A half-eaten Wiener Schnitzel, an infinite amount of lemons and parsley garnishes accompanying steaks, a whole batch of Bavarian Cream bowls with blueberries – these were only a few of the many items that I had to throw away when I was working in a local restaurant during my summer holidays. In fact, restaurants account for a remarkable share of food waste in the supply chain. Studies show that 200 grams of food per meal served in a restaurant is wasted! In the UK alone, financial losses due to food waste amount to 682 million pounds each year.
How can restaurants produce less food waste? In this article, I will outline a few key features that support a more conscious handling of food in restaurants, adding to customer satisfaction and saving money!
First things first: the importance of properly sorting and composting food waste is often emphasized. It is the first step in order to divert it from other waste streams and to preserve it from going to waste incineration or to the landfill.
For a successful food waste reduction strategy, it is crucial that you involve your team, especially those at the forefront preparing the meals or interacting with the customer. Often, cooks and waiters can come up with the best ideas on how to reduce food waste as they directly see where food is wasted every day.
Motivate your employees to accurately measure and categorize waste. This helps you to find out whether your food waste reduction policies work well and where you need further adaptations.
Not mere separation of organic waste, but more detailed data collection helps you focus on areas of improvement. A simple data collection strategy suggested by WRAP is the division of your waste into food preparation waste, spoilage and customer’s plate waste. Usually, it is recommended to collect data on food waste in your restaurant for at least one month in order to identify the highest levers for food waste reduction.
This enables you to see which of the following measures for food waste reduction is suitable for your restaurant.
Lower food preparation waste (45%)
Restaurants in the UK create the highest amount of food waste during food preparation. The food waste created in the kitchen isn’t always inedible: with some simple tricks, you can cut your food preparation waste, lower your costs and enrich your menu.
Use ingredients consciously
When you need ten egg whites for one of your cakes, what will you do with the remaining egg yolks? Instead of just throwing them away, consider using them for another recipe, e.g. gnocchi, or adapt your current recipe so you create less waste when making the dish.
Try to creatively repurpose ingredients that you cannot use in one recipe, for example when you have a lot of bread crust leftovers, make bread chips or bread crumbs from them!
Root to leaf & nose-to-tail
This is one of the most important approaches in order to lower preparation waste: instead of throwing away the peel and leaves of vegetables such as carrots, celery and onions, you can reuse them to make a delicious fond. You can then skip buying convenience products such as vegetable stock, upgrading the dining experience for your customers that are now served with healthier and fresher food.
Also, you can repurpose the peel of lemons or oranges, using them to flavour desserts or prepare confiture. However, for repurposing the whole fruits and vegetables we recommend to only buy organic produce! The peel of conventionally grown fruits and vegetables contains pesticide residues that should neither end up on the plate of your customer nor in the compost. It might seem costlier at first, but you can reduce food waste and upgrade the taste experience of your diners when you opt for organic ingredients.
When preparing dishes with meat and seafood, use all of it! A chicken does not only consist of chicken breast. Even if your diners do not know it yet, you can show them how delicious the less common parts of an animal are.
Train your employees and provide them with good equipment
Kitchen staff working well as a team is crucial not only for a good service experience when your restaurant is full! A good kitchen team also makes fewer mistakes in food preparation leading to less food waste.
Special cutting tools for vegetables, for example, support them in reducing the amount of waste and make their work easier. For the implementation of changes, conversation is of utmost importance! Often, kitchen employees know very well themselves where they have the highest levers to reduce waste when preparing food.
Prepare your dishes “on-the-spot” or prepare smaller quantities
Depending on the concept of your restaurant, it might be possible to adapt your mode of food preparation: if you cook every meal per order, you can avoid leftovers the easiest way! This also enables you to customize dishes and to avoid even more food waste (see below).
If you need to prepare certain dishes such as “Today’s Special”, keep track of the ordered quantities every day and do your best to only prepare the amount of food that you can actually sell.
Apps like Too-Good-To-Go can help you sell leftovers at the end of the day. Another option is working together with charities that can redistribute prepared food to people in need. This enables you to support a social cause and lowers your food waste considerably.
Lower spoilage waste (21%)
Keep good track of your inventory
Keeping track of your inventory takes a lot of time that you could use more productively. Nevertheless, it is important not only from a financial point of view but also to prevent over- or underordering. Digital tools such as our app support you in keeping track of your inventory in a less complicated way, saving time and money alike!
Store your raw ingredients properly
If appropriately stored in a fridge, cellar or kitchen shelf, you can keep different types of fruits and vegetables longer and prevent waste. For detailed storage tips, refer to specialized guides such as this one.
Not only for fresh fruits and vegetables but for all your raw materials, the First-in-First-out approach is crucial in order to avoid food waste!
Especially regarding raw ingredients such as fruits, vegetables and meat, it is important not to over-order. If you frequently observe spoilage waste for a particular product, consider buying smaller amounts or storing it in a different way. Digital tools also support you to order wisely as they gather a lot of data regarding storage in charts that are easy to understand for you and your employees.
Plan ahead but allow for spontaneity
If you have a daily menu, planning it well in advance helps you avoid food waste and use ingredients that cannot be stored any longer. Also, consider adapting menu items to offer seasonal theme dishes, e.g. several menu positions with a potato basis.
If it fits the concept of your restaurant, also allow for spontaneity so your cooks can reuse products that cannot be stored much longer. For example, bread that is too dry for the breadbasket can be repurposed to croutons as an add-on for salads!
Lower customer’s plate waste (34%)
Consider offering different portion sizes
When I was working in an Austrian restaurant serving traditional cuisine, people often complimented our pork knuckle with “It was delicious, but it is just too much to finish!” The solution we implemented was to offer a smaller portion where our guests were served with only one pork knuckle instead of two. This helped us lower the waste for this particular dish.
Also, indications on the menu or waiters’ remarks such as “good for two”, “good for sharing”, “between-meal treat” help the customer decide how much to order. When serving a children’s menu, ask your service personnel to pay attention to the age of the child: a toddler will typically finish a smaller dish than children aged around 10.
In order to ascertain whether different portion sizes or a general downsizing of a particular dish are needed, engage in discussions with your service personnel! They directly get the feedback from customers and therefore know best which items have most leftovers.
Provide accurate menu descriptions
Instead of the dishes’ names, some restaurants have already started listing only the ingredients. Of course, this is not suitable for every concept. However, this transparency gives your customers the chance to find out whether there are products in the dish that they cannot eat or do not like. Let your service personnel or the printed menu inform your guests about ingredients and offer alternatives, if necessary.
Also, symbols for vegan/vegetarian dishes, dishes free from gluten and dairy etc. help your customer easily find a dish that suits his/her diet and prevents disappointing experiences.
Rethink your garnish
A tomato, a lemon and a chunk of parsley or rosemary look nice on a plate and add some colour to it. However, they frequently become leftovers after your customer has finished the meal. It might be a good idea to rethink the garnish and make it edible instead. For example, consumers prefer to eat some fruit decoration or berry sauce sprinkled over your chocolate dessert instead of herbs or physalis – even though both look good!
Rethinking garnish is equally important for bartenders: do you really need that slice of lemon in your cocktail? Most frequently, consumers will just drink their cocktail and neglect any herbs or citrus fruits in it. They go to waste. Try to use edible garnishes instead or come up with alternative visual attractions for your cocktail! Once, I was served a cocktail without any fruits but a huge chunk of ice in the middle that caught my attention straight away. The waiter explained to me that this was better for the whole taste experience than small chunks of ice as it would not dilute the cocktail so quickly. What’s more, it looked really cool and I did not miss the fruit decoration at all!
Customize dishes with add-ons and options for sides
Customers enjoy customizing their dishes! Give them the option to do so! When presented with only one option, people often forget to ask you to leave out an ingredient if they do not like it. Instead, it too frequently becomes a leftover on their plate creating unnecessary food waste.
Another example: when I myself wanted to order a burger at a restaurant, I could only get French Fries as a side. The possibility of ordering a salad or roast potatoes instead would have helped me to order the burger I wanted and to avoid food waste.
A good example of a customizable dish is a Thai Coconut Curry: as an add-on, you can offer a plant-based protein source e.g. tempeh or tofu as well as variations of meat or seafood. Sides can also include different kinds of rice (white, brown and black).
Also, consider offering sauces and dressings as add-ons so the customer can choose between different kinds for his steak or salad respectively.
Offer doggy bags
Some customers already ask for doggy bags when they cannot finish their meal. This prevents food from going to waste and customers can finish your delicious meal at home! Encourage people to bring their own containers, so you can save waste and costs as well. Otherwise, opt for more sustainable and healthy packaging options, e.g. choose paper boxes or reusable plastic containers over styrofoam and aluminium foil.
Charge for leftovers
Usually, this policy is only employed by buffet-style restaurants as people choose their portion size by themselves there. In this setting, we see a leftover charge as a good idea in order to make customers aware of the food waste they create. Even though they pay a fixed price for all-you-can-eat, this does not mean that they should all-you-can-waste! Provide accurate descriptions and train your staff to inform guests about ingredients and preparation methods for the items on your buffet.
These are our top tips for food waste reduction at restaurants. Don’t hesitate to tell us about the positive changes you made with them! Do you have any other food waste reduction strategies that you can share with us? Leave us a comment, we would love to hear from you!