Restaurants Take On Food Waste
Aug 12, 2021
Remember when your parents demanded that you “clean your plate” at dinner? You got the message that it’s not OK to waste food in a world where others don’t have enough to eat.
Today, food insecurity is even more pressing, and in the foodservice industry, many understand it’s well past time for a change.
“We waste an appalling amount of food in restaurants—4% to 10% of all we purchase, up to 33 billion pounds a year—before it even reaches the table,”1 says Michael Thrash, Simplot Corporate Executive Chef. “It’s bad for our businesses and inexcusable when so many people are going hungry.”
Food waste is bad for profitability, too
In the aftermath of the pandemic, the issue of waste has taken on renewed urgency.
“This has been a consistent, growing trend for many years now, especially now in the current, cost-averse atmosphere of the industry,” he continues. “Controlling waste is at the top of mind on a daily basis for operators. But, better yet, turning waste into revenue and profit can be a cure to many bottom lines.”
By one estimate, for every dollar a restaurant invests in reducing waste, it receives an average return of seven dollars.2
“When you think of most great dishes, they’re typically made from little or lower-cost ingredients. Creating low-waste dishes takes this challenge to the next level, turning scrap, waste and leftovers into center-of-the-plate and crave-able menu items,” says Thrash.
Reduce your waste and they will come
Beyond reaping the bottom-line benefits, some environmentally-minded operators are taking the fight against waste a step further, creating low- or zero-waste restaurant concepts to appeal to like-minded consumers. This is much more than a niche audience:
- 46% of consumers said they would be interested in dining at a zero-waste restaurant (which jumps to 60% among households making at least $100k and 63% among Millennials).3
- Food waste is a bigger concern than plastic waste: 72% are concerned about food waste, compared to 68% for single-use plastic waste.3
A few inspiring zero-waste examples from around the world
- Frea (Berlin, Germany) markets itself with the tagline “full taste, zero waste.” Like many waste-conscious operators, Frea makes heavy use of its composter, transforming kitchen scraps into compost that it then shares with local farmers. This sensibility extends into the décor of the restaurant. Everything is scrutinized for maximum sustainability—from the light fixtures with shades made from mycelium (the thread-like filaments of mushrooms) to reclaimed oak beams in the dining room.
- Amass (Copenhagen, Denmark) has reduced its food waste by 75% since 2013, in part, by using every bit of the ingredients they source. Bones, skins, seeds and stems take on new life as dried seasonings, crisps and misos. Frying oil and fats (which can’t be composted) are repurposed into biofuels.
- Seven Market Café (Seattle, Washington) has succeeded in diverting 95% of its waste from landfills. By replacing things like sugar packets and having bulk items (milk and coffee) delivered in reusable bins, the waste they generate in day can fit into a single mason jar.
Can’t go zero waste just yet?
Many operators aren’t in a position to eliminate all waste from their kitchens. Nevertheless, their customers are likely to appreciate any steps they take in that direction. According to the research firm Datassential, composting, re-appropriating byproducts (e.g., making granola from spent brewing grains), and saving “ugly” produce that might otherwise go to waste can signal to customers that you share their concerns.3
“Think of things like sausage, ground meats, soups, stews, and casseroles. They are all byproducts of trimmings, waste parts, leftovers and scrap. Now tie this into today’s trends of reducing waste and cost,” advises Chef Thrash.
Using frozen foods might not carry the same cachet as making lampshades from mycelium, but it’s a time-tested method for reducing food waste. Here’s how:
- Less spoilage. Freezing has long been a way to extend the life of perishable items like vegetables and meat.
- Higher yield. We do all of the slicing, trimming, peeling and seeding for you and repurpose this “waste” in various ways, including composting and use as cattle feed to keep it out of landfills. We even feed the starch from our potato-processing water into bio-digesters that convert its energy into electricity.
- Easy portioning. Individually quick-frozen (IQF) vegetables are easily portionable, so you only use as much as you need, then return the rest to the freezer.
When it comes to food waste, there’s no time to waste
Simplot’s founder J.R. Simplot despised waste. One of his first business successes as a young man involved buying the unwanted, runt or injured piglets from local farmers for pennies on the dollar and nursing them to market weight on rejected potatoes and potato scraps. His obsession with finding value in “waste” remains a top priority for the company, both a bottom-line issue and a moral one.
But for restaurants, taking on food waste can carry additional upside.
“It’s also hip, profitable and creatively challenging. All of these make the subject of waste—and the challenge of solving for it in the kitchen—all the rage today,” Chef Thrash explains.
2 Champions 12.3, “The Business Case for Reducing Food Loss and Waste: Restaurants,” 2019
3 Datassential, 2020