Many hospitality businesses are making significant savings by reducing their food waste. It’s time for the entire industry to follow suit. Ben Walker MIH reports from an Institute of Hospitality roundtable discussion in association with WRAP
For a service industry dependent on pleasing its guests and clients, food waste, however unwelcome, is a fact of life. Research of the hospitality and food service sector shows that of food that is procured, 18% is thrown away and 13% is food that could have been eaten. Therefore any changes to reduce this waste add profit straight to the bottom line, says WRAP (Waste Resources Action Programme), the UK based not-for-profit organisation.
Much progress has been made in getting the most out of raw ingredients. Nose to tail cooking is widespread in commercial kitchens and cooperation with food manufacturers and suppliers means that raw materials are used to their fullest.
The bulk of food waste (45%) occurs during preparation of the food, according to WRAP research across the sector. This includes waste
from overproduction for breakfast buffets, conference dinners and events, in addition to offcuts and peelings.
The Royal Garden Hotel’s executive chef Steve Munkley said: “Production waste is where the biggest education needs to be.”
Some caterers are now taking a zero-tolerance approach to unclaimed meals. Eleanor Morris of WRAP said: “Some hotels are now charging clients extra for the cost of disposing of leftover food if guests don’t turn up, which is a bold move. It’s a message.”
The Royal Garden Hotel has not adopted this policy yet, but it does charge for alternative options which have not been booked in advance. Munkley said: “You can book the alternative meals in advance but on the night if we get 20 people who want a vegetarian option, we will charge for that because that amounts to 20 wasted meals. Last year was the worst for that. To be fair it’s the guests doing it, not the organisers. Why are we asking you in advance? First, not to waste food and, secondly, so the chef can give you a decent meal and not one thrown together at the last minute.”
Another controversial source of waste is use-by-dates, said operators at the discussion. Richard Short, environment manager, Accor Hotels UK & Ireland, said: “We throw things away all the time that have expired their use by date. We can’t give them to a food distribution charity like FareShare. We can’t freeze them down. It’s perfectly good food and we have to throw it away. The law needs to catch up and not in an unreasonable way.”
There are many of examples of businesses making significant savings by proactively tackling production waste. Morris said that resort hotel Crieff Hydro in Scotland saved £50,000 from tracking their buffet waste and making very simple changes such as only serving one slice of toast instead of two. “Give them one and make sure they can order more,” she said. That way, guests have a better experience because their toast stays fresh and warm. As a family hotel, Crieff Hydro has devised two set afternoon tea menus, one for young children and one for older children. Directly appealing to two different age groups with different appetites has reduced the food left on plates.
Following a successful pilot on one cruise ship in 2016, Costa Cruises now has a company-wide programme called 4GOODFOOD with a target of halving onboard food waste by 2020. Costa Cruises is working with Winnow, a London-based start-up specialising in the optimisation of processes in professional kitchens. Mapping of wastage at food processing and preparation level is carried out by placing kitchen scales in each strategic area on the ship, weighing what goes in the bin and keeping a centralised record of the different food categories.
As well as the training of galley staff, Costa’s guest-facing communication programme ‘Taste Don’t Waste’ encourages responsible consumption in the buffets across the fleet. Videos and other communications aim to bring about the proactive engagement of guests as socially-aware citizens.
Seeing is believing
Costa Cruises’ far-reaching programme illustrates that effective food waste reduction requires changing the mindsets of both employees and guests. When it comes to changing the behavior of staff, a key starting point is allowing them to see the volume of wasted food.
Morris commented: “Contract caterer Elior took all the food out of the macerator and put it in a bag to show the staff because they didn’t think they had any food waste because they couldn’t see it. Then, bingo, it’s on everyone’s radar and they can understand where it’s coming from and talk as a team to do something about it.”
Richard Short of Accor Hotels said: “A few years ago we introduced food waste bins to separate it out. At first we got some hotels saying: ‘We need another food bin.’ We had to tell them: ‘No you don’t. You need to reduce your food waste!’ So that visible sign does work.”
The Royal Garden Hotel’s staff canteen provides free meals for its 300 staff. Munkley said: “I periodically go down there and empty the food bin onto the table to let them see just how much they are throwing away. It’s one of those things that doesn’t always come into peoples’ minds so a training programme is really important. We measure all of our food waste.”
Munkley added that kitchen staff may feel pressure to replenish buffets more than is necessary or cook extra to keep the head chef happy. It is up to managers to say: “Stop. We don’t need it.”
Changing consumer habits
Attendees highlighted a tendency for hospitality guests to be wasteful. Business guests are not paying personally so may be inclined to order more than they can finish; leisure guests are treating themselves. Calorie count information has little effect as a curb. Some questioned whether people understand what calorie information means.
At the same time, it is clear that portion sizes are often much bigger than necessary. Munkley said: “We serve on average 250 a la carte hot breakfasts during the working week. Eight years ago, instead of serving two sausages, two bacon rashers and two hash browns I served only one of each. And I had no complaints. I saved my food costs overnight and reduced wastage.”
Andrew Green of the Craft Guild of Chefs added: “People tend to eat it just because it’s there rather than because they actually wanted two sausages and two pieces of bacon. The attitude is: ‘I’ve been given it. I’ll eat it.’”
Morris said: “For restaurants, smaller portion sizes work and doggy bags. When you offer doggy bags, it gives the consumer a sense of value but it also opens the eyes of the business to how much they are giving away. So they are able to change their operation without any detriment to the consumer’s experience.”
After successfully reducing the amount of your food that goes in the bin, the next step is disposing of what remains. There are a number of responsible options here. The overriding financial incentive both for hospitality operators and local authorities is to avoid paying landfill tax, which currently stands at £88.95 per tonne. Short commented: “If you think of the amount of waste that councils collect, that is a huge expense. So recycling is the game.”
Donating uneaten food to charities such as Fare Share is easier for the retail sector than hospitality, attendees heard. Short explained: “Retail has the advantage that the waste they have is generally wrapped food. Accor continues to have discussions with Fair Share but we just don’t generate the type of food waste that they can use because it’s not easy to transport or know about its provenance or its safety.”
Short added that Accor Hotels UK & Ireland sends its food waste off for either incineration or Anearobic Digestion, but if the option was available, he would be in favour of the return of pig bins. “Back in the old days, hotels had pig bins, but foot and mouth put paid to that,“ he said. “I am aware of environmental protection and the rest of it, but it was an overly risk-averse knee-jerk reaction which we are still living with now. If food waste could go off for animal feed again, in a very modern, industrial way, that would give us a Fair Share-type outlet for our food waste like the retailers have.” After having a macerator for ten years, Munkley said that The Royal Garden Hotel has invested in a new bio digester which uses enzymes to break down food into an odourless liquid in a matter of hours.
Education, training and the future
There is growing awareness of the need to integrate food waste reduction into formal education from primary school upwards. Louise Brown MIH, commercial executive, Institute of Hospitality, said that personal experience of working in schools and following the international Eco-Schools environmental education programme had shown her how passionate and committed children are to taking responsible action.
The Eco-Schools Programme is pupil-led and involves hands-on, real-world learning that gets the whole school and the wider community involved in exciting environmental projects. In England more than 18,000 schools are registered and 1,200 schools currently hold the internationally recognised Eco-Schools Green Flag. Brown noted that because the programme is led by children, they are the ones with the ‘pester power’ to educate teachers and parents.
Sara Jayne Stanes, chief executive, Royal Academy of Culinary Arts, added that the Academy’s Adopt A School programme was a good vehicle to educate children about food waste, but she often found that schools do not have a waste policy in place. The Academy’s Martin Christian-Kent continued that room needed to be made on the curricula of apprenticeships and T levels and other full-time catering qualifications to cover food waste reduction.
Attendees acknowledged that the needless waste of food is a hard topic to engage people with. Businesses and individuals are busy and there are always other things that can take priority. However, there are signs of change and the hope that prominent chefs can become ambassadors for tackling food waste. For the first time ever, food waste is one of the judging criteria for this year’s Roux Scholarship. The decision was made by Michel and Albert Roux who see it as a massive problem in the industry. External expert organisations such as WRAP and the Sustainable Restaurant Association exist to help and support businesses. Morris of WRAP said: “We developed the Your Business Is Food toolkit, with three and seven-day tracking sheets and an Excel-based calculator tool. It’s free, tried and tested and we know that every time it’s used it boosts profits. We want to see more use of it. You can also use the Unilever Food Solutions Wise Up on Waste tool which means you can do multiple sites and it’s live and can be used for monthly costs and measurements that can be translated into graphs.”
Munkley added that waste reporting was a Key Performance Indicator for the Royal Garden Hotel’s back of house manager. SRA consultant Aisling Hayes said: “Over 90% of our members who have taken our rating assessment this year have said that they are doing staff training on food waste specifically. An extra step is talking about sustainability at the recruitment stage. Then it becomes part and parcel of the role and the operation.”
Alistair Sandall FIH, head of professional development, Institute of Hospitality, concluded: “Hospitality businesses, whatever their size do not have feel that they need to tackle food waste reduction alone. There are excellent resources and programmes available. By using WRAP’s Your Business is Food; don’t throw it away Starter Guide, businesses can take action immediately and see positive results in a matter of days.”
Eleanor Morris of WRAP added: “This is not about managing food once it has become waste. It is about preventing it from becoming waste in the first place. It is about winning hearts and minds and that takes a special effort.”
This article was first published in HQ, the Institute of Hospitality’s quarterly management magazine. Written for mid-level and senior managers in all sectors of the industry. HQ is a benefit provided to members of the Institute as part of their annual membership subscription. They have free access to electronic articles from each issue of the magazine including past issues.