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3 ways to trim labor, food waste

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Labor savings and waste reduction are hot buttons these days, as minimum wage rates climb across the country and the collective consciousness of food waste grows to include both chefs and consumers.

Here are a few steps that can target both challenges.

Rethink the menu

A smaller, more curated menu is often less labor-intensive (fewer choices to master and prepare) and less likely to result in spoiled food. A closer analysis of ordering habits and menus, especially lengthy documents with dozens of options, will reveal the dogs and the stars, the high-margin versus the seldom-ordered, the single entree or salad that calls for a costly herb or protein that doesn’t show up anywhere else. A more synergistic mix maximizes the potential for product cross-utilization.

Dress up off-the-shelf with fresh

A speed-scratch approach cuts down on prep time and the need for a skilled chef’s touch as well as food waste. Garnishing with fresh fruit and produce, mixing in chopped fresh herbs, plating with sauces and other scratch-made embellishments to ready-made entrees, desserts, soups and other items creates the illusion of from-scratch but requires far less time and skill.

Outsourcing some prep is especially handy for items like breads and desserts, which often require specialized skills. A bonus of the speed-scratch approach: consistency. If the supplier is trimming and weighing the proteins, for example, the result doesn’t depend on a line cook’s precision.

Create a culture around maximizing ingredients

Training kitchen staff about the value of product, why it’s essential to conform to recipes and what constitutes proper portion sizes is an important step in reining in costs and trimming waste.

Grace Communications Foundation estimates that restaurants waste 4% to 10% of food before it reaches the customer, although some organizations put that figure higher. The organization blames oversized portions, overpreparation of food, improper ingredient storage and failure to repurpose food scraps and trimmings.

Every chef understands the argument for reworking yesterday’s leftovers into today’s specials. And head-to-tail butchery pushes the imagination to find creative uses for often-discarded organ meats and other by-products. Fewer kitchen staffs appreciate the wisdom of keeping vegetable peelings out of the trash. But forward thinkers like Dan Barber, chef at Blue Hill in New York, see the value of these discarded foods and have created devilishly creative ways to put them front and center on the plate.

Similarly, L.A.-based chef Marcel Vigneron last year opened two adjacent restaurants that espouse a “zero-waste” philosophy. He serves carrots and beets with peels intact (less labor), purees stems from vegetables like cauliflower for side dishes and uses leftover lemon bits to create limoncello.

At Trestle, in San Francisco, partner Ryan Cole keeps a sharp eye on food costs and considers an empty cooler (and minimal waste) a good thing. The value-driven three-course menu changes every day, but some components get carried over, often in a different form, to ensure as little as possible gets tossed.

This post is sponsored by Kerry Foodservice

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