Cost savings and sustainability are two hot topics that can sometimes seem at odds. But when it comes to food waste in restaurants, less food wasted means less money lost. Reducing your restaurant’s food waste also earns you sustainability bona fides by reducing your environmental impact.
- Customers support food waste reduction: An overwhelming number (91%) of consumers prefer to purchase from businesses that reduce food waste.
- Reducing food waste is profitable: Each $1 in saved food creates $14 in additional revenue.
- Tech can help: Nearly half of restaurants (42%) of restaurants use inventory management software to reduce waste.
Knowing the latest restaurant food waste statistics can help you understand the best way to optimize your food waste management, save money, improve sustainability, and ultimately win over customers. Check out these 24 food waste restaurant industry statistics for 2024.
Overall Food Waste Statistics
1. Businesses lose $2.6 trillion each year to food waste
Around the world, restaurants and food-based businesses lose as much as $2.6 trillion annually because of food waste. Most food waste happens at the end of the production chain, particularly during meal preparation and distribution. This means food waste is mostly in the hands of the restaurants themselves.
2. 38% of food goes unsold or uneaten
In the US, 38% of food available for consumption after being grown, processed, and transported goes unsold or uneaten. This includes waste from restaurants, grocery stores, and other food industry businesses.
3. The amount of food wasted could feed 2 billion people
Food waste is more than just an economic issue—it’s also a social one. And consumers are increasingly demanding social consciousness from the businesses they support.
Thus, it’s worth noting that the amount of food wasted could feed as many as 2 billion people, more than double the number of hungry people in the world. One-third of what is produced is unusable, but distribution could fix hunger that stems from food access issues. Making efforts to reduce food waste or distribute otherwise wasted food locally could be a great brand-building move too.
4. Up to 10% of food purchased by restaurants never gets to customers
On average, 4%–10% of food restaurants purchase never even reaches a customer. On the other hand, 31%–40% of food served to customers isn’t consumed. Consider offering smaller portion sizes or different size options. Takeaway containers can also mitigate the waste of food served to patrons.
5. Businesses lose 5.6% of total sales to food waste
For businesses that suffer from food waste, the total loss equates to around 5.6% of total sales. There’s a direct correlation between food waste-related initiatives and cost savings, increased revenue, new revenue streams, and higher consumer confidence.
What Causes Food Waste
6. Restaurant food waste happens in 3 key areas.
As far as restaurant food waste statistics go, it mainly happens in three key areas:
- Kitchen food prep
- Food service
- Customer consumption
Restaurants should develop strategies for mitigating waste in each area to create a comprehensive food waste plan.
7. 60% of food is wasted in consumption
More than half—60%—of food is wasted during consumption. Food services make up 34%, just over a third, of that food waste.
8. 931 million tons of food is wasted in retail and final consumption levels
Approximately 931 million tons of food are wasted at the retail and final consumption levels. Of this food waste, consumers contribute the most.
9. The biggest contributor to food waste overall is the food supply chain
While consumers may contribute their fair share to food waste, most of it’s lost in the food supply chain. In fact, according to one report, “If food waste were a country, it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gasses (GHGs) globally (8–10% of global emissions), after the US and China.” Restaurants should consider optimizing their food handling both on-site as well as take a look at optimizing supply chains.
10. 15% of food produced is lost during harvest or slaughter
Of food wasted around the world, 15% is lost during the harvest or slaughter process. Overall, food waste mostly happens at the production, post-harvest, distribution, and processing stages.
Statistics on Consumers & Food Waste
11. Americans throw away more than $160 billion in food annually
Each year, people in the US discard more than $160 billion in food. This includes businesses and consumers themselves.
12. 72% of consumers are more conscious about food waste
People are opening their eyes to the negative effects of food waste. Nearly three-quarters (72%) have become more aware about their own food waste habits and levels. This number was as low as 33% prior to 2020 and the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. As many as 60% of consumers feel guilt about food waste.
Consumer Survey Responses on Motivation to Reduce Food Waste
13. Online searches about food waste have increased 80%
As consumers become more aware of their own food waste, they’re also looking for ways to prevent it. In 2022, for example, there was an 80% increase in online searches around ways to increase the shelf life of food at home.
Most consumers plan their food consumption and use a shopping list to reduce waste. A growing number of consumers are buying imperfect produce at lower price points.
14. 61% of consumers feel businesses should do more to reduce waste
Businesses aren’t off the hook. In fact, consumers expect them to join in on their own food waste initiatives. More than 60% of consumers believe brands, stores, and supermarkets should do more to reduce food waste. Nearly the same amount (57%) are disappointed because they think these businesses aren’t doing enough or caring enough about the issue.
15. 56% of social media conversations about food waste are negative
When it comes to social media, consumers are speaking out. And they’re not happy. More than half of social media conversations about food waste carry a negative sentiment. They’re not happy with businesses’ overall response to this issue. A food waste program is a great way to position yourself as a favorable option for local customers.
16. Only 33% are happy with businesses’ labeling
Despite what businesses may think, the public’s general consensus is that collectively, businesses aren’t doing enough to combat food waste. They want organizations to do better when it comes to product innovation, product packaging, clarity of date labels, and consumer education. In fact, only one-third of shoppers are satisfied with businesses’ current labeling practices.
One way to make customers happy here is to implement digital labels using technology like QR codes. This way, they can look up additional information about the product so they can make an informed purchase decision that leads to less waste.
17. 91% of consumers prefer to purchase from businesses that reduce food waste
While reducing food waste is a great way to cut costs, it’s also a marketing and positioning tool. Consumers want to see businesses take action against food loss. In fact, more than 90% actually prefer to purchase from businesses that have some sort of food waste management initiative in place. And 58% of these consumers have even increased spending with those businesses.
Stats on Preventing Food Waste
18. For every $1 a company invests in food waste reduction, it can expect a $14 return on investment
Investing in food waste reduction initiatives pays off for businesses. For every $1 a company dedicates to combating food waste, it can anticipate a substantial $14 return on investment (ROI). This underscores the financial viability of implementing effective food waste management strategies, making it a smart and lucrative choice for businesses looking to enhance sustainability practices while bolstering the bottom line.
19. Nearly $9.14 billion in private capital has been invested in food waste solutions over the last 10 years
The commitment to addressing food waste is evident in the private sector. Over the past decade, private capital investments in food waste solutions have reached $9.14 billion. Of that, $1.55 billion was invested in 2022 and a record-breaking $2 billion in 2021. This influx of capital reflects a growing recognition of the importance of sustainable food practices and the potential for innovative solutions.
20. Reduction in costs is the top benefit of food waste-related initiatives for 56% of businesses
More than half (56%) of businesses that are engaged in food waste initiatives say cost reduction is the primary benefit. Beyond the positive environmental impact, businesses are motivated by the tangible economic advantages associated with effective food waste management.
21. Restaurants should take 3 approaches to reduce food waste
One analysis advises restaurants to adopt three key approaches to better manage food waste:
By addressing food waste comprehensively, businesses can implement strategies that span the entire lifecycle of food, from production to consumption. This multifaceted approach is crucial for achieving meaningful and lasting reductions in food waste.
22. 28% of food businesses focus on reducing household food waste
While many organizations concentrate on internal operations, only 28% of food manufacturing and retail organizations specifically target reducing household food waste. This highlights the need for broader initiatives that encompass the entire supply chain, from production to consumer use. Collaborative efforts involving suppliers and consumers are essential for achieving comprehensive food waste reduction.
23. 42% of restaurants use inventory tech to reduce waste
In a survey by point-of-sale (POS) brand Lightspeed, 51% of respondents say they use inventory tools to improve food costing and reduce waste. The second most common way businesses are dealing with inflation is by implementing tighter food costing and inventory practices as a means of not overspending on excess products while also reducing food waste costs.
24. 47% of hospitality owners think environmentally friendly initiatives will attract more customers
Nearly half (47%) of hospitality owners agree or strongly agree that implementing environmentally friendly initiatives attracts more customers. This highlights a shifting consumer preference toward businesses that prioritize sustainability. For restaurants, adopting environmentally friendly practices isn’t only an ethical choice but also a strategic one.
Related: Retail Sustainability Trends
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
These are some of the most common questions I hear about restaurant food waste.
Businesses lose $2.6 trillion in food waste each year. Around 4%–10% of food restaurants purchase is lost before it reaches a customer.
In the US, 38% of food available for consumption after being grown, processed, and transported goes unsold or uneaten. Americans also throw away more than $160 billion in food annually.
If the food waste from the food supply chain “were a country, it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gasses (GHGs) globally (8–10% of global emissions), after the US and China.”
More than half—60%—of food is wasted during consumption. Food services make up 34%, just over a third, of that food waste. The food supply chain is the biggest overall contributor to food waste.
- Kitchen food prep
- Food service
- Customer consumption
The restaurant food waste statistics for 2024 underscore the importance of understanding food waste, what causes it, and how to prevent it. Food waste is more than just a business problem—it’s a social problem. And as consumers demand businesses to be more socially responsible, understanding food waste is a great focus area for restaurants and food-related businesses.