Or how caring for a world problem also benefits your business?
The topic of food waste has always been present in my life. Early in my childhood I was taught to eat everything from the plate, not to throw away any food which could still be reused or, let’s say, fed to animals, and always be mindful about the fact there were so many people in the world who were not as lucky as I was. Naturally, things like leftover lunch or dinner became a habit, and minding the waste while peeling potatoes still reminds of grandmother's teachings. So perhaps it's not a surprise, that, even after many years seeing overloaded plates of hotel guests in all-inclusive resorts, each time witnessing it again still makes my heart beat stronger…both for the volume of the problem and the pity for hotel’s bottom line.
Therefore after attending the European Commission’s conference "Time’s up for food waste! Setting the EU action agenda towards 2030” in Brussels last month, I thought it is a good time to share some ideas and tips on reducing the food waste in hospitality establishment.
Based on Commissions data, “in EU, an estimated 20% of the total food produced is lost or wasted, while 43 million people cannot afford a quality meal every second day.” Considering the fact that EU is still likely one of the richest regions in the world, these numbers should, if not shock, at least make us listen closer.
The hospitality sector directly contributes to around 12% of food waste in the EU and waste is generated all along the food service chain, i.e. during the purchasing, storage, preparation, cooking and of course serving or disposal phases. And although we are all aware of the problem, often we fail to better understand the reasons and implement the actions to solve it.
So starting with the reasons for tackling this complex matter, here are the main ones we should consider in hospitality businesses:
Environmental impact and ethical aspect. Food production is the single biggest contributor to the global challenges, such as biodiversity loss, deforestation, water extractions or high emissions of carbon dioxide due to cultivation, harvest, processing, storage and transportation. With the global waste numbers reaching as much as one-third of all food, we are not only wasting a serious amount of resources, but also demonstrating questionable ethical behaviour towards world problems. Saving food and reducing its waste not only saves environment, but also manifests our business social responsibility.
Guests needs and expectations. If environmental, social or ethical reasons are not good enough for taking action, let’s have a closer look into something we can all directly relate to - our guest. Guests’ needs, expectations and behaviours are rapidly changing. If few years ago sustainability was only a vocal marketing technique, today it's our true reality. Our guests are very conscious about the choices they make and how those choices impact the environment and lives of others. From zero waste lifestyle, minimalisms, shared economy and similar movements, to generally more socially conscious and sustainable decisions, our guests expects the same from us - service provides. Creating memorable experiences for them now means truly complying with their sustainable expectations, and the food use & its waste are on a very top of it.
Costs. Finally, nothing says more for any business than the bottom line of the balance sheet. Reducing costs is clearly one of the main goals and food waste is a part of the solution. From buying less or more organised, to preventing the spoilage or better managing the stock, from more efficient menu engineering to throwing away less from guests’ plates - it all directly links to more money left on our bank account.
So how can we jump on the Stop the Food Waste train? Here are 5 things you can do now to create better experience for your guests and positive results for the business:
Start with education
Understanding and knowledge about the food waste is the first step into succesful journey. Ensuring our teams are aware of the problem and the benefit of solutions is essential. Start by discussing the topic with the staff, encourage their observations and suggestions for solution. If needed, develop guidance and training materials promoting food waste prevention and reduction in all processes (ordering, storing, preparing, serving and waste managing of food products). Work on creating a team that would commit and take ownership of waste reduction and, perhaps, incentivise them for the effort and results. Nominating sustainability champions and celebrating common success would not only help with the food waste itself, but also add towards creation of a stronger team culture.
Measure and set goals
It is a common misconception that most of the food waste comes from the guests’ plates. In reality, in most establishments the largest amount of waste happens before its even gets to the customer. This, however, can only be identified and effectively managed if we measure the current processes, situation and establish a benchmark to determine the problem. Where is most food waste occurring in our case? Due to spoilage, during preparation or from plate leftovers? Why is food being wasted? Is it a result of over purchase, incorrect food storage or inconsistent portion control? Nowadays, there are many tools and technology options in the market to help you with this step. Be it food waste monitoring and management systems, such as Winnow, or costing and recipe management platforms like CostEasy, just to name a few. Having a clear data and understanding of your situation will help tackle the problem more effectively and easily.
Challenge the status-quo
Doing things as they've always been done is unlike to take us to new heights, so questioning current situation and approach should be considered. What can we do better? Which other options are there? From better choice of suppliers or more staff training, to the use of different tools - the answers might be as simple as it sounds. The lack of staff butchery skills might result in meat portion wasted, just like peeling vegetables with the wrong tool would create more waste. Portion control (e.i. smaller portion) or even simply a smaller plate to serve, might be a solution, just like creative menu concept (a la Chef Choice) or choice. Employing new approach could help us both to reduce the waste and explore opportunities of better guests’ experience.
Build guests' awareness
Influencing guests’ expectations and behaviour is another important step into successful food waste reduction. To prevent waste from the plates we need to communicate with guests on aspects, such as meal size, menu choice or availability. Portion size options, meal sharing, doggy bags for bringing leftovers home - are all good practises that would only enhance guests’ experience. Displaying relative information and running awareness campaigns about how the business is engaged in the fight of food waste would also add to a better image of responsible service provider.
Remember - sharing is caring
Finally, take the unused food and leftover sharing seriously. Donate to the local food bank, provide meals for the staff or their families or join the community of food providers and savers on platforms like Too Good to Go. Finding ways how to reduce the food to be thrown away is truly helpful - both for people receiving it, environment and your business likewise.