Restaurant Food Waste Challenge

Sustain Dane’s Restaurant Food Waste Challenge aims to bring awareness and action to food waste in local restaurants. The participating restaurants will work with us to identify how and when food waste is created and set a goal to reduce, repurpose, and divert wasted food. 

Using food recovery strategies, restaurants can save money on food purchasing and disposal costs, reduce food waste-based methane emissions, and strengthen our community through food donations. Read more about these strategies below. 

According to the WI DNR, our landfills consist of 14.5% food that would be traditionally edible, and 6% “food scraps” (like peels). This makes food the largest component of our waste stream. Both individuals and organizations (like restaurants) have the power to impact this figure!

How do restaurants participate? 

    1. The first step in the process is to sign up for the challenge. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis.
    2. Next, participants meet with Sustain Dane (in person or virtual) to talk about their interest, opportunities for action, and to chart a project plan.
    3. Participants will select three (or more) food waste reduction strategies to implement or expand from the options listed below.
    4. The challenge takes place from July to August. Over these two months, participants will implement their food waste reduction strategies.
    5. Tracking progress/impact will occur with food waste tracking for one week upon joining the challenge and one week near the end of the challenge.

Over the course of the challenge, Sustain Dane will work with the restaurants to support their selected strategies. Participants will be celebrated with public recognition from Sustain Dane.

Food Waste Reduction Strategies 

The best way to reduce the impacts associated with food waste is to prevent waste altogether. The next most important strategy is to donate surplus food to organizations that can direct it to people in need. After maximizing prevention and donation, direct remaining food scraps to animal feed and compost.  

Prevention
  • Measure back-of-house and/or front-of-house food waste. 
  • Adopt new practices for food purchasing, storage, and right-sized cooking quantities to minimize waste; if possible, track any changes in amounts of food purchased. 
  • Be flexible on portion sizes (e.g., offer smaller portions, half-size options, etc.). 
  • Cook in small batches and/or cook to order. 
  • Make side dishes and bread optional for your customers and ensure that garnishes are edible. 
Repurpose
  • Creatively repurpose surplus foods and record any new or modified recipes. 
  • Use foods that might otherwise be discarded (like imperfect fruits and vegetables and unusual plant parts) and take a “nose to tail” approach with animal products; record any new or modified recipes. 
  • Donate surplus food regularly to a local charity. 
  • Donate or sell food scraps for animal consumption. 
  • Compost food scraps. 
Other
  • Engage your staff through training on food waste reduction and food donation, and through recognition for practices that reduce food waste. 
  • Actively encourage the use of carryout containers (reusable or recyclable containers preferred to reduce overall waste)
  • Enlist at least three other restaurants to sign up for the challenge. 
  • Adopt other changes that reduce wasted food in your facility. 
  • Incorporate more plant-based menu options.

This project is made possible through funding from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Our partners include The City of Madison and Farm 2 Facts, a product of the Kaufman Lab for the study of food systems and marketplaces housed in the Department of Planning and Landscape Architecture at UW Madison.  

City of Madison, Wisconsin