to the seasonal availability of various foods. Today, chefs use exotic ingredients, without regard to the cost and impact of shipping items half way around the globe.
How is this relevant to 21st century restaurant operations? Simple. We can view the processes used in the 19th and early 20th centuries and apply those in our modern, high speed world. While labor was much cheaper then, all work was done by hand. Today, machines do most of the work for us, yet often restaurateurs take what seems to be an easier option when one is shown to them by their food suppliers.
Several years ago, we had a client in Jacksonville, Florida. Their food supplier had told them that they could save a fortune on labor by purchasing prepared carrots, celery, potatoes and other vegetables. At the time, a 20 pound case of carrots that were cut into sticks (4, 5 lb bags) was priced at about $28. The salesman’s statement that the box had a 100% yield was true. He forgot to mention that this also produced a cardboard box and four plastic bags as waste product.
As part of a cost-savings process, we looked at a variety of operational issues, including work-flow, personnel utilization, purchasing, product shelf-life and use, among other factors. What we found was that the restaurant still had line cooks whose time was poorly used. We found also that a 50 pound bag of carrots was $7.50 and it came in natural burlap, which is bio-degradable. We also found that the yield was pretty high on carrots if you prepare them correctly. Use of labor to care for the carrots in their whole state to prep them for different cuts and uses gave the restaurant more options and in fact, increased sales dramatically.
How? Simply. By spending 10 minutes of one prep cook to clean the carrots, they could be used in many different ways. To ensure they were not wasted, we adapted all the relevant recipes that included carrots and some that had not. Salads received julienned carrots. Some appetizers had carrots added to the recipes and crinkle cut carrots were added to the vegetable side, which had been only broccoli before this. In less time than it took to move 20 pounds of carrot sticks, which were only useful for a limited range of dishes, we moved a 50 pound bag, at 25% of the raw cost. Labor amounted to less than $5 to prepare all the carrots. The waste product that remained? The tips and tops of the carrots, and most of those were trimmed to minimize waste and added to the stock pot for flavor.
When our consultant conducted his analysis, he found that out of 50 pounds of carrots, the restaurant discarded less than 10 ounces of waste. What happened to the burlap bags? One of the patrons at the bar was a local landscaper. He took all the burlap bags for his work, recycling them into the ground in someone’s garden.
We advocate as a means of reducing waste, the resumption of traditional, intelligent methods of food preparation.
By the way, the look of the food in that restaurant improved so much that customers bought more and positive customer feedback about the food went up 82% in a month. Sales went up too. So much that they now have two restaurants and still use our methods.
In re-planning the menu to accommodate waste issues, one can also produce major yields on food cost, labor cost savings and increased customer satisfaction and all the while, being “green”… and putting more green in the bank.