Waste Not Want Not
In March 2020 Pubs, Bars and Restaurants across the UK had to close their doors almost overnight in response to the Covid-19 lock-down. As a result operators up and down the country were left with huge amounts of food (and drink) they were unable to sell. To be fair to many businesses including football clubs and well known restaurant chains some of this food was donated to food-banks or other worthwhile charities. Unfortunately for practical reasons this wasn’t possible across the board which meant that millions of pounds worth of food had to be simply thrown away.
Whilst this situation was unprecedented and one would hope never happens again, food waste has always been is a key issue for pubs, bars and restaurants.
So the question is do operators do enough to ensure they limit the amount of food they waste and throw away in their venues on a day to day basis?
Wrong on so many levels…
The simple truth is that cutting food waste is a great way of helping to feed the world, protect the planet and let’s be honest save money! With margins as tight as they are in the Hospitality sector it’s this last area we will concentrate on in this article.
A study by WRAP (the Waste and Resource Action Programme) done a few years ago estimated that restaurants alone produce over 200,000 tonnes of food waste each year at a cost to the sector of around £700m. This averages out at £0.97 per meal.
So where does the food waste come from? Although the exact percentages will vary according to different kitchen operations, and also how much food is brought in pre-prepared, the general ratios are as follows. Food preparation accounts for 45% of losses, spoilage 21% and customers plates 34%.
So as you can see there are a number of different areas where you can start to address the problem.
Preventing poor performance…
It may seem obvious but one of the first places you can start is to make sure you don’t buy ingredients that you are not going to use. It can often be tempting to ‘stock-up’ especially if prices are low but it only makes sense if you know you will use it all. This is especially true with fresh produce, which has a limited shelf-life.
Another watch-out is advanced or batch cooking. Many operators favour this approach as it can often save time during busy service periods. But it only makes sense if you accurately anticipate that you will use most of it before it goes off. Freezing excess quantities maybe an option although this may run contrary to the over-all offer the outlet is projecting.
In recent years another approach more restaurants have explored is to make sure that they use a higher proportion of what they actually buy. In extreme cases this may even involve buying a whole animal and then building a menu which incorporates everything from its head to its tail. Less extreme but equally as effect would be to use things like vegetable peelings or animal bones to make stocks and soup. Other examples may include using day-old bread to make croutons or breadcrumbs. Something which can be done without compromising the quality of what you offer.
Health and safety reasons notwithstanding, food storage is one of the most important parts of running any kitchen. Get it wrong and not only do you risk the wrath of your local health official you also increase the chances that you will have to through things away.
Make sure you fridge’s and freezers are running at the right temperatures. Storing food under the correct conditions is vital in preserving quality as well as preventing pathogenic bacterial growth. You also need to be mindful of how you cool hot food down as well as reheating cold food as and when you need to.
Even if you run a small operation you also need to practice good stock rotation. FIFO – First In, First Out. And remember this doesn’t just apply to ‘raw’ ingredients. If food has to be decanted into different containers for storage purposes then make sure that it is clearly labelled. This should include a proper product description, a date it should be used by as well as any key allergen information. Incorrectly labelled containers risk being thrown away when no one can remember what is in them!
Quality control is also an important part of not enduring too much waste. When food is delivered to your outlet it is best to reject anything with visible damage or supplied at the incorrect storage temperature, as these foods are likely to spoil at a faster rate than they should.
A key part to all of this is to make sure your team has been properly trained and not just on the basics. Encouraging a waste not want not culture when it comes to food will pay dividends in both the short and long term.
It’s not man vs. food…
Regardless of what survey you look at one thing is similar in all of them and that is that at least a quarter of all diners leave food on their plate when dining out. Most commonly this will be chips followed by vegetables, usually peas and unsurprisingly salad garnishes. In any given situation a customer may decide not to their plate, that’s just the way it is. However I always recommend that operators brief their waiting on teams to keep a watch-out for dishes which regular end up with food being left on the plate. That’s always a good sign that something needs to be looked at either in terms of portion size or inappropriate elements on the plate, such as needless garnish.
One frequently used way to reduce this type of wastage is by providing customers with a choice of different menu options, especially when it comes to side orders. For example venues that provide a choice between say chips, vegetables or salad usually see less food wastage than those who don’t.
Although not appropriate for all outlet types, allowing customers to take left-over food or even wine home may also be worth considering. There of course are practicalities involved but certainly worth thinking about.
At the end of the day as well as not wanting to waste food you also don’t want your customers to think they have over-paid for what they have eaten.