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The end of kitchen service is a critical moment to control food waste. Here's how to plan for it.

By Robb White, CEC CCA AAC; Executive Chef & Food Waste Prevention Catalyst  ///  May 3, 2022


Your kitchen is nearing the end of a busy service and it’s been a long day. Your culinary team is short staffed. Everybody is drained and looking forward to heading home. But there’s still food to be served, and breakdown and clean up still have to be done. 

There are many food waste critical control points within a kitchen: the end of service is one of the most important. What happens in this short span of time, when staff are often distracted, can have a large impact–positively or negatively–on your food waste prevention efforts. 

The key to avoiding this excess waste is to have a plan for the end of service and communicate it to the culinary team. Here are the key elements of a waste-aware end-of-service plan.

Final prep

Near the end of service, you still need to have product available for your guests, but you can begin to cut down on the amount needed as closing time draws near. The goal is to have what you need and not much more, keeping the potential for overproduction to a minimum. Here are a few key processes to integrate into your plan:

  • Near the end of service, cook only what you need in small batches or, if possible, switch to cook-to-order. This will cut down on the amount of food that can’t be repurposed as well as keeping the food available to the guests fresher and more appealing.
  • When switching to cook-to-order at the end of service, it is important for your staff to communicate with guests that they are happy to cook items to order and what items they can still get.  Make sure the guests know why the buffet might not have all the available options and that you are doing your best to prevent avoidable food waste. You’ll most likely be met with support.
  • If you offer a buffet-style service, switching to smaller serving vessels will still give your buffet the sense of abundance, but you actually have a minimal amount of food on there.

Beware of pitfalls that might contribute to excess food waste near the end of service.  Some common pitfalls may be the culinary team cooking off an excess amount of food and loading up the buffet so they can break down their stations.  Another may be the culinary team placing full vessels out on the buffet line instead of just putting out enough product to get through the service.  Remember, sometimes when food is placed on a buffet, it cannot be repurposed due to health department standards so only put out what you need to get you to the end.

Storage and repurpose planning

Having a plan in place BEFORE the end of service on how to deal with any food remaining from the buffet is essential.  Poor decisions are made when the end of service is near and the team is ready to head out for the day. Have your plan in place before the breakdown of the line begins. 

  • Have your ABC Plan in place for all food.  An ABC Plan is your plan for dealing with all food purchased for a specific service.  Plan A is the original intent for the food you purchased and for what menu item you purchased it for. Plan B is your repurposing plan for any food that you are able to save and utilize at a later date. Plan C is your plan to store those items by freezing or some other preservation method if you are unable to utilize those items in a day or two.
  • It is always best to avoid combining ingredients unless you actually need them for the line.  For instance, if you have a composed salad on your buffet, don’t combine the ingredients until it’s needed.  This gives you the opportunity to repurpose those ingredients at a later date.  Same thing with saucing dishes - don’t unless needed.
  • Have your station set up to quickly chill, wrap, label and date all items that are able to be saved.  Having a clean, organized breakdown station makes the process quicker and helps avoid mistakes that can lead to excessive food waste.
  • One of the most effective ways to reduce food waste at the end of service is to assign a champion to help make the final decision for all food that is wasted or saved.  It should be someone that is an advocate for preventing food waste and has the kitchen authority to make those decisions - someone who tells the team to “Save this, toss that.”

Whatever your service style may be, every kitchen needs to have a solid plan in place for the end of service and how they deal with keeping the service line looking full and plentiful and preventing as much food waste as possible.

It is important to communicate the plan with your team ahead of time.  Keeping your team motivated to reduce food waste goes a long way.  If you are struggling with this specific plan, your Leanpath coach can help you develop a plan that can address your needs, help keep your team motivated and help you get this important critical control point in place.

Topics: Tips & Tricks