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What happens to leftover restaurant food at the end of a shift?

I'm jealous.

They actually let you take home the unsold pies? All the bakeries I've worked at never let us take home any of the unsold goods (for fear that we would bake "extra" near closing time ...)

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  1. Oh they let all the employees take home the pies with less than perfect crusts. Still tasty, just "blemished." Of course this was the early 70's.

    1 Reply
    1. re: HillJ

      I just realized this thread was split from the post about breakfast pie into another topic.

    2. A management attitude I never understood. I worked at some restaurants that absolutely refused to let the staff eat anything during their shifts (and their "staff prices" for meals were $1-2 off retail prices of $9-12). It was particularly galling for the 15-17 year old bus/dishwasher/prep staff, who were growing boys who'd had nothing but a snack since lunch, to watch 30-40 perfectly good baked potatoes thrown into the trash each and every night. . The result? The staff stole food, snuck food, and ruined food.

      Another place allowed to you eat before your shift, so long as it was done at the back, out of the sight of customers. A piece of prime rib with a baked potato and salad set you back $2.50. The result? Impressive staff loyalty.

      Now, 30 years on, the places I mentioned first have all disappeared. The latter place continues on, and thrives. It's karmic, I tells ya.

      35 Replies
      1. re: FrankD

        I couldn't agree more FrankD. People never forget kindness. I still shop at the market that helped me thru my early college years and everyone who knows me shops there. When I see new faces working the pie shift now, I smile.

        1. re: FrankD

          At the restaurants that I've worked, the staff was allowed to eat, and often eat free.

          The reason why restaurants did not allow employees to take food home, esp. bakeries and what-not, is that they did not want the employees baking "extra" near closing time, so that conveniently there would be leftovers for the staff to take home. Starbucks, as far as I know is the same way with their prepared pastries, sandwiches, etc.

          1. re: ipsedixit

            I am aware of Starbucks that sends crew home with baked goods that cannot be sold after a certain time or if the company discontinues an item or it's a broken slice. Fresh, disgarded coffee grounds are bagged and given away to anyone who wants them for gardening.

            1. re: HillJ

              I may not be a starbucks customer but the one near Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco gave the hospice ward ALL their day olds and they were an awesome breakfast!! I love when businesses to this. Waste is just sad but with sharing, an entire ward, employees , volunteers and visitors were able to snack on pastries for breakfast.

              1. re: MinkeyMonkey

                MinkeyM, that's awesome and the goodwill that comes from such gestures is equally wonderful.

                1. re: MinkeyMonkey

                  Just beautiful MM..
                  I wish this was happening everywhere..it promotes such good karma and love for all.

                  1. re: Beach Chick

                    Donaing leftover food (i.e. to a hospice) is common practice.

                    I've never heard of a restaurant allowing customers to take home in-store prepared overruns at the end of the day.

                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      No, but donating it to charity is allowed and should be done more often.

                      I worked in a Chinese restaurant (owned by Koreans) that let us take stuff home at the end of the day. My dogs got sick of Chinese, LOL! It sure saved on grocery bills, nonetheless.

                      1. re: ZenSojourner

                        "No, but donating it to charity is allowed and should be done more often."


                        While I don't want to hijack this thread, there is something that is often overlooked about donating leftovers/overruns to charity ... cost.

                        For small businesses (or mom and pop type restaurants), the cost to actually package, store, and/or transport the leftovers to a charity can be quite prohibitive. Even if the charity picks it up, simply packaging the leftovers and storing them can be a hassle that prevents many store owners from donating.

                        So, while we all agree that it "should be done more often" please do not denigrate -- out of hand -- those businesses that do not do it. It may not necessariy be because they are heartless or wasteful.

                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          Honestly, many soup kitchens and food pantries are happy to come and pack the stuff up as well. I used to work for a food coop and the local soup kitchen folks were johnny on the spot when we had something for them. They came prepared to pack it up and did so, with minimal input from us.

                          1. re: ZenSojourner

                            No doubt there are organizations that are equipped to come by and pick up, but sometimes it just doesn't work out very well.

                            From personal experience. A restaurant's closing hour is 10 pm. Charity has no one to come by at that time. Can only come by the following morning with tupperware, boxes, etc. in tow. For the restaurant to donate in such an instance, it has to package and store leftovers overnight, which means boxing it up and putting it in the fridge. Boxes or storage containers cost money and fridge space is not unlimited. This does not even take into account the cost of labor to package and store the leftovers.

                            Margins are slim -- very slim -- for restaurants to begin with, esp. small business owners. If it means the restaurant can save a mere $1 by throwing food out as opposed to saving it for charity, trust me, that decision is an easy one to make.

                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              ipsedixit, see if they have a few volunteers willing to come after hours. I've had some luck with recruiting volunteers to cover such a donation.

                              1. re: HillJ

                                "ipsedixit, see if they have a few volunteers willing to come after hours. I've had some luck with recruiting volunteers to cover such a donation."

                                I'm not posting to solicit solutions.

                                I'm just pointing out that donating food -- as great as it sounds in theory -- is not always practical.

                                Buy and run a restaurant for yourself and you'll soon learn the logistics of trying to donate food.

                                If you can do it, without hurting your bottom line, more power to you.

                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                  oh my. I do run a food biz. More power to you, ips.

                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                    "I'm not posting to solicit solutions."

                                    But maybe you can stop being the Debbie Downer on the idea. Being on both sides in Biz and volunteering, mountains can be moved by ants, but a close mind cannot be opened by an earthly force.

                                2. re: ipsedixit

                                  I agree, it is a generous and wonderful thing that should be done more often but we had an easier time getting direct donations of new food orders then we did of unsold food that was destined for the compost bin. Some places didn't want to package and save up unsold food as it took up space and packaging but they would let us make requests for events which could be wrapped all at once and picked up at an agreed date and time.

                                  The folks at that particular starbucks individually wrapped each and every pastry and they filled two huge bags--bigger than an average paper grocery bag. Every single week, two huge bags, sometimes three. That means they had to pay for the time and the saran wrap and the fancy paper bags with handles!! Not all shops would do this kind of thing, it was an unusual and gracious act.

                                  I have to agree with ipsedixit that it just doesn't happen that often NOT because they are not charitable but because the cost, time and effort can be more of a hassle than just donating money.

                                  I know there were quite a few places that would not donate unsold food for "liability insurance" reasons. Seeing as how I've not had too much experience in the insurance industry, I have no idea if this was a valid concern or not but, hey, who wants to take any chances?

                                  One last concern regarding donating unsold food is that A LOT of places that put out "day olds" are actually putting out "week olds" and then calling them day olds. I knew one place that did that and never, ever asked them for their day olds ;) I think that is one reason shelters do not accept unsold food items, they can't be sure of the actual date of creation and therefore it would be impossible to know or guess a date of expiration.

                                  And, while I'm on this thread, I plan on having a gigantic slice of pumpkin pie for breakfast tomorrow, just because I am inspired now!

                                  1. re: MinkeyMonkey

                                    I know there were quite a few places that would not donate unsold food for "liability insurance" reasons. Seeing as how I've not had too much experience in the insurance industry, I have no idea if this was a valid concern or not but, hey, who wants to take any chances?

                                    Many states now have "good sumaritan" laws that generally shield restaurant-donors from liability unless their conduct can be considered intentional (i.e., putting rat poison in leftover stew and donating it).

                                3. re: ZenSojourner

                                  Frank Oliveri, the owner of Pat's Steaks in Philadelphia
                                  They get these loaves of bread and only use the two ends, (because everyone wants an end right?) so they have 'middles' a section of bread about three inches long... they throw the middles into a plastic bag and a local shelter comes and picks them up every day
                                  (just a little fact, that he'd never tell you, but Franks' a nice guy like that)

                                4. re: ipsedixit

                                  You're absolutely right, every penny counts for many small businesses.
                                  There is, though, a tax deduction available to businesses for donating "apparently wholesome food" to a charitable organizations. Just a heads up in case any potential donors are reading- check your tax preparer to see if you might be able to create "instant karma (sorry)"- the charity receives needed food, you get a deduction. You grow your business with the extra cash, which allows more donations... hey! this karma thing IS circular!

                                  1. re: HillJ

                                    Don't know if you knew which post I was responding to.

                                    "I've never heard of a restaurant allowing customers to take home in-store prepared overruns at the end of the day."

                                    Especially at a dim sum joint.

                                    1. re: monku

                                      Don't know if you knew which post I was responding to.

                                      "I've never heard of a restaurant allowing customers to take home in-store prepared overruns at the end of the day."

                                      Especially at a dim sum joint.

                                      Now, I'm totally confused.

                                      I wrote the quoted passage. Were you replying to me?

                                      1. re: monku

                                        ah. I was referring to company's that let the staff take home leftovers at the end of the day. The farmer's market where I worked in college on the pie shift allowed employees to take home (in my case broken pies).

                                    2. re: monku

                                      Food recycling is an interesting concept.

                                      In San Francisco, restaurants are required to recycle food that's been discarded.
                                      It's collected and turned into compost. You can read about that here in Garbage Into `Gold' --> http://articles.sfgate.com/2001-04-04...

                                      In Las Vegas, yesterday's casino buffet leftovers are sometimes used to feed pigs believe it or not --> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0DEszn...

                                      1. re: Cheese Boy

                                        In Vegas the original use for buffet food is also to feed pigs

                                1. re: MinkeyMonkey

                                  I notice at a lot of Starbucks people from organizations come by in the morning to pick up the day old pastries. Employees also get a pound of coffee a week.

                                  1. re: monku

                                    The company has a dozen charitable programs but the employee perks solely on site really come down to the crew/mgrs. If a brick of lemon loaf is past selling date an employee takes it home or it goes in the trash. That decision comes down to a Mgr. p.o.v. Corporate perks like free beans, discounts, sales celebrations, district celebrations are separate.

                                    1. re: HillJ

                                      The sometimes interesting TV show "Undercover Boss" faced this very dilemma when the CEO of 7-11 went undercover. He was appalled to find that massive amounts of food were going straight into the trash at the end of every day. IIRC, he tried to man up and make it policy that the food would be donated to local charities, but I've never seen any follow up, so I don't know if it actually happened or not.

                                  2. re: MinkeyMonkey

                                    I used to work for a meals on wheels program where we had a day a week we picked up leftovers from Panera Bread (other food banks and programs had their days as well) For leftover bread, it came in an (unused/totally new) plastic trash bag, and the pastries were piled up in handled paper shopping bags. On those nights, I'd spend sometimes a fair amount of time afterwards back at my office rebagging bread for freshness/ease in transport. (And it was me doing it because the company figured I was salaried and if they had one of my minions doing a night's pick-up and bagging, they'd have to pay minion overtime)

                                    Publix supermarkets was also very good about donating day old baked goods, though they no longer do produce donations because of spoilage concerns. As was Fresh Market. Walmart never gave anyone squat.

                                    1. re: MinkeyMonkey

                                      Several excellent local restaurants donate end-of-shift food to a local women's/children's shelter on an ongoing basis.
                                      It's been my experience that the less-corporate restaurants feed their employees much much better, either with a family meal pre-shift or a free meal on break. The larger chains are very confused about their bottom lines and the goodwill and loyalty they could inspire by feeding their employees, if not free than cheaply.
                                      One of my best employer-feedin' experiences was actually just several years ago. Meat, seafood and poultry were delivered on a daily basis and NOTHING was held over unless it was specifically planned as family meal. (And no, it was never a "raft" spaghetti sauce.) So at end of shift, we were given carte blanche as long as the person on that station was willin' to cook one more thing for a co-worker. I ate so much lamb, so much duck, so many prawns.......
                                      Good deal.

                                      1. re: mamachef

                                        I'm not familiar with other states but, here in CA, meals provided to employees are considered a part of their 'remuneration' and, as such, the value of said meals are included when Worker's Comp insurance premiums are computed.

                                        1. re: mucho gordo

                                          mucho.....Employee and owner meals are income you are right; and should be reported as non-cash income for state and Federal Income taxes!!....HMMMMM

                                2. re: FrankD

                                  Providing staff with food/meals at the restaurant would also help the staff become familiar with the establishment's offerings, what ingredients make up the preparation, etc., and enable the staff to answer questions about the food and preparations more completely. Maybe even encourage further creativity in the kitchen?

                                3. Just so happens I had this come up with a Carrabbas manager the other day. He said that their staff takes home what is left at the end of the day since they make everything from scratch each day.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: LaLa

                                    He might have been fibbing! I worked at a Carraba's and that was never, ever done.

                                    "want the employees baking "extra" near closing time, so that conveniently there would be leftovers for the staff to take home. " Bingo! Yes, that's why every kitchen I ever worked in threw away extra food or "dead" food. And, also why (referring to another thread) you often need a manager's swipe to split the bill. Servers could ring in an order for themselves under one of their tables, and then split it off and pay for it. Maybe if the restaurant gave them opportunity to eat, they wouldn't feel the need to do that.

                                  2. Most of my restaurant career was in a small Japanese restaurant owned by a friend. On a good night, we might push 200 customers, and maybe had a dozen employees on hand. IOW, a small place.

                                    As the rest of the staff was cleaning and closing, it was my job to prepare the staff meal. I would start with whatever we had left over, then supplement it with whatever was in the fridge that was either (a) cheap or (b) wouldn't be good enough to serve the next day. Sometimes, that meant we ate a truckload of sashimi or even sushi, if there was a lot of shari (sushi rice) left over, too, and other times it was a basic shabu-shabu with a ton of veggies and some chicken or even donburi. Other times, when there was little or nothing left over, we'd order pizza from the place around the corner.

                                    The boss never worried about the staff intentionally cooking too much, and frankly, it rarely (if ever) happened.FrankD talked about it in his post...I think it goes back to respect for the staff. Then again, as I said before, it was a really small place, and in many ways, we were like family. After a REALLY good night, he'd pull out some beers and pass them around...as long as his wife had already left, that is!

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: ricepad

                                      Yeah, the place I worked was even smaller than that! I'd be surprised if 50 people could fit in that place. We did a lot of takeout too. There were only 5 people in the kitchen at a time at most besides the owner (who was the main chef). Not counting wait staff. I think there were only 2 of them. It was buffet and a la carte, most people did the buffet, which was REALLY GOOD, the best Chinese buffet I've ever had the fortune to meet. His a la carte was MUCH better than the buffet but it was largely wasted on the teensy town this place was in (VERY rural MO, like pop 3,000)

                                      There's just no time in a busy restaurant to purposely make extra food to waste. You're lucky if you keep up with the demand! We had stuff left over because he insisted on keeping the buffet well stocked right up to closing. Then we were allowed to take anything we wanted home with us. We also got at least one meal, maybe two, during our shift, depending on how long the shift was. The only time we had a problem with theft was one teenage girl hired as a waiter who kept taking more than her share out of the tip jar.

                                    2. Used to have a girlfriend in high school who would ply me with leftover hamentashen from the bakery she worked at.

                                      5 Replies
                                      1. re: monku

                                        Hopefully they weren't the prune filled ones.

                                        1. re: mucho gordo

                                          What kind do you think might be leftover at the end of the day?
                                          Of course not my favorite.

                                          1. re: monku

                                            In NYC, "City Harvest" has specially designed trucks hot and cold compartments, In other cities where no such late night organized pick-upexists, there is a huge liability problem meat and prepared foods getting into the "danger Zone" and going bad, we just donated, bakery items to the local church food bank, fed the volunteers mostly!!

                                            1. re: ospreycove

                                              I recently watched the "Avec Eric" show on City Harvest. His restaurant is big enough to keep a separate fridge for food that they don't use and package up to donate.

                                        2. I asked some deli workers in NYC one day if they deboned the unsold rotisserie chickens at the end of the day and made chicken salad or otherwise with them, and they replied, "No, it all gets tossed". When I asked if the employees could take them home, the reply was also "No" because it was a liability problem. It's unbelievable how a person can walk into a store and purchase a cooked chicken at 9:59PM, but at 10PM when the store closes, the same birds left behind are thrown in the garbage because the store has to avoid any liability problems. It's acts like this that prove we can be wasteful, selfish, and wrong.

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: Cheese Boy

                                            Cheese You can thank the U.S. tort system for that.

                                            1. re: Cheese Boy

                                              In first year at school, we took a tour through a hospital foodservice facility as they were plating the trays for patients. Everything is individually packaged (milk packages, apple sauce packages, snack bars etc).. and when the trays come back, they just throw out everything, ALL of the food/juice/milk that hasn't been touched and is still in their individual packages. It was SO hard to watch knowing that just outside the hospital doors people were begging for food.

                                              1. re: hungryabbey

                                                Yea for food safety. That container of milk has been unrefrigerated for hours. Those packets of applesauce may have gone to a patient who is in isolation for something such as nuclear contamination. It should go out.

                                                My 88 yo mother is currently in a nursing facility for physical theraphy. She does not drink milk. The state requires milk be served to all patients daily, so it goes on her tray every morning. That tray leaves the kitchen at 7, is served to my mother at 8 and picked up after 9:30, it might not get back to the kitchen before 11. It should not be served to anyone.

                                                20+ years ago, my ex's father spent the last years of his life in a private hospital's isolation ward for nuclear contamination (caused by medication, not 3 mlle island). Even his food tray was disposed after being picked up, and all dishes, and cutlery were disposable.
                                                Sometimes waste is appropriate.

                                            2. IWhatever wouldn't keep over night or over the weekend, we were free to eat or take home at the end of the night. $25/lb tuna, half a lobster tart, whatever.

                                              1. I remember working for a restaurant many years ago when work was tight. Well, not only was work tight, but the owners of the restaurant were too - staff paid full price for everything, all leftovers were thrown out, absolutely NOTHING was allowed to be consumed by staff. I remember being sent home early one evening when business was quiet and one of the chefs came running out, shoved a package into my bag and whispered emphatically DO NOT TELL ANYONE, just get in your car and open it when you get home. I was a bit mystified at the time, but when I got home I opened up a lovely box of gorgeous calamari. The next day, when we had a moment to talk, he told me about an order mix up and he accidently cooked the calamari instead of prawns. He couldn't bear to see it wasted, even with the owners around, so very kindly offloaded it on to me. Needless to say neither of us worked there for much longer.

                                                1. Casino buffets...the workers in the kitchen are told to keep cooking and bringing out food so that there is never a shortage, even near closing time. But that means that say...a full tray of lobsters are steamed in the giant industrial steamer and never get a chance to make it out to the customers. And no one is really allowed to take any food home, so they all go into the trash.

                                                  That doesn't stop a few people from sneaking food out whichever way they can, or maybe even a manager turning a blind eye/being a hypocrite and taking some of that food home himself/herself, though. But as corporate/company policy? The food is specifically ordered to be thrown out. Not sure if it's a liability issue, but I'm sure that's what they'll claim if questioned about it.

                                                  It's a shame, really. That's why I really like supporting chains like Pret a Manger that donate all leftover food at the end of the day to food banks, shelters, etc. Most food at buffets or whatever are made/cooked fresh daily anyway. But I also suppose that if a lot of food banks/shelters/etc are overloaded with free food from surrounding kitchens, they'd have to decline a lot of that stuff and the food gets wasted anyway.

                                                  1. I never worked at a restaurant, but one summer I worked as a waiter for a caterer -- the feeding frenzy after a nice wedding (with an entree like prime rib) was incredible. Slabs of meat, chocolate mousse cups, etc. Some guys would walk out with unopened bottles of champagne too.

                                                    1. I've worked at many, many bakeries and all of them allowed us -- encouraged us -- to take home bread and pastries that didn't sell or were esthetically flawed. The ones that also served food gave employees one free meal per shift and steep discounts at other times. If food was about to expire, you could have it for free.

                                                      I know one bakery couldn't give bread to shelters for insurance purposes, as others have mentioned. What they did instead is donate it to a local farmer who fed it to his pigs. In exchange, they got a discount on pork products from that farm.

                                                      1. Panera donates its leftover food. At least they do in the StL area.

                                                        1. I worked at a donut shop during college. They let us bring home as many donuts as we wanted at the end of the day. By the end of the summer, my family was begging me not to bring any more home. It's been 27 years since I worked there and I still have no desire for donuts. I think I have had maybe 2 or 3 since and its only been when I have had no other choices.

                                                          1. It's converted into Chinese take-out.

                                                            1. I have just read all the way through this very interesting thread and as I sit here I am eating perfectly good York Peppermint Patties that were reduced to 87 cents a bagful because they are in the shape of snowflakes (for Christmas). Regular round (not snowflake-shape) Peppermint Patties were $4.29 for the same size bag. Food pricing is complex, I get that part---but we are one damned wasteful society.

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: Querencia

                                                                Oy vay, Querencia. You just said a nice minty mouthful. ((Happy New Year!!))

                                                                1. re: Querencia

                                                                  Well,that's the old "christmas tree" problem, ie how much do you produce so as to maximize profits. It's very unlikely you will exactly produce enough to make the last sale exactly when the last moment of the season is. Since the marginal cost of extra production is very low, the optimal decision is usually to make more than you think you will sell at full price, and either sell the last few at a discount or toss them. They may well actually be making a profit on those that they sold to you at the steep discount. Is it waste? You ate them. Some might argue that Peppermint Patties are always a "waste" compared with other, healthful, things that could have been produced with the same resources. Bottom line--there is no right answer to all these kinds of questions.

                                                                  Why should seasonal foods be any different from anything else? The same things happens with all sorts of Xmas goods, clothing and shoes, whatever. It's part and parcel of an efficient modern economy, where things are made for inventory not to order.