Wasteful restaurants and how to stop them

09.09.2020
3 min read

Every year we waste around 1.3 billion tons of food (1). If this isn’t surprising enough, the UN estimated that the direct economic consequences of global food wastage amount to $750 billion USD annually (2). Indeed, these numbers are disappointing, considering how many people suffer from obesity and malnourishment around the world. The way we produce and consume food hasn’t undergone much drastic change in comparison with other industries – perhaps it is time that such numbers start to change.   

Below we’ll discuss the different types food wastage, the opportunities that could be taken to limit food being needlessly thrown away, and subsequently show you the companies that are leading the way in making the world a much more sustainable, environmentally friendly, and less wasteful place. 

The two types of waste

Before deciding how to reduce the amount of food wasted by restaurants and their suppliers, the first step has to be distinguishing between the different types of food waste. Simply put, most food waste can be split into two categories: pre-consumer waste and post-consumer waste (3). By limiting both types, not only could the consumer and the supplier make the world more environmentally friendly, but the cost of food could actually decrease, as a result.   

Pre-consumer waste   Whether at the source or in transit, pre-consumer waste is what it says on the tin – it is the food that is wasted before even getting to the consumers’ tables. This could range from spoiled products, to kitchen scraps, to being generally aesthetically displeasing to the buyer. Of the 12% of food production cost that is attributed to food waste, around 4% of that is pre-consumer waste (1).    

Post-consumer waste is the food that gets thrown out or lost after the consumer has received it. And most of the time, it’s just the leftovers that people are too full to eat. And of the 12% of food production cost that is attributed to food waste, around 8% of that is pre-consumer waste (3).  

Waste solutions: two assumptions

For a restaurant, or any other food service, to be incentivised to limit their current wastage of food, there have to be benefits that require no extra effort. More specifically, limiting food wastage has to be both profitable and feasible.   What do we mean by this? In order for food not to be wasted, the solutions should mean that restaurants can expect their net annual profit and cost savings to increase while their initial investment in food conservation should be financially manageable for their business.              

Profitability   According to ReFED, there are a few solutions that restaurants can use that are both sustainable and potentially the most profitable. Waste tracking, for example, can be the most profitable solution for kitchen staff who want to cut down both their costs and their waste levels. By either tracking the amount of food that gets eaten or cooked, a commercial kitchen could cut food costs by 2-6% (3)!   Similarly, inventory management software could offer huge profitable potential to restaurants and food producers through reducing the amount of food that goes unused and minimising overproduction and cutting costs.              

Feasibility   Feasibility addresses the solutions that need less effort to implement and require less financial capital investments. And although they may not be the most profitable, these solutions could be the most reliable and easiest to realise.   Changing the menu’s design to include less ingredients or using different parts of the same ingredient for several meals as well as giving a choice of portion sizes are all examples of where restaurants can offer less food, using their ingredients in the most efficient way possible, and wasting less in total. Although these may not be the most profitable examples, they are certainly the easiest to include in a restaurant’s day-to-day operations.

All the stuff in between

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Although they may not be as effective as the methods we have mentioned above, in terms of being the either the most feasible or the most profitable, there are so many more solutions that kitchens and restaurants can utilise to make their establishments less wasteful, while conserving their profits and their time.   

As well as tracking food and changing a menu’s design, there could be initiatives to educate kitchen staff on how to deliver and store food so that it last longer and gets to the people who need it most in the right way. Despite not being the most glamorous method, ensuring that a restaurant has the capacity and the resources to transport and donate food safely and healthily is a key consideration. Not only an education, but a tax incentive could be administered in order for restaurants to purposefully deliver their left-over food in a safe and timely manner, perhaps resulting in another way to cut operating costs further?  

And what better way to make food as sustainable as possible than to give leftovers to animals? Restaurants could partner with local farmers to transport their unused or uneaten food and cut the waste of the restaurants and the costs to the farmers. Considering all the legal precautions, this could be a cost-effective and realistic way to cut down on food waste – by giving it to someone else to eat! So, from regulating animal feed, to donating food, to on-site processing, there are plenty of opportunities to be less wasteful when it comes to the things you eat.

Leading by example

Having briefly explained the conditions as well as the different types of waste that need to be considered before taking action, we can now take a look at companies that are making theory more of a reality. 

412 Food Rescue
On the subject of donating, 412 Food Rescue specialises in automatically rerouting unused food from caterers, restaurants, and other vendors directly to those who are going hungry. By using its machine learning algorithm, this start-up’s technology matches restaurants with organisations that are in need of food donations.  
Mogo 
If you find that you are quite frugal when it comes to food expenses, then this app allows restaurants to offer their food at discounted prices once they feel they don’t need it anymore.
Re-Nuble
Re-Nuble works to make used food from restaurants and local farms into 100% organic liquid fertiliser. This means that not only is food re-used, but it provides a suitable alternative to heavily chemical-induced fertiliser that we see on the market today.
Mint-straps 
Mint-scraps is a software platform that helps restaurants manage and track their food waste in real time. By reporting this data, restaurants are better able to monitor what ingredients they use most and which ingredients to cut down on.
Winnow
Finally, and in a similar way to Mint-straps, this company works to reduce food waste by automatically cataloguing every food item a commercial kitchen uses, so that managers can have an exact picture of their food wastage.

Bottom Line

To better understand how food waste should be handled, it is first imperative to know where the waste is created and what types of waste there are. Whether it is in the kitchen or outside of it, solutions that deal with this problem are vital to make this earth as sustainable as possible. And if done correctly, limiting the amount of global food wasted can feed those that are desperately in need, limit the number of animals being subject harsh farming conditions, as well as potentially turning a profit.   

This article does not, by any means, offer a comprehensive explanation about the problems of food waste around the world and the possible solutions, but rather gives a brief introduction to the problems of food wasting, how often it happens and the people that are moving in the right direction to stop wastage from becoming an even bigger issue.