Tips for zeroing in on food waste at the bar

Bar garnishes
There are many creative ways to reduce waste behind the bar. | Photo: Shutterstock.


Dear Advice Guy,

I have been prioritizing zero waste in my kitchen, but the bar has been a pretty traditional program. Any suggestions to reduce food waste there as well?

– Owner


Food waste, an astonishing one-third or more of our food supply that is produced but never eaten, represents a huge environmental and financial cost for restaurants. It is also horrible for morale to see beautiful product go to waste. Over the past few years there have been many efforts focused on reducing kitchen waste from the James Beard Foundation’s Full Use Kitchen program (disclosure, I wrote much of that curriculum) to the World Wildlife Fund’s report on fighting food waste in hospitality and foodservice.

You are right that while food waste has been a big topic in our industry, bar and beverage waste has been lagging as a focus. Further, a smart collaboration with the bar can help reduce kitchen waste, creating cost-savings and profit opportunities for the entire operation. A few strategies come to mind:

  1. The best way to reduce food that would otherwise be wasted is to menu it. The bar, especially cocktail specials, represents many opportunities for upcycling. For example, fruit and vegetable scraps can be converted to juices, syrups or infused spirits. I worked with one restaurant that ran a compressed watermelon salad on their summer menu. Thinking systematically, whenever the salad was on the appetizer menu, a watermelon cooler, made from the trim, would be on the bar menu. Eventually, the beverage sales outpaced the food sales. The Waring Empowered initiative has a number of suggestions for juices and purees that work at the bar.
  2. Source sustainable spirits. Emily Darchuk, founder of Wheyward Spirit, which distills spirits from whey that would otherwise be wasted says, “Our goal was to make more versatile and sippable spirits that you could feel good about. Our upcycled specialty spirits, Wheyward Spirit and Wheyward Wheyskey prevent gallons of food waste and have a fraction of the carbon and water footprint by using upcycled whey instead of a traditional grain grape or agave.”
  3. Theme bar snacks. A number of byproducts from brewing and distilling can provide rich flavors and thematic tie-ins at the bar. For example, brewer and distiller spent grain can be used to make items like pizza crust, burger buns and pretzels that add flavor and nutrition to bar bites menus while reducing waste.

More on reducing bar and beverage waste here.