Restaurants were working to reduce food waste long before it became a well known environmental issue. They do it because it makes good business sense. Why pay for all that food just to throw it out?
However, despite those efforts, the restaurant industry continues to be a large contributor to the problem of food waste in the developed world. There are a number of reasons for this including consumer expectations and food trends. Thankfully, both of those factors are changing, for the better
As consumers become more aware of the problem of food waste, they are starting to demand restaurants take action. Additionally, there have been significant movements in the restaurant industry towards “nose to tail” eating, which of course refers to the use of animal products, but has also come to include using all edible parts of fruits and vegetables.
The time is now to start getting behind these trends and taking advantage of some of the ideas and practices emerging to further tackle the issue of food waste in restaurants.
Nothing puts a restaurant “on the map” quite like a unique (and delicious) dining experience. The thing is, you don’t have to go on the hunt for exciting new ingredients. You already have so much in your kitchen that you’re probably just throwing in the trash.
How about a side of roasted cauliflower leaves tossed with vinaigrette and pine nuts? Or warm goat cheese and honey over a salad of beet greens and radish tops? Slice broccoli stalks paper thin, toss with a yoghurt and herb dressing and serve with grilled meats or veggies. Did you know that you can deep fry potato skins? They’re the perfect crunchy topping for all kinds of dishes.
Get creative with your edible waste. You were going to toss it anyway. You have nothing to lose and a lot to gain!
You’re running a business and customers have certain expectations when they come in with their money. We understand that you can’t just start cutting portion sizes and not expect it to impact your client base.
Instead, start logging how much of what dishes are coming back to the kitchen to be thrown out. Within a short time, you will likely start noticing trends, giving you a good idea of what foods are being over-served, so that you can slowly start reducing portion sizes without upsetting customers.
In fact, keeping a log of all food waste, and not just what comes back from diners, can be an eye-opening and hugely beneficial practice.
Different restaurants have different experiences they aim to create for their customers. So how you do this will largely depend on your dining style.
For a more casual, family-friendly restaurant, you can post fun signs reminding diners, “You paid for it, you should keep it!” or even provide diners with takeaway containers so they can box up what they want, the way they want.
For a more refined dining experience, you might train wait staff to discreetly offer to “wrap that up for you” and even get posh-looking, branded takeaway containers or reusable bags.
Take this a step further and include “for best results” reheating instructions or ideas for turning leftovers into new dishes at home. Bonus points if your takeaway containers are compostable.
You most likely prepare more food than you know you will sell. That way, you aren’t running out of food in the middle of service. And if you’re smart, you already have a plan for any food remaining at the end of the night. Some things will become tomorrow’s soup of the day, go into wraps or salads for lunch service or otherwise be repurposed.
But some things either can’t be repurposed or, for whatever reason, you know you won’t be able to use it all before it spoils.
Reach out to local food banks and soup kitchens who might have the resources to accept and redistribute leftover meals. Or consider selling those meals at a reduced price at the end of the night. It was going to be thrown out anyway, so why not recoup some of that money?
Ideally, composting should be the last resort solution. You should aim, for the good of the planet and your budget, to use as much of the food you’re purchasing as possible. But of course, there will be an inevitable waste. Stop sending it to landfills and start composting.
If your city doesn’t offer compost services, be a FoodHero and start leading a campaign to change that. Until then, look into private composting companies, seek out local farms that take food scraps for compost or as animal feed, or (if space and budget allow) start your own restaurant garden or rooftop greenhouse and use your compost to grow more food.
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