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Food For Thought: Is Your Restaurant Throwing Away Its Profits?

JodyP 1 April 2019
Food For Thought: Is Your Restaurant Throwing Away Its Profits?

It’s hard to believe but, according to sustainability data from the hospitality sector*, the UK ranks 24th in the world when it comes to reducing food waste. While this is frankly embarrassing for a country that claims to be a highly industrialised, sophisticated economy, it is also a shameful waste of money. Philip Simpson, commercial director of ReFood, the UK’s leading food waste recycler, believes we can do much better.

The latest figures on the UK’s foodservice sector make for sober reading. At present, the industry is producing one million tonnes of unnecessary food waste every year. To put it another way, that’s enough perfectly edible food to fill London’s Shard more than ten times over!

Expressing this in financial terms, food waste comes at a cost of £2.5bn per annum to the UK’s pubs, restaurants and foodservice outlets. In practice, this means that the average restaurant is losing almost £20k every year as a direct result of poor food waste management.

What’s most concerning is that research** suggests 75% of this waste is completely avoidable. Moreover, recent analysis of 114 restaurants based in 12 countries*** puts a strong financial argument in favour of food waste reduction; showing that for every £1 spent on reducing food waste, the average restaurant will save and estimated £7 in costs.

Given the uncertainty of Brexit and the likely impact on consumer spending, now is an ideal time to streamline processes and cut overheads. Why then, are UK pubs, restaurants and food outlets not taking firm action to reduce waste and save money?

The answer to this conundrum probably lies in lack of knowledge. While there are a few shining examples of best practice – such as The Halo zero waste restaurant, River Cottage and The Good Egg – these are still the exception. And that’s a situation that we need to change, quickly.

Too many managers within the UK’s hospitality sector still consider food waste reduction strategies as a nice ‘add-on’ to their operations. We think the UK’s poor ranking in the global recycling tables is one good reason to change. Another, possibly more convincing driver is the urgent need to improve the profit margins within restaurants, pubs and food outlets.

In my experience, for most foodservice businesses, the will is definitely there to reduce waste, but there is a lack of knowledge and confidence. How do you go about establishing better food sourcing? What areas of preparation are ripe for re-engineering and how should you be handling the waste you cannot avoid?

Fortunately, there are plenty of businesses in the UK’s food recycling sector who can provide tangible support and guidance to those in the hospitality sector. ReFood, for example, works with foodservice businesses nationwide (including The Savoy and QHotels), providing consultancy into waste reduction strategies.

Our key tips for food waste management in restaurants include:

1.  Sensible stocking, storage and stock rotation – Only buy ingredients that you know your business will use. While it’s tempting to buy in bulk if a supplier has a good deal on, this approach can leave you with more food than you need.

It sounds obvious, but it’s amazing how few restaurants regularly check that their fridges and freezers are running at the right temperatures. Ensure that low risk foods are stored on higher shelves than high risk foods (such as red meats) and keep food storage areas clean and tidy.

Where food rotation is concerned, adopt the ‘FIFO’ rule – first in, first out. Make sure newer stock is routinely placed behind older stock, so that this is used first.

2.  Keep your cool – Accurate temperature control is essential for food safety, as it prevents the growth of harmful pathogenic bacteria. It minimises spoilage, which consequently reduces waste. This includes cooling hot food quickly, reheating food to the correct core temperature (at least 70°C for 2 minutes), storing high risk food in fridges (1-4°C) and freezers (below -18°C), plus hot/cold holding at safe temperatures (above 63°C and below 8°C, respectively).

3.  Labels and inventories – It’s essential to make sure all stored foodstuffs are clearly labelled with allergens, date information and a clear product description. Keeping stock organised makes it much easier to keep track of what you have and what needs using, preventing unlabelled containers from being thrown away by mistake.

To prevent waste, you should always know exactly which foods you have in stock at all times. For this, you’ll need to keep a detailed list of the foods in storage areas, including their use-by/best-before dates.

4.  Review portion control – Don’t fall into the trap of subsidising quality for quantity. A 2012 study found that more than a quarter of people leave food at the end of their meal, with chips cited as most likely to be left. The reason for this food wastage is often because customers consider fries, vegetables and salads as an extra part of their main meal that they didn’t ask for.

5.  Link up with a local charity – Lots of restaurants have established strong links
with local charities, who benefit from donated leftovers. You could also consider
linking up with a local food bank to make sure any leftover food goes to a good
home, rather than to waste.

6.  Explore options and alternatives – Mixing up your menu and giving customers more choice about what’s on their plate can really reduce waste. Don’t assume everyone wants chips and peas – they may prefer a side salad or other vegetables.

Don’t always be so quick to throw away leftover food. Your chefs may be able to make use of it somewhere else. For example, peelings and bones can be used to make tasty stocks and soups, while day-old bread can be made into croutons or breadcrumbs.

7.  Get the knowledge – Legally, anyone handling food must be trained in food safety. We think this training should be extended to include ways to reduce waste. WRAP, the waste reduction action programme, found that poor food preparation contributes to 45% of food waste, and is the biggest contributing factor. Therefore, it’s crucial for staff to learn how to store food properly, cook food correctly, keep the premises clean, and avoid cross contamination.

However, in the end there’s always a percentage of waste (shells, bones, gristle and out of date produce) that can’t be reused. In this situation, we need to recycle it – as opposed to sending it to one of our already overcrowded landfill sites.

ReFood has three state-of-the-art anaerobic digestion (AD) plants in the UK. While it’s an easy way to collect and dispose of waste food, it’s also a great way to generate renewable energy and divert waste from landfill.

Even better, this system whereby bins are used to collect unwanted food from kitchens, saves 46% on waste management costs, compared to general waste collection tariffs. Our well-established solution provides you with handy bins in food preparation areas, which are regularly collected and swapped for sanitised replacements.

Finally, according to a recent Sustainable Restaurant Association study, customers love environmentally-friendly restaurants. So, savvy restaurants could be generating greater footfall by being green and saving money – a win-win situation.

The arguments in favour of reducing food waste are now compelling. The UK hospitality sector is lagging behind the competition. The time to act is now. Let’s work together to get the UK where it should be – at the top of the recycling table.

* Sustainable Restaurant Association Report (The Tastiest Challenge) – February 2019
** Champions 12.3
*** Champions 12.3