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How to Reduce Food Waste in a Bar

Waste in your bar costs money, plain and simple. Waste occurs in many places: perishable food, utilities, labor, and so on. Spend some time analyzing your operation. Identify areas where waste occurs.

Kitchen waste is the number-one area to check. Almost everything can be saved in the kitchen (assuming it’s not spoiled). Have a great stockpot for vegetables, bones, and the like (talk to your chef), and you’ll have a great (and inexpensive) base for all your sauces.

Talk about waste with all the kitchen help. Most people don’t intend to waste and won’t once they know they are throwing away money. Ultimately, if they do waste money, you’ll have to close the bar, and they’ll have to find a new job. It’s a team thing!

Let everyone know you’re watching for waste and abuse of food, liquor, linen, and paper products. You can stop the waste and abuse of these items by your employees, but stopping the customers — well, that’s another story.

The easiest way to reduce waste is to be organized and vigilant. It starts from the top down. When you’re visible, your employees are less likely to leave the water running, steal something, or forget FIFO (first in, first out or using the oldest products first). Train your staff to be your eyes for waste. Financially motivating your employees based on controlling expenses benefits you immediately and forever.

Here are a few key areas to be vigilant about:

  • Watch your utility bills. Close the cooler doors and turn off the inside lights when no one’s working in them. (Are you air conditioning the neighborhood?) Don’t open windows when you’ve got the AC cranked and it’s 95 degrees out. Turn off unused burners on your ranges on a slow night. Turn off lights in vacant storerooms.

  • Stay on top of your office supplies. Sticky notes, pens, paper, and menus add up. Office supplies are the most stolen items in any business. They’re small, aren’t usually tracked, and everyone can use them. Plus, many people don’t feel like it’s really stealing if an item or two just happens to make it home with them in their purse or pocket.

    Keep them locked up in the office on a strictly need-to-use basis.

  • Ration your linens. Although you want a clean bar, employees can clean more than a single bar top with a single towel. Remember, every towel has to go out to the cleaners after it’s dirty, and that’s another expense. Even if you wash the linens yourself, it’s more work (and water and detergent and wear and tear) than you need.

    Consider rationing your towels. Give each bartender and cook one towel to last them the whole day. Also, clean up floor spills with dirty linens, not clean linens. It may seem gross at first, but it’s much more efficient to clean up half a gallon of ice water with dirty linen, and then sanitize the floor with a mop, than to do the same exercise with fresh-from-the-package linen.

  • Watch portion and pour sizes. Though unintentional, giving away an extra half shot in each drink adds up quickly, ultimately subtracting from your bottom line. Dishing up an extra 2 ounces of fries with each 1-ounce order is like giving away two free orders. Standardized portions and pour sizes give you a way to monitor use and reduce waste.

Food products have a much shorter shelf life than liquor, especially those that fall into the perishable category, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and meats. Canned foods and frozen foods tend to be more forgiving of time.

Spoilage in a food-service establishment, like a bar, takes on a whole different perspective when you consider the volume. If you’ve ever been grumpy about tossing out a rotten head of lettuce at home, think about tossing out an entire case in a bar. Ouch!

The good news is that spoilage can be prevented. Begin with an attitude that spoilage is unacceptable. Keep your staff working on the first in, first out (FIFO) rule. Train them from Day 1 that they need to use the oldest products first.

Notice it didn’t say spoiled products. No one is advocating that you serve your patrons rotten food. But you don’t want a carton of sour cream to continue to get buried behind newer ones and then expire in the cooler before you can use it.

If you’re ordering in the proper quantities, your staff shouldn’t have too much extra product to manage.

Believe it or not, beer and wine are perishable. If these products aren’t stored at a consistent, proper temperature, the perishing process speeds up. If you buy ten cases of wine and your storage room temperature is fluctuating, you had better be going through your stock quickly, or the wine’s quality will be affected.

Rotate your stock, especially the beer on the back bar. Make sure you put the old beer in front, and slide the new beer to the back.

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