The efficiency gain comes from a partnership the Calabasas restaurant chain entered into with Copia, a mobile app that decreases waste by matching restaurants’ food overages with local nonprofits that need donations. Restaurant staff records the amount of extra food left over at closing time, then a driver from Copia’s delivery partner Doordash picks it up and transports it to a nearby nonprofit that approved the donation on the app beforehand.
Cheesecake’s Associate Director of Sustainability Nick Sterling, who manages Nourish, the company’s food donation program, said Copia has been a “huge solve to our critical issues.”
“We’re cooking everything from scratch. We have to donate components of meals at the end of the night. We struggled with being able to match those ingredients and excess food with nonprofits that could pick it up in a timely fashion,” he said.
Copia provides an advantage in that it connects each restaurant with a network of several nonprofits in the area. Sterling said The Cheesecake Factory used to work with Food Donation Connection, a liaison company based in Tennessee, but that system only connected each restaurant with a single nonprofit, limiting donation opportunities. When a nonprofit wasn’t available to meet, excess food would get thrown away.
Within the San Fernando Valley region, Cheesecake restaurants have donated to The Salvation Army in Canoga Park and Valley Food Bank, which is based in Pacoima and has food pantries in Reseda, North Hills, Sylmar, Van Nuys and Lancaster.
Particularly useful to The Cheesecake Factory’s corporate office, Sterling said, is the data Copia captures, which provides actionable insights around spending habits.
“We’re working on taking the data we receive and using it to improve food efficiencies in restaurants,” he said. “We can adjust our food preparation and forecasting.”
A 2019 study published by sustainability collective Champions 12.3 and the Walmart Foundation affirmed the financial benefits of eliminating food waste.
Titled “The Business Case for Reducing Food Loss and Waste: Restaurants,” the study found restaurants that are efficient with their inventory can reduce purchase prices and waste management costs while increasing revenue by creating new menu items that utilize unused food scraps or leftover ingredients.
Another financial incentive for restaurants to donate excess food comes during tax season. Food service businesses that donate inventory can get a tax deduction, though Sterling conceded “it’s not high.”
The onset of the coronavirus pandemic interrupted the rollout of Cheesecake Factory’s partnership with Copia by scaling back dine-in operations at restaurants countrywide, Sterling said. But “due to the availability of us now allowing restaurants to donate when they need it, we’ve still been able to increase the amount of food we’re donating.”
That included a campaign over the summer to donate fully prepared meals to nurses and other frontline health care workers in hospitals around the country, including Northridge Hospital Medical Center and Olive View-UCLA Medical Center in Sylmar.