Dan Simons, managing partner of the Founding Farmers restaurant group, based in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area, takes the practice of sustainability seriously. The operator of two Founding Farmers restaurants as well as Farmers Fishers Bakers says finding what works best for your operation and having the courage to see it through will lead to sustainability success. He spoke to the National Restaurant Association recently about how to reduce food waste.
What is your take on the issue of food waste in the restaurant industry?
Food waste is a really interesting topic because it starts in the kitchen with how much you actually put on the plate. Some of us are known for the large portions we serve. At our restaurants, I judge how well we’re minimizing food waste by what I see is not eaten. If unfinished food comes back to the dishroom, we will reduce the portion size of the item -- so that the guest still feels like he or she got value, but so we can cut down the waste at the same time.
Monitoring plate waste is a great start, but can a manager or owner do more?
It’s important to pay attention to your inventory and purchasing practices. At Founding Farmers, we focus intensely on data. We really take pains to measure what we bring in through the back door. We believe you should buy what you need — no more and no less. We hear statistics claiming that 25 percent to 40 percent of the food in the U.S. food supply ends up being wasted. That’s just unacceptable.
What are the economic benefits of this detailed monitoring?
Reducing your waste is about how well you manage in the kitchen and how well you manage your yields. Those are things folks don’t always think about. But if you do, you can – in some cases – save upwards of 5 percent, 6 percent or 7 percent of your purchases – and that’s just by measuring things and paying attention to the data. At our restaurants, it’s also important for us to be able to validate what’s in our inventory. By maximizing the prep-to-shelf life of everything we purchase, we ultimately can buy less and keep fewer dollars tied up in inventory. That’s great for our bottom line.
What advice would you give restaurateurs thinking about practicing sustainability?
For anyone thinking about doing this, it’s important to understand that you probably won’t save the world in one giant fell swoop, but you can do small things that add up to a big difference. Reducing food waste before it’s created is one of those things.
Pictured, top right: Dan Simons of Founding Farmers Restaurant Group.