For World Environment Day, Food Tank is featuring innovations that can help protect the environment by changing the food system. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that roughly one third of all food is wasted every year. According to the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition (BCFN), the total amount of food wasted in the U.S. exceeds that of the United Kingdom, Italy, Sweden, France, and Germany combined. Reclaiming just 15 percent of the wasted food in the U.S. could feed more than 25 million Americans each year, roughly half the number struggling with food insecurity.
Food waste has rightly earned its place at the top of sustainability discussions. In April, The New York State Restaurant Association, working with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, announced that more than 100 NYC restaurants have pledged to reduce restaurant food waste that gets sent to landfills by 50 percent.
Last summer, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) affirmed that over 40 percent of our food is wasted system-wide, and many people have started to think twice about food waste in their daily lives. It is not just the organic matter that is being wasted, but also the energy, transportation, packaging, labor and environmental costs that go into that 40 percent. Restaurants account for a high percentage of commercial food waste, and most wasted food comes from menus that are too large and focus on variety rather than popularity. Large menus are falling out of fashion as consumers look to higher quality over a vast selection. Here are five tips on scaling down menus to address food waste in restaurants:
1) Monitor what is selling:
While it may seem obvious to monitor what is selling, most restaurants track this in relation to profits only—not waste. Profits can still be made with high percentages of food being purchased and thrown out. Our current food industry has made it a habit of building this loss into business models. To reduce waste, monitor what is selling in relation to the actual menu items. If something is not in demand—take it off the menu.
2) Understand your staff’s skills:
It is important to converge staff skills with a menu. What do they like to make or have mastered? Your menu should reflect your kitchen skills in order to focus on your best menu options while respecting the input of your entire team and keeping morale high. You can eliminate offerings that do not mesh well with available skills.
3) Eliminate infrequent ingredients:
Along with monitoring what is selling, restaurants need to consider the individual ingredients that are part of each dish. If you are bringing in an unusual ingredient that is only on one place in the menu, you should try to get rid of it or find a replacement. Chances are, if it is only part of one menu item, it will go bad unless a large number of orders are placed.
4) Capture all food waste:
Measuring food waste from both the front and back of house will help identify which menu items are not working, but it will also engage your kitchen to operate closer to zero-waste and take pride in composting or recycling programs. All waste should be collected, separated and measured. It can be meaningful to show waste to your staff in clear containers so they can visualize just how much food is being tossed.
5) Communicate with your customers:
Sometimes there can be a stigma with downsizing a menu: to some it says, “we are in trouble.” It can be like walking into a store and seeing bare shelves. But remember, consumers are changing. Make sure it is clear to your customers why your menu has gotten smaller. Explain your initiatives and how emphasizing seasonal or fewer options will allow you to focus resources on sourcing higher quality ingredients while having a positive environmental impact.
Greg Christian is a sustainable foodservice consultant, chef, author and entrepreneur. His company, Beyond Green, provides measured strategies and solutions for organizations interested in making the switch to more sustainable food service programs. Greg has years of combined experience from operating a zero-waste kitchen to creating the Organic School Project in Chicago Public Schools. Greg is a Senior Associate member of Foodservice Consultants Society International and a founding member of B Corporation.