Trashed: When restaurant leftovers get dumped

It's not uncommon for restaurants to throw away leftovers rather than let employees take them home.

Like many Charlottesville food servers, Selita Crews has seen her tips drop, and she's struggling. She sees something else that troubles her: the trashing of uneaten food.

"There's a lot of hungry people that could use that," says Crews, 40, a single mom, who's asked to take it home.

"The fried food, the chicken, the baked chicken, the pot roast– it all gets thrown away," she says. "People are trying to feed their families."

Certainly there are more hungry people out there than ever. The Thomas Jefferson Area Food Bank served 87,000 meals in November– an increase of 17,000 meals over the same month a year earlier.

"We're trying to increase the amount of prepared foods we take," says Ruth Jones at the Food Bank. "We're well-suited for nonperishable, frozen and refrigerated foods." Prepared foods, she notes, do require more guidelines.

The Salvation Army, which used to serve 80 dinners at the end of the month and now serves 150, accepts day-old bread and restaurant donations.

"A couple of restaurants, if an order is messed up and can't be re-served, they freeze it and save it for us over a week," says Marnie Allen at the Salvation Army.

For a long time, the Salvation Army picked up leftovers at Golden Corral, although it no longer does, says the restaurant's general manager, Shawn Johnson.

"Meat, typically, we can reuse," he says, explaining that steak can be cut into beef tips. But as far as letting employees take the food that's left on the buffet at the end of the night, he worries that might encourage wasteful over-production. "Extra things," he says, "might end up in a box."

Up at China King in Shopper's World, there are rows of steam tables and even sushi.
"We're not going to reuse food," says owner Dui Chen. "We cook it fresh for customers." At the end of the evening, leftovers go in the trash. And according to Chen, the wait staff has not seen a reduction in tips.

How about Cici's Pizza, where a family of five can eat for under $25?

"It all gets thrown away," says the manager, Chris. ("I don't give out my last name," he explains.) He, too, believes employees who aren't allowed to take food home "don't over-make food." Staff does get to eat a free meal, and the restaurant makes donations to schools for fundraisers, he says.

"The vast majority, sad to say, gets thrown away because of liability insurance," says William Proffitt, the owner of the Wood Grill, where tip-losing Crews works. "You can't donate it."

Proffitt was unaware that the General Assembly passed a law last year that removes liability for restaurants that donate unused food to charitable organizations.

"If the food is still safe, it's a shame to throw it away," says Eric Myers at the Thomas Jefferson Health District. "Some places are not doing that at all for fear of liability."

What about letting employees use food that's going to be thrown away? "That would fall under company policy," says Myers. "Nothing I know is in the code that prohibits employees taking food at the end of the shift."

In Washington, a group called D.C. Central Kitchen that serves 4,500 meals a day notes that picking up leftover food from restaurants is a "business model that doesn't work for us any more," says CEO Mike Curtin.

"We are very wary of buffets," he adds. "From our standpoint, the food on that is not recoverable." Besides length of time the food has been out, dirty fingers and coughs on the food are "absolutely" a concern.

Curtin, who used to own a restaurant, understands the fear managers have of extra food being made to go home with employees. He suggests a staff meal using excess food. "A staff meal is an easy way to control that and create good will," he says. "That's a big win."


Maybe the liability lawyers aren't hungry enough yet.

I'm disgusted by the resentful and suspicious attitude shown towards employees by these restaurant owners and managers. MOST employees wouldn't over-prepare in order to take food home. And if you have an employee that does so, then fire them.

Times are tough, and we all need to stick together. This means that folks are going to have to show some trust towards each other. Good employees are the backbone of your business, and a little good will goes a long way. But that train needs to go in both directions in order to work.

I would never patronize an establishment that treats its employees this way, and I hope no one else will either.

This doesn't even account for the wasted food due to GIANT portions served at restaurants. Wasting usused food is simply wrong.

Employers are always accusing their employees of "garbage mouthing" and purposely screwing up orders. That really doesn't help our tips - we're kinda busy waiting on tables and trying to make them happy.

Reality Check clearly has never worked in food service. Ripping off the owner in many small ways is routine in food service. Owner's know it, most of them have working in places where they weren't the owner and they did the same thing along with almost everyone else.

RC Checker-- you couldn't be more wrong about that. I've been both an honest caring employee, and an honest caring employer. Maybe that's why I don't get ripped off.

It's sad that you have such a jaded view. Some of the nicest, most ethical people I've met, I met in food service. There are some bad apples out there, for sure. But I've found that many owners and managers will try to get the very cheapest labor, regardless of track record, experience, or talent-- knowing full well they might get ripped off. Those same owners tend to ignore the loyal and ethical veterans in their midst, because hey!... everybody is expendable in their misanthropic world, and it's all about the bottom line.

But RCC, if you were once a scumbag employee, who is now a scumbag owner or manager, I guess that would definitely make you a person prone to a great deal of suspicion. This self-perpetuating script is the ugliest side of the restaurant business.

Hire good people with good references. Treat them with kindness. Rinse. Repeat. Try it, you might be surprised.

I'm not in the business at all. I was, and I know and have known quite a number of people who are.

I didn't write about suspicions, I wrote about something which I am absolutely sure of. The restaurant industry is one where many many things can't be counted and cash flows abundantly off the record. Put those two things together and you have a situation where only fools pay taxes on their full earnings and any number of things get left off of bills with the server frequently benefitting in the form of a slightly larger tip.

When things get crazy busy, miscalculations may be legitimate mistakes, but no one has much incentive to correct things. Certainly not the customer who gets a deal, not the server who gets paid better, and often not the owner, who knows that food and drink won't always be accounted for and who if he has any sense tries to keep that somewhat limited, but who figures it in to his business costs.

That is the culture of restaurants, and you would be hard pressed to find one in this city or really the country where that doesn't happen on a daily basis. It is a little different with chains because they try very hard with policies, like the one this article was about, which are very much aware of and designed to fight that culture.

"MOST employees wouldn’t over-prepare in order to take food home." The way restaurants are going out of business around here, it must be the rest of the employees that's ripping the establishment off. I have three neices who have worked part time in restaurants while they were in school and all three said that the full time employees were always getting things without the owner's permisssion. One said that the employees were banned from bringing back packs to work because they were filling them up with beer as the evening went along. Another says that there was always "mistakes" that they could eat in the kitchen as the night wore on. They all say that the staff picked food off the plates when then could. I suspect the honesty level in restaurants is the same as in most other workplaces. Oh, one said in her apartment complex a lot of the silverware matches because they come from the dining halls.

Restaurants are going out of business for many reasons-- lack of customers due to the bad economy is a major factor now. A fiscally healthy restaurant won't go out of business because your niece ate a sprig of broccoli or a chicken thigh.

Smart employers build in a bit of product loss in the understanding that employees will eat some of the food. This is often done in lieu of scheduled staff meals and breaks. Smart employers (as in fine dining, not Ponderosa) WANT the staff to taste the food in order to thoroughly familiarize themselves with it.

Sometimes some items don't turn out exactly right-- a malformed or broken cookie that can't be served or sold, for instance-- and the staff will eat those. But I've never seen a co-worker or employee mess up on purpose.

At any rate, I'd rather be a good boss and risk getting burned by the occasional disappointing employee, than turn into a people-hating bastard who is unwilling to extend the simple courtesy of some leftover food to my employees. What goes around, comes around.

"...than turn into a people-hating bastard..." says this is personal with Reality Check. No, you're not going to eat my chicken and shrimp, tomatoes or anything else. Food around your mouth at table is unappetizing. This idea that somebody has to give you somehing to be nice is childish. I say, if it's not yours, don't steal it. I forgot to mention how employees slip their family members "free" food that "sitting" in the back. The more I think about, eat your own food in another restaurant.
"Smart employers (as in fine dining, not Ponderosa)..." have chefs who taste the food because they how the food should taste, the staff usually doesn't.

I should clarify that I've never owned a restaurant and wouldn't want to. But I've been in tons through the years and now I know why the service is usually wanting, the staff is usually in the back somewhere eating.

Cville Eye, you've shown complete ignorance of the food world with your two posts above. It's absolutely imperative that a professional staff knows how the food tastes so that it can be adequately described to the customer, and all questions answered correctly. This is the difference between nuance and reeling off a partial list of ingredients like a robot.

No, the staff is not standing around in the back eating INSTEAD of serving customers, you ninny. You do understand that staff arrives before the patrons do, right? And no, they don't enter the dining room with food on their faces. And NO, they're not eating off of YOUR plate!

Seriously,are you purposefully obtuse, or is it purely accidental? Perhaps you spend most of your time in fast-food and chain restaurants, and have no understanding of the concept of a "professional staff."

I work at a restaraunt and there's no way the cook could OVER PREPARE food without the manager knowing in the system they have set up there. Yet at the end of the night...the extra food goes in the trash. The owner says it's because of health codes. but I guess he's ill informed.

(Not the manager of Cici's quoted in the article.)

The restaurants listed in the article are: Cici's Pizza, Wood Grill Buffet, China King Buffet and Golden Corral. In those restaurants, employees could pretty easily make an additional pan of roast chicken or an extra pepperoni pizza or whatever close to closing time knowing that it will be left over and they or another employee will be able to take it home.

Fine dining (for lack of a better term) of the sort Reality Check seems to be writing about really comprises few restaurants in town. There aren't many places where you've got a truly professional staff who are or are expected to be thoroughly conversant with how each dish is put together and how each dish tastes. At the better restaurants in town the servers know the ingredients but I can only think of a couple of restaurants where they might get together and go over the menu each night before service.

Beyond all of that; this article is just a jumble of various facts that don't add up to much. It seems to lament that food from buffets isn't reused for the Salvation Army or other similar programs but at the end offers a quote from the CEO of DC Central Kitchen which is one of the preeminent programs in the country for re-using food that they've stopped taking food from restaurants and especially buffets because of health concerns. The key thing to me is that they used to take such food and stopped. They made the affirmative decision that it is better not to have that food than to risk the various potential health issues that come with having it.

If you're worried about food waste at such places, vote with your wallet.

What happens to all of the clothes that Belk and JC Penneys do not sell. Do they give them to the employees?

@Sara "I work at a restaraunt..." let Reality Check if you consider that a "profession." If it is, then is not eating the owner's food considered part of the professional standards?
Reality Check, I think you work in a restaurant. How many of your current co-workers have been there over three months?

That's funny because i've known employees at all of those locations except for China King, and they ALL took home food at the end of their shift. One of my buds actually needs the food for his family due to tough times and it helps out a lot.

My mother always told me it was a sin to waste food...

Cville Eye-- if the clothes were perishable, they sure would! Used to work in retail over 20 years ago and products with a shelf life, i.e. chocolates, certain cosmetics, etc, were first offered to the employees before being thrown out. This is SOP in many department stores and is written off the same as salvage.

I think I didn't make myself clear. I used to have co-workers and now have employees. So I'm not advocating that my boss give out leftover food... I AM the boss, and I give out leftover food. And no, the earth hasn't stopped turning because of this. None of the food establishments that do this are going bankrupt either. Didn't your Mommy ever tell you it's a sin to waste?

My employee turn-over rate? Extremely low, because I'm a good manager. Treat your employees (and people in general) with honesty and respect, and 9 out of 10 times you'll get it back, frequently double. I'm not concerned with that 1 out of 10 bad apple, because he/she would get fired so fast their head would spin.

Peanut Butter.

"My employee turn-over rate? Extremely low, because I’m a good manager." I don't believe you.
Chocolates? When I worked in retail, nobody was dispensing the Godiva.
"Didn’t your Mommy ever tell you it’s a sin to waste?" No, not while living in the most wasteful country in the world. She did tell me that it is a sin to steal.
Frankly, I don't see where it's the public's business what a restaurant does with its waste. What do farmers do with theirs?

"I don’t believe you." That's a pathetic statement.

It only just managed to edge out the following for sheer stupidity: "No, not while living in the most wasteful country in the world."

I'm not even going to go into the issue of chocolates with you. Your lack of knowledge is stunning in its breadth.

My mother grew up in a third world country, maybe that's why she told me wasting food is sin. Needless to say there wasnt much wasting going on in my home growing up; A practice I keep for MY family. Maybe if you got over your pessimistic idealism of "we live in the most wasteful country in the world" you could conjur ideas that could counter that title.
And picking on Reality Check is immature, especially when the man is as humble and generous as he seems. I mean who in this day and age is against providing, what otherwise would of been trashed food, to the needy? Are you some sort of cynic that enjoys seeing others burn while you enjoy your blessings?

Mike Wiszowski, what I'm saying is it is not your business or RC's business what a private concern does with its waste. I have found in my rather long life thant those who are publicly holier-than-thou are usually not very holy at all.
RC's use of ââ?¬Å?”Šthan turn into a people-hating bastard”Š” doesn't quite jive with your statement "And picking on Reality Check is immature, especially when the man is as humble and generous as he seems." Maybe you need a reality check.

Food Donation Connection can help restaurants begin donating food. Servsafe trainers work with the restaurant to teach them what can be donated. Currently Red Lobster on Emmet St donates to the Salvation Army but Food Donation Connection does not currently coordinate any donations to the Thomas Jefferson Area Food Bank.

Farmers are the answer....
Something like a Wood Grill could fill a truck with food scraps every night, that could feed a hog farm. Pigs are cannibals and they will reprossess pork chops, too.

In another life (many moons ago) I was manager at both a chocolate store and a major cookie store in a food court. Cville Eye, sorry, but you need glasses b/c chocolate definitely has a shelf life. What we couldn't give away, we would throw away.

And when the homeless guys that hung out at the mall started hanging around after hours, asking for the leftover cookies, I gave them freely. And started baking extra. Does that make me a scumbag employee? Then I'll take it b/c I wasn't the only manager of that food court that did the same. I'll wear that title with pride.

Giving the buffet food to hogs is genius. Trying to imagine if a hog filled with moo goo gai pan would flavor the pork at all. Yum! ;)