Food waste continues to be a huge problem in the UK. Although the pandemic and lockdown proved that Brits can reduce their food waste, 2021 demonstrated a return to pre-pandemic food waste levels according to the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP). Self-reported food waste has risen to nearly 20% of consumption. WRAP also reports that the food sector produces a staggering 400,000 tonnes of avoidable food waste each year. Food waste is both damaging to the environment and punishing for your bottom line. In a sector with notoriously slim profit margins, targeting and reducing waste should be a top priority for all UK restaurants.
Here, we’ll look at how restaurateurs can reduce food waste, improving their profitability while doing their bit to help the planet.
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The reality of restaurant food waste
According to the recycling specialists Willshee’s, British restaurants throw away the equivalent of 320 million meals every year. That’s enough to feed everyone in the UK five times.
Virtually all of this wasted food waste ends up in landfills, where it releases the greenhouse gas methane. This gas is even more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide, and eliminating food waste would have the equivalent effect of taking 1 in 4 of all the world’s cars off the road. As an eco-conscious SME, it’s advisable to tackle the issue of food waste to demonstrate your commitment to ethical and environmentally-friendly operations.
Furthermore, WRAP estimates that the restaurant sector alone contributes nearly 200,000 tonnes of food waste, costing businesses £682 million every year. WRAP states that every £1 a restaurant invested in reducing food waste resulted in an average of £7 saved in operating costs over three years. That’s a pretty impressive 600% return on investment (ROI)!
Food waste may seem like an inevitable consequence of doing business, but a large proportion of food waste is avoidable. Here’s how…
Identify the causes of food waste
Every restaurant is unique. But identifying trends within the industry can help you to avoid making the same mistakes as your peers. As such, restaurants that want to target food waste should consider the most common causes of waste in the industry.
According to WRAP’s analysis of food wastage in the hospitality sector, the main causes of food waste are as follows:
- Preparation (45%)
- Customer leftovers (34%)
- Spoilage (21%)
Restaurateurs will likely see the implications of this for things like labelling, stock rotation, employee training and even customer messaging. How efficiently are ingredients rotated within your restaurant? Are you doing all that you can to prevent spoilage in your kitchen?
Tips for mitigating the above include:
- Setting out clear guidelines for portion sizes
- Using your specials menu to rotate surplus stock
- Labelling and rotating stock to improve shelf life
- Implement inventory tracking to identify ingredients that are commonly over-ordered
Carrying out an audit of your operations can help you identify different ways in which you can target these areas where food is commonly wasted.
Identify the most commonly wasted foods
It’s also worth taking a moment to identify the most commonly wasted foods and food types. While your mileage may vary depending on the cuisine in which you specialise, it may be worth thinking about how much of the following foods end up being wasted by restaurants:
- 28% potato products
- 20% fruit and veg
- 16% bread and other baked goods
- 9% pasta and rice
- 8% meat and fish
Now you know which foods are most commonly wasted, it’s time to carry out an audit of your ordering and serving habits. Do your portions of chips and mountains of mash need to be so generous? Do customers always end up with leftover rice once they’ve finished their curries or stir-fries? Or do you find that one too many customers send back their steaks because they’re overcooked?
Once you’ve identified the biggest drivers of food waste in your restaurant, you can devise a plan to reduce that waste.
Train your team
Often a few operational tweaks and a little staff training can make a huge difference when it comes to targeting food waste.
Train your front and back of house teams to be vigilant in ensuring that food is not wasted. Incentivise them to keep on top of stock that may be close to its expiry date and ensure that your standards are maintained so that less food is sent back.
Donate unused food
Many restaurants find that they are left with a surplus of food and ingredients when the day is done. But there’s no reason for that food to end up in landfills. Uneaten and unclaimed food can be donated to the homeless, or to your local food bank (your local council will be able to advise on this). Alternatively, charities like Fareshare or Foodcycle can turn surplus ingredients into tasty meals that do good in your community.
What better way to show that your restaurant contributes towards the community?
Register with food waste prevention apps
Your customers love bargains as much as you hate food waste. Apps like Too Good To Go enable businesses to turn a profit from food that might otherwise be wasted. Customers collect pre-packaged mystery bundles of food at a fraction of what they’d usually pay. Just as long as they don’t mind not knowing exactly what they’re getting. This is a great way for restaurants to wring some profit from food that might otherwise be wasted.
See if you can recycle your food waste
If you’re unable to sell or give away food, there’s still hope for it to stay out of a landfill. Companies like WiIlshee’s offer food waste recycling schemes. This involves commercial food waste being transported to a local anaerobic digestion plant. Here it can be broken down into biofuel, helping to create renewable energy out of your food waste.
With a little planning, introspection, training and passion, your business can drive down food waste, helping the planet while also preserving its profit margins.