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Anticipating and preventing food waste as you reopen your kitchens

By Sam Smith, Director of Marketing  ///  May 22, 2020


There are three new realities foodservice kitchens will face as they reopen that carry the risk of creating excessive amounts of food waste. In a Leanpath webinar entitled Reopen Strong, Leanpath CEO Andrew Shakman led a discussion with the Leanpath Culinary Council to explain these new realities and how to avoid the food waste lurking within them. Here is a summary of the discussion.

New Reality #1: We’re not just reopening, we’re starting over in many ways and we don’t know what to expect

The familiar patterns that dictated menus, production levels, purchasing levels and staffing, are not there anymore. Kitchens need data to run efficiently, but you no longer have the historic data you need to forecast. You certainly can’t look to previous year numbers to help with planning. That new, unpredictable environment creates fertile ground for food waste to take hold, as supply and demand mismatches lead to overproduction. With this lack of clarity and inability to predict demand, food waste has the potential to overwhelm kitchens, even ones that once had control over it.

How to respond:

  1. Not to put too fine a point on it, but tracking food waste data (whether with an automated solution like Leanpath or with pen and paper) will give you immediate feedback on how well your projections are playing out.
  2. Once you start creating food waste data you need to review it every day and be prepared to pivot quickly based on what you learn.
  3. Cook to order when you can, and make plans ahead of time on how you will repurpose overproduction.

New Reality #2: Social distancing changes how we serve and interact with customers and our employees

The need to have physical space among customers slows throughput. It will simply take longer to serve the same number of people as before. We are hearing from our clients that they plan to respond to this in different ways: longer service hours, more grab-and-go and more stations. Each of these creates the risk of food waste. Long hours can lead to spoilage due to longer hold times. Bulk prep for grab-and-go can lead to overproduction. And more stations can also lead to overproduction.

How to respond:

  1. Prep and produce in the smallest batches you can to ensure flexibility and avoid expired items.
  2. Think carefully about your menu, limiting its size to enable greater control and designing for items which can be paused during prep and stored as needed.
  3. Limit grab-and-go inventories and look for opportunities to add customization to meet a broader range of customer preferences.
  4. Manage your lines carefully, with small vessels and condense stations when possible.

Just as there will be social distancing rules in the dining area, social distancing will most likely be necessary in kitchens. This could create the need to lengthen prep times and even institute third-shift prep times. While bulk prep will be enticing–and possibly necessary–communication will be key among staff to ensure only what is needed is being prepped, that prepped items can still be held safely until they are needed, and repurposing plans are in place and communicated.

New Reality #3: At least initially, supply chains run inefficiently

The reality–or just as bad, the fear–of supply chain inefficiencies can lead to problems that create food waste. You’ve heard of FOMO–the fear of missing out. Kitchens have to wrestle with FORO–the fear of running out. This can lead to defensive purchasing, over inventory and ultimately food waste through spoilage. Likewise, the reality of supply chain issues may lead to unpredictable availability, which can prevent kitchens from complying with standardized recipes and build sheets if necessary ingredients don’t show up. This can lead to further food waste through spoilage if ingredients on hand cannot be used.

How to respond:

  1. Order more frequently and avoid stockpiling.
  2. Design menus with cross-utilization of ingredients to create resilience.
  3. Communicate openly and proactively with your customers when you need to modify menu options. Let them know you are focusing on reducing food waste.
  4. Communicate openly and proactively with your vendors to understand potential future problems.
  5. Plan ahead for secondary uses.


The Leanpath Culinary Council comprises Leanpath team members who are trained chefs, culinary educators and foodservice professionals. They leverage that practical expertise to help our clients solve food waste problems every day. They include our VP of Sales Scott Allmendinger, our Executive Chef Robb White, Chef and Account Manager Jon Sigua, and Chef and Customer Success Manager Robbie Pope.


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Topics: Food Waste Strategies, COVID-19