Reducing Spoilage and Waste


One of the most important efficiencies your restaurant CAN NOT IGNORE is waste.  Whether you order too much perishable product and it doesn’t sell or fails to sell before it spoils, you’re losing money.  If your staff are sloppy in their food prep duties, waste is going to cost you lots of money.  Same thing on the bar.. if your bartenders are careless or over-pour on purpose to get bigger tips, your losing money.

Chances are, you have many different employees in your restaurant all doing the same job, but everyone’s habits are different… some people care about every detail and following instructions to the “T”, others are just collecting a paycheck and going through the motions

(See: Building Your Dream Team in MODULE 3).

So portion controls are not always uniform, unless you put the necessary controls in place.


Everyone’s hands are different sizes and everyone’s idea of the correct portion may be completely different.   In my pizzeria, I had over 10 different pizza makers and we went through hundreds of cases of cheese per season…same with pepperoni.

I watched these pizza makers over-top the pizzas… thirty pepperoni slices instead of 20, every pizza every time… how much money I was losing until I put a stop to it – until I instituted an exact portion “Cheese Cup” and Exact # of toppings for each pizza that was required by every pizza maker.  Then each and every pizza was consistent for the guest and contributing the exact profit I expected from my cost sheets.

In the beginning, so much profit was lost on so many pizzas and I wouldn’t have known unless I watched and spot-checked.

Over the years, I also hired a few chefs who were super talented at putting out delicious food, but several of them could not order efficiently.  They bought too many perishable goods that they thought would sell.  When they didn’t, do you think these chefs turned these into still profitable “Specials” – NOT!  The food spoiled and ended up in the trash – there go the profits!  Same thing at the bar, order too much fruit and it spoils quickly… allow your bartenders to free pour and it may cost you money.

The point is, there are hundreds of ways to lose money in the restaurant business, especially if you’re not watching.   Make sure this doesn’t happen in your restaurant.

This is the business of 1000 details and your attention is pulled in so many directions, but you MUST pay attention to Portion Controls if you want to maximize your profits.

I had servers that would make their own salads and desserts on slower nights and I caught many of them putting two scoops of ice cream on every ala mode dessert, just because they thought they’d get a bigger tip.  All of this costs you money.

Unless you train your employees to care, they won’t care because they don’t own your restaurant and the money is not coming out of their pocket – they just don’t think about it.  

Train them to “Think Like an Owner” and “Act As If They Had To Pay For It”.  When I did this, everything changed in my restaurant and my profits began to build. 

The only sure way to keep your food & beverage costs in line is to create rock-solid portion control standards across your restaurant for all staff to follow and for you as owner or GM to routinely spot check and monitor these controls in every department. 

This all begins with the “Standard” for every dish or drink prepared by any staff person and then training and repeat training in the correct portion size. This goes for the appetizer, main entrée, side orders or accompaniments, etc. right down to the lemon wedge or garnish. If you order pies for dessert, is the yield 8 or 10 slices that you can sell?

Ask yourself this question for every item until you have a standard across the board for your entire menu.  Remember, if it goes on the plate or in a glass, it has a correct standard portion.

Once you have determined the “standards” for each and every dish and drink, it is good practice to photograph and write the correct “standard” for display in each food and drink prep area.

Whenever you hire a new cook, server or bartender, train them and make the standard portions absolutely clear. 

Lets talk about some areas that lose the most money?  Years ago, I had a professional chef who was an expert meat cutter.  He told me if we purchased our steaks and meats in bulk, he would save us money by cutting the exact portion right down to the ounce.  This worked for awhile until he left and hadn’t gotten around to training a replacement – Hard Knock lesson #243!

So bottom line is: exact portion control standards, procedures (such as measuring devices, cups, jiggers, etc.)  and cross-training staff on key-practices is just smart M.O. and should be an absolute MUST priority in your restaurant.


Some spoilage is not the kitchen’s fault.  If you have a power outage that lasts for many hours or even days, what’s the value of your food inventory in the walk -in?  Many thousands of dollars can all be lost.  I remember many years ago, my restaurant did not have an auxiliary generator and we lost power overnight.  Good thing we were only open in winter, as we were able to move all our product outside into the snow until power was restored and our walk-in was back up to temp.

Word To the Wise:  Get a generator that will power your walk-in and ask your insurance agent for “Loss of Product” coverage… it is available!

Perishable food products have a short shelf life… poultry, beef, dairy & eggs, etc..  Your restaurant should implement a “First In, First Out (FIFO) policy and all of your highly perishable products should be “Date Coded” in your walk-in with colored labels that signal staff what product to “USE FIRST”.

When products haven’t moved quickly, they need to be turned into soups and specials that prevent unnecessary food waste and loss of profit.  Prime Rib is popular but you never know when you’re gonna sell the whole rib after cooking it.  If there’s rib leftover, turn it into a French Dip Sandwich special next day and move that merchandise!