Waste Not, Want Not: Manage Wasted Product

Image Source: Cabo Flats

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, between 30 and 40 percent of food in the United States is wasted every year. Those are huge figures and result in lost revenue. If you own a bar or a nightclub, food is only one of your waste problems. Beverages and cleaning supplies are also routinely wasted in venues across the country, but fortunately there are steps you can take to temper this.


Employee theft is one of the biggest problems in a bar, says Adam Robin, director of the 4 (soon to be 5) Cabo Flats restaurants in Southern Florida, which all have a thriving bar business.

“One of the number one reasons restaurants go out of business is employee theft, and for me, that leads to an immediate termination,” he says.

Theft can come in many forms: Employees can be helping themselves to drinks; they can be pouring expensive drinks and ringing up cheaper ones; or they can simply be not entering pours into the POS system.

Robin has cameras set up in all of his bars, both facing the bartenders and facing the computers, which has been the best way he’s found to tackle theft, he says.

He also has managers run impromptu audits behind the bar, verifying customer drinks with what’s been rung up. “Bartenders’ income is based on tips so sometimes, however they can get their tips, they’ll do it,” Robin says.

He also specifies portion control with drinks. All cocktails must be measured using jiggers and the recipes are specific. “This not only means less waste and theft but also ensures consistency, which is key for taste,” he says.

All employees – new hires or existing – should be tested on their drink pours, says David Scott Peters, founder of TheRestaurantExpert.com. He suggests refilling liquor bottles with water and testing employees’ pouring skills. “It’s not just about costs, it’s about consistency,” he says. “I want to give my customers the same drink every time so they come back.”

For non-alcoholic drinks, Cabo Flats serves bottled and canned sodas alongside fountain drinks. These are great, Robin says, for tracking every single drink. “You are also not wasting fountain soda or allowing staff and others free access to unlimited sodas. For fountain drinks there’s no way to track it besides looking at your percentages.”

Finally, Robin runs an inventory every week, looking at beginning inventory, purchases, and ending inventory. “The most important thing is all employees entering everything into the computer, even if it’s a spilled or broken drink,” he says.

Peters recommends doing inventory like this daily. After a bar has run a PLU report on its POS system, if it’s any bottles short it needs to find out what happened to them, he explains.

He also advises checking all deliveries. “Never let your delivery guy in unsupervised,” he says. Have him stack all draft and bottled beer outside the cooler and count it before it goes in. For liquor, inspect every single bottle, he warns.

Also, Peters says bars should not restock bottled beer in coolers to make them fit, “because cooks can easily come in and drink one.” And only restock the bar with 6-packs. That way, he says, they are all even 6-packs so you know if there’s one missing.


It’s a simple tool, but Robin says keeping less inventory on hand helps prevent waste.

“If you show staff or chefs have 50 pounds of an item or a lot of stock of an item, they’re more careless about waste. But if your inventory is small, they’ll make sure it will last. It’s very simple. If they have less, they’ll find a way to make sure it lasts,” he says.

He also keeps a waste log, where staff document anything they broke, lost or wasted, which, he says, “makes staff care more.” This has to be readily available, behind the bar, in the kitchen and in offices. “I have them posted all over,” Robin says. “If something spills or a drink is broken, it needs to be documented as waste. If you don’t, it automatically skews your inventory numbers.”

And he makes sure there’s no shame in it, that it’s better to record these things and own up to it than have something be undocumented.

In terms of food, Peters says having portion controls in place for everything is the simplest thing you can do, for anything from chicken wings to the cheese for pizza. “Pay someone to pre-portion them,” he says. “This way, you are putting out the same amount of product each time. This is for costs and for customer appeal.”

As with beverages, he says bars and clubs should always check in the deliveries and should do it for every single delivery, no matter how long a person or a company has been providing food or beverages. “Businesses that don’t do this could be losing $300 to $500 a month, or even double or triple that.”

When checking deliveries check:

  • Safe food temperature.
  • That all food is in good condition, even the food at the bottom of a case.
  • That you get a credit if you return an item.
  • Weights: take products out of the box and put them on the scale.


All Cabo Flats’ chemicals go through a machine to make sure they’re not over-used. This machine connects to the water supply and provides products for cleaning floors, sanitizers, and window cleaners. “This has saved us money tremendously and ensures everything is done properly,” says Robin. “The proper ratio of chemicals is key; the wrong ratio can destroy a finish on a floor or table.”

Peters agrees and says if you don’t have a machine, pre-portion your chemicals in small cups such as you’d use for coleslaw. “Do them in bulk and have a certain person do it on a certain day,” he says. “And be sure to do it with chemicals that are extremely expensive, like a degreaser. You could be losing hundreds of dollars a month. Many employees don’t think about how many chemicals they use because they’ve not been trained.”

Peters also advises not keeping bar towels in an open counter. “Instead, keep all your linens in a locked cabinet. Each shift, assign a dry rag and a wet rag to employees. “That means people are assigned them and don’t go in willy-nilly. That can save you money by hundreds of dollars a month.”

David Scott Peters of TheRestaurantExpert.com will be speaking at the 2016 Nightclub & Bar Conference and Trade Show! Register now and take advantage of your opportunity to attend workshops and education sessions hosted by industry experts!

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