As any food service employee will tell you, they're in the business of satisfying a customer's hunger. But as restaurant owners and managers have noticed while trying to integrate cost-cutting strategies into their kitchens, managing and mitigating food waste has become a defining factor in their businesses' commercial success.

It isn't just about going green, but sustainability and solvency aren't necessarily mutually exclusive ideas. Reducing waste has implications outside of a restaurant's budget, in the total cost of doing business in food service. Though wasteful practices tend to be seen as shortcuts, they can also magnify costs in other regards. As livestock or produce moves along the supply chain, water, energy and other resources are expended on these ingredients. If restaurants later throw away these processed food items for one reason or another, not only is the food itself wasted, but the resources put into that food also go to waste. According to a study conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the retail food industry alone generated as much as 43 billion pounds of waste in a single year.

"A little moderation can go a long way toward fighting food waste."

Ultimately, the contents of a restaurant's trash bins can make the entire industry more expensive, when really a little moderation can go a long way toward fighting food waste. If the food service industry placed more of an emphasis on what gets wasted and why, it could coordinate production and distribution to simplify processes and reduce costs. Those are benefits that would trickle down to restaurants and patrons too.

With the help of waste management techniques, the food service industry has the potential to rein in costs by providing customers, employees and supervisors with the tools they need to make informed decisions about their meals.

1. Play with portions
Sometimes when a customer dumps his or her unfinished meal in the trash, it isn't a sign that they didn't like your cooking, but rather, they couldn't handle the portion size. A study published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine found restaurants with large plates and self-serving options produced 135 percent more waste than similar establishments with smaller dish ware. Additionally, research revealed educating customers on portion size had little to no impact on the waste they created.

The solution: Don't give diners the option. Restaurant owners should consider condensing their dish ware or revisiting self-service stations. They should also reassess menu items and begin to collect information on what meal options require calibration when it comes to size. Managers should work alongside cooks to find exciting ways to repurpose old classics into new entrees that require fewer ingredients, smaller portions and ultimately, less waste.

Small adjustments in food prep can yield plentiful results.Small adjustments in food prep can yield plentiful results.

2. Trim the fat on trimming fat
Restaurant owners shouldn't get the wrong idea from previous statements: A majority of changes to food waste must come from their side of the counter to really make a difference, and sometimes, unquestioned operations can be the leading contributor.

According to the National Restaurant Association, 10 percent of food purchased by restaurants never makes it to a customer's plate. This could indicate problems in a number of different areas, the first of which is preparation. It's not enough that employees learn how to cook from a recipe, but that they follow the best practices and precise measurements to not only achieve consistency in taste from order to order, but consistency of resources. Head chefs should teach, drill and oversee cost-effective food prep best practices, including cutting meat in a manner that reduces waste and measured spice usage. This sets up managers to handle the next area of discussion: the inventory.

3. Add a dash of data management to the mix
Though the popularity of pepperoni pizza may vary from month to month, a smart pizzeria will know how many slices of pepperoni are needed for every pie, and with that information, roughly how much pepperoni they'll need for the foreseeable future. However, as this data becomes more granular and actionable, its ability to power waste efficiency in the stockroom increases dramatically.

Restaurant owners who store large inventories want to prepare themselves for anything, but they do so at their own expense. This technique makes them vulnerable to spoilage. However, complementing a smaller inventory with increased delivery rates may be an inexpensive alternative to buying in bulk. Additionally, introducing software capable of integrating sales, inventory management and even recipes into a single platform could let restaurant owners know what items are hot, which ones are cooling off, what ingredients need refilling and how best to turn inventory surpluses into value-added menu items.

Hospitality and restaurant industry piece brought to you by Marlin Equipment Finance, a nationwide provider of commercial lending solutions for small and mid-size businesses. Marlin's equipment financing and loan products are offered directly to businesses, and through third party vendor programs, which include manufacturers, distributors, independent dealers and brokers in the security, food services, healthcare, information technology, office technology and telecommunications sectors.