Leftover food: Dump, donate or surrender to staff?

leftovers containers


One of my coworkers got fired for taking food home. It was cooked stuff from a party that the sous chef told us to toss. It doesn’t seem fair. What do other restaurants do?

– Server, Philadelphia


For someone like me who loves food and appreciates all of the effort that goes into growing, preparing and serving it, seeing it go to waste is painful. And when taking food home can help an employee’s family stretch their dollars and make people happy, it seems like an obvious win to let employees use leftovers as they see fit.

While it sounds nice on the surface, allowing employees free reign to take home leftovers can create a new set of problems like:

  • A blurry line between something that can be reused by the restaurant and something that is truly unsalvageable.
  • Potential for intentional misfires or overproduction.
  • Potential liability for foodborne illness. If you donate leftovers to a charitable organization, you are protected by the 1996 Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation act and other legislation. The same protection does not apply when “donating” to employees.

My overall advice is, whichever way you go, to have a very clear policy—a yes-or-no scenario. Some good ways to manage leftovers and avoid some of the frustration of seeing food go to waste include:

  • Staff meal. Even if you are not allowing a variety of food to leave the premises with employees, you can offer free staff meal and encourage leftovers from that meal to be taken home. Staff meal—even if employees pay a portion—should be treated as a benefit cost and not a supplemental revenue source.
  • Food donation. Some of the staff frustration on this topic stems from the pain of watching perfectly good food get tossed into a dumpster. If you partner with a shelter or soup kitchen to properly donate leftovers, employees will feel better about the food going to people who need it most.
  • To-go shelf. In rare instances of overproduction that can’t be repurposed, the chef can authorize and pack food to be taken home and can vouch that it has been properly handled. If it is not safe enough to be served to a guest, it is not safe enough to donate or serve to staff.

More on restaurant leftover policies here.

Want to ask Advice Guy a question?