According to the Food Waste Reduction Alliance’s 2014 study, 84.3% of unused food in restaurants is tossed in the trash. Just 14.3% of unused food is recycled and only 1.4% of it is donated. Food waste is a major problem.

Fortunately, restaurants and consumers alike are prioritizing sustainable choices. The National Restaurant Association’s list of culinary trends lists zero-waste cooking as the #3 priority for 2019. This makes it clear that both restaurants and diners want to support eco-friendly restaurant choices.

Of course, your restaurant menu doesn’t have to be totally zero-waste to be eco-friendly. Rather, a sustainable restaurant menu is thoughtful, supports local farmers and fresh produce, and avoids supporting harmful practices.

Wondering how your restaurant can plan a sustainable menu? Read our 6 tips below.

Use food scraps

The Washington D.C. restaurant Teaism introduced a new menu section called “Trash or Treasure.” These menu items utilize food scraps that otherwise would be thrown out.  One example, Teaism incorporates ground broccoli stems, a once-tossed scrap, into broccoli tots.

This is a wonderful example that can be replicated in your restaurant. You don’t have to transition to an entirely zero-waste menu, but there are likely food scraps that get ignored in your kitchen. Consider using them to create an entirely new dish, or get creative and introduce them into things like stocks and salads.

This helps reduce your food waste, saves on food costs, and lets your diners know that you’re serious about sustainability.

Accommodate seasonality

Change up your menu to incorporate seasonal produce! Not only does this ensure that your dishes are using the best quality ingredients, but it’s more environmentally friendly. Typically, seasonal items are grown closer to your location and require fewer resources to transport to your restaurant.

Plus, seasonally-inspired dishes add excitement to your menu. Of course, you don’t have to necessarily spend your whole menu every month. Instead, you could swap out veggie sides for whatever’s in season or switch out the fruit that accompanies your desserts.

Grow or make it yourself

Instead of relying on ordering shipments of vegetables and herbs, why not grow it yourself? If you have the space (and the climate!), it can be a worthwhile investment to set up your own vegetable garden. Things like carrots, tomatoes, and peppers are relatively simple to grow–and then you always have these items in your own backyard.

If space or climate is an issue, you could still have an herb garden. Basil, rosemary, and mint freshen up any dish, soup, and even cocktails.  In addition to growing your own produce, you could try your hand at house-made condiments and dressings.

Growing and making your own food allows your restaurant to control what you have, save money, and make more profit. Plus, who can resist a homemade pickle?

Go plant-based 

Wondering what’s #8 on the National Restaurant Association’s list of 2019 culinary trends? Spoiler alert: it’s veggie-centric and vegetable-forward cuisine.

Even if you’re not a vegetarian restaurant, you can introduce more plant-based dishes to your menu. Not only is this what many diners are looking for in a restaurant, but it’s also a sustainable move. Sources say that it takes 1,800 gallons of water to produce one portion of meat.

If your menu includes hearty, healthy, and delicious plant-based meals, you could satisfy an additional customer set.

Shop local & organic

Unless you’re Blue Hill at Stone Barns, it’s unlikely that you can independently produce everything you serve at your restaurant. No worries! Instead, you can shop local and organic. Partnering with nearby businesses is environmentally friendly and supports your local economy.

Explore your neighboring farmer’s markets, co-ops, and produce stands. You’ll discover fresh food, homemade goods, and avoid extra fees and fossil fuels that come with transporting food across the country.

Less is more

One of the biggest contributing factors to restaurant food waste is overestimating quantity. This is a two-sided issue–it happens with oversized portions and with wasted inventory.

If your restaurant typically serves large portions and patrons either take home leftovers or leave behind uneaten food, consider serving smaller portions. This will help reduce food waste. Pro tip: if you serve dishes on smaller plates, the plate still looks full.

To avoid wasted inventory, try testing a smaller menu. Narrowing down your menu items will help cut down on costs, avoid wasted inventory, make your kitchen more efficient, and allow your chefs to focus on quality over quantity.

Interested in learning more about how restaurants can better manage waste disposal? Read this.