There are a range of preventative options available to foodservice operators in order to measure, manage and reduce food waste, says Marius Zürcher
Food waste is massive problem. In the United Kingdom alone, 320 million full meals a year are being thrown away in the restaurant industry, which would be enough to cover the UK’s need for meals several times over, according to Too Good To Go , a software company focused on reducing food waste.
Food waste, in the UK and elsewhere, therefore is a huge obstacle in the road towards ending, or even reducing, hunger. Similarly, food waste’s environmental impact is catastrophic . Restaurants therefore should do the right thing and commit themselves to reducing food waste.
The issue is not just a moral one. There is also a clear business case for reducing food waste. According to the results of a 2019 study , restaurants, for every £1 they invest in reducing food waste, can make a profit of £7, within three years. 76% of businesses even recouped their investment within one year. In addition, on average, businesses reduced their costs of goods sold by reducing their food waste. What then can restaurants specifically do to reduce food waste?
Prevention and damage control
Broadly speaking, restaurants can and ideally should tackle the problem from two angles: reduce the amount of food waste they will end up with in the first place (prevention) and in some way use rather than waste the leftover food they cannot prevent (damage control).
There are many ways that fall under the preventive category. The first step should be training the restaurant’s staff. For example, cooks can be taught techniques to cut vegetables in such a way that they remain fresher for a longer amount of time, as well as cutting techniques that allow them to use more of the piece of meat or fish or the vegetable they are currently working with.
Similarly, staff should be taught how to properly store food. Restaurants, chronically afraid of running out of a dish, should also tighten their forecasting, in order to reduce the ubiquitous problem of over-prepping. Inventory tracking systems should be in place to better know when to reorder ingredients.
Furthermore, menus should be designed in ways that allow for multi-use items (i.e. a perishable ingredient should be usable for more than one dish). Similarly, restaurants should consider taking dishes off the menu that continuously lead to large amounts of waste and, if applicable, serve smaller portions. Also, weekly or even daily specials are a great way to use products that would otherwise have to be thrown away.
When I was a kid, my family lived in the hotel that my parents operated. In the kitchen, we always had a big, blue barrel in which our staff dumped most of the (suitable) food waste our kitchen produced. A few times a week, a local farmer would come and pick up the barrel, in order to feed the contents to his livestock.
Using food waste as animal feed rather than throwing it away is just one of the many possibilities that fall under the damage control angle. Leftover food and ingredients of course can also be used to feed humans, for example by providing meals to staff members, or by donating it to foodbanks. Food waste that cannot be eaten or donated should be recycled or composted. Restaurants can do this on their own or work together with large and small companies that are in the business of reusing food waste in some form or another.
PeelPioneers  is an example of a quickly expanding company in the business of reusing orange peel waste from freshly pressed juices. The orange peels are re-used for cosmetics, as well as other food products, such as plant-based meats.
Not all restaurants will be able to become zero waste restaurants, nor should they be expected to do so, but all restaurants can put a significant dent in their food waste by using preventive as well as damage control techniques. This is not only the right thing to do for the planet and all its inhabitants, but also a great investment opportunity and cost reduction method.
About the author:
The co-owner & founder of start-up 1520 in Apeldoorn, Netherlands, Marius Zürcher was a participant at FCSI’s ‘Millennials’ focused roundtable at INTERGASTRA 2018.