September 13, 2019

How to Create a Coffee Shop Food Menu That Minimises Waste


Specialty coffee may be at the heart of your café, but a good coffee shop also has a food menu that encourages customers to stay longer and spend more. A well-designed menu can help build your reputation and boost your bottom line.

But food items can be expensive and expire quickly. To avoid waste of both ingredients and profits, take a look at these practical tips to design a coffee shop food menu.

Lee este artículo en español Minimiza Desperdicios en tu Café: Cómo Crear un Menú de Comidas

A small number of baked goods on your menu will help to reduce waste

A croissant and coffee in a coffee shop. Credit: Charisse Kenion

Keep Your Menu Short & Simple

The longer and more complicated your menu, the more potential there is for waste. Develop a short menu that includes easy-to-prepare items. Then train your staff members so that they know how to prepare each item well.

Aaron Surman is the Executive Chef and Head of Kitchen Operations at 49th Parallel Café & Lucky’s Doughnuts in Vancouver, Canada. He says, “Be careful of trying to offer too much. Have a concept and stick to it.”

Aaron also says that “better food management is really important, not only for the environment, but for people to have a better understanding and respect of food and waste.”

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Doughnuts and coffee in a café. Credit: Allie Smith

Carefully Consider Your Ingredients

Build your menu around a small number of key ingredients that are used in several dishes. For example, your menu might offer avocado toast and a vegan sandwich. You can use the same ingredients of hummus and avocado to offer dips and tortilla chips. Or you might use grilled chicken in a number of different salads and sandwiches. 

Avoid using an ingredient in just one dish – if that particular menu item isn’t popular one week, it will go to waste. It’s particularly important to have multiple uses for ingredients that expire quickly. If you’re using salad greens, dairy, or fresh meat, make sure to have plenty of options that include them.

Coffee and a cookie at Sey Coffee in Brooklyn, New York. Credit: Ana Valencia

Don’t be tempted to buy items with short shelf lives in bulk to save on the cost per unit unless you know you can make good use of them or are able to cook and freeze them for later use.

Aaron tells me that he would never include pre-packaged cut fruit in a menu. “I would only offer this if all the offcuts had a place on the menu and was sure of it selling out that day while fresh,” he says. “Once the fruit is cut, it is losing its integrity and will turn fast. Offer a fresh fruit salad made to order with a coulis made with offcut instead.”

A whole menu built around shelf-stable ingredients might not be appealing or fit with your brand, but consider where you can use long-life items such as canned goods. If you’re concerned that a short, simple menu won’t have enough variety, consider listing add-ons that use the same ingredients or are shelf-stable.

Simple food items on menus will minimise waste

Pancakes topped with strawberries and a cup of black coffee. Credit: Ana Valencia

Make Use of Leftover Ingredients

Soups, stews, and daily specials are a great place to use leftover ingredients and anything that is close to expiration.

Aaron says, “If you’re using fresh vegetables to make sandwiches and salads, maybe put a soup on the menu to use all the ends and bits and bobs. With pastry items, jams and purees might be made, and you can also use these in fillings and glazes.

As a pastry chef, he says to “consider what baking you will be doing, and can it be made into other products if you make too much one day? This could be bread and butter pudding, croutons, or breadcrumbs [from extra bread].”

Aaron Surman takes a table at 49th Parallel Café & Lucky’s Doughnuts. Credit: 49th Parallel Café & Lucky’s Doughnuts

Standardise Portion Size

Establish portion sizes for each dish and make sure that all staff members know them. For example, set the number of pieces of grilled chicken to be used in each salad, and list the amount of dressings and sauces in spoons or cups, rather than leaving kitchen staff to guess.

This will not only avoid eating into your profits by using too much of any ingredient, but will allow you to ensure quality in each item. You will also better understand the actual cost of each item, which is important when keeping track of your profits and losses.

Standard portions help to minimise waste

Sandwiches and coffees at 12 Onzas in Guatemala City. Credit: Ana Valencia

Make Small Amounts & Keep Track of Popularity

When you first introduce your menu or add new dishes, don’t prepare lots of each item and risk them going to waste. Aaron says, “When starting out new items, build a demand for them. It’s better to sell out of fresher items than to have too many. You don’t want food to sit out all day and serve stale items. Doing this might lead to lower sales, a damaged reputation, and throwing out excess. 

“Watch your sales, and grow. If an item is not moving, come up with another and move forward. If you don’t sell items, using them to make a meal for the staff will be appreciated,” he says.

By keeping a close eye on what regularly sells out and which items are ordered least often, you can make informed updates to your menu.

A cappuccino, avocado toast, and granola. Credit: Le Buzz

Aaron says that at 49th Parallel Café & Lucky’s Doughnuts, “We monitor sales and leftover products by the hour every day. With time, you will see trends over days and months. The numbers don’t lie. This will lead to knowing when to put out certain items and what items don’t sell. As a chef, being able to adapt is very important.”

He also cautions against preparing sandwiches ahead of time and keeping them in a fridge. “Bread should never go in the fridge. Offer fresh items made to order or only make enough that the sell before the spoil. When I see wrapped sandwiches in a café’s cabinet, I don’t know when they were made and how long have they been there. Plastic wrap screams old to me.”

A cake and a cup of coffee. Credit: Jarek Cebroski

Creating a café menu might seem straightforward, but if you don’t consider some key points such as portion size, shelf life, and multiple use of ingredients, you could be left with excess food or even be out of pocket.

So, take another look at your menu and consider where you can make it more efficient and reduce both food waste and loss of profits.

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