Restaurant Food Waste: The Impact and Solutions

Food Loss

People are increasingly becoming aware of the negative impacts of food waste on the environment. Reduction in food waste is expected to have worthwhile outcomes, especially on the production of greenhouse gases, energy consumption, food, land, and water security. The major reason why food waste is turning out to be an aggravated problem is because of our behaviors and ignorance. One of the many reasons is the food industry, particularly restaurants’ food waste. Let’s take a look at the issue with restaurant food waste and how we can make a difference in the future.

Understanding Food Waste

Food waste can be strictly defined in terms of the food supply chain (FSC) as the edible food intended for human consumption that ends up being discarded, lost, or consumed by pests at the later stages of the cycle [3]. Out of all the food produced for human consumption in the world about one third i.e. 1.3 billion tons of it is lost or wasted throughout the food supply chain (FSW) [4].

Out-of-home waste such as that produced at restaurants, eateries, canteens, snack bars, etc. is the second chief source of food waste. In the US, household and restaurant consumption lead to 39 million tons of food wasted each year, and in the UK food waste through restaurants results in an annual 682 million Euros being invested in the management of this waste. Owing to the environment as well as social and economic repercussions of restaurant food waste, the contributing factors need to be identified in order to lead to improved sustainability in the entire food industry [5].

Restaurant Food Waste

Leftover is the cause of restaurant food waste
Food waste is more common at large restaurants, banquets, and snack bars as compared to smaller ones [7]. 45% wastage of restaurant food occurs at the preparatory stage, 21% due to improper storage, and 34% at the consumption stage where clients visiting restaurants leave behind scraps of food on their plates. Leftover edible foods such as bread slices, meat, and bread crusts, etc. could be consumed if the processes of management, storage, and preparation were improved. It also reflects consumer preferences such as avoidance of potato skin and the head and tip of ladyfingers that are considered inedible for consumption, etc. [5].

Types of Restaurant Food Waste

Restaurant food waste can be classified into:

  1. Kitchen food waste (KFW) – waste produced at the preparatory stage due to overcooking, improper storage, over-peeling, etc.
  2. Client food waste (CFW) – waste produced as leftover by clients in their plates
  3. Buffet leftover waste – left as extra food that has not been consumed at buffet dinners.

How to reduce Restaurant Food Waste

Order food that you can finish
There are a few ways to help reduce restaurant food waste.
One way to reduce restaurant food waste is through sustainable development goals. Particularly, SDG 12.3 aims to reduce the per capita food waste at the global level to half by 2050 [7]. Other ways to reduce restaurant food waste.
Specifically, the kitchen food waste can be avoided on part of the hotel owners and manager by carefully monitoring expiry and due dates of food, ensuring the usage of leftover peels as animal and bird feed, donation of surplus food, composting, menu planning, portion planning, cost adjustment, and re-use of edible leftover for preparing other dishes. The client food waste and buffet leftover waste from restaurants can be reduced by changing our behaviors as consumers and loading our plates only with the amount of food that we can finish! [2]. Food waste can, therefore, be managed by taking into account food waste at food service, and food consumption level [6].

Other ways to reduce restaurant food waste include strategies such as efficient food waste disposal system, food recovery via anaerobic digestion, bioenergy production after proper treatment, recycling of food waste via composting leading to manufacturing of organic fertilizers, reuse of food waste as animal and bird feed, donations, and redistribution of food waste through food banks and food distribution drives, and most importantly, “cleaning up your plate” can be considered as one of the best ways of reducing your food footprint. With the rising costs of energy and a greater problem of waste, it is important that we do something to reduce food waste, particularly in restaurants and the food industry.

Alert the Corporates

Food waste prevention can be made possible only if more businesses and governments join hands to mitigate the problem. Along with the change in consumer behavior. With the increasing trend of dining out and resultant amplification of restaurant food waste, robust management and recycling strategies need to be developed throughout the restaurant food waste chain, i.e., generation, collection, transportation, disposal, and integrated restaurant food waste management [1]. It has been found that 90% of food that is thrown as waste at restaurants can be reused or composted.

What to do next

Cleaning off your plate can help restaurant food waste
Restaurants can urge clients to do as much they can to order food only that they can finish up and clean up their plates. You don’t look old-fashioned by doing that, rather look ‘environmentally conscious’ and aware of sustainability. In addition having the leftover food packed for later consumption at house will bring the taste home and avoid that waste from being making it to trash bins at the restaurant, helping you act as a responsible consumer of food and an eco-conscious individual that aims to reverse the environmental damages we’ve caused. Food shouldn’t be taken as a social tool rather than a necessity and a blessing.
Find out more about food waste and more ways we can reduce food waste, such as upcycle food waste.

[1]. Lang, L., Wang, Y., Chen, X., Zhang, Z., Yang, N., Xue, B., & Han, W. (2020). Awareness of food waste recycling in restaurants: evidence from China. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 161, 104949.
[2]. Meadows, J. (2016). Too good to waste. Habitat Australia, 44(2), 20-22.
[3]. Papargyropoulou, E., Lozano, R., Steinberger, J. K., Wright, N., & bin Ujang, Z. (2014). The food waste hierarchy as a framework for the management of food surplus and food waste. Journal of cleaner production, 76, 106-115.
[4]. Principato, L., Pratesi, C. A., & Secondi, L. (2018). Towards zero waste: An exploratory study on restaurant managers. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 74, 130-137.
[5]. Restaurant owner and manager. Food waste in restaurants. Retrieved from: Accessed on 21’ May 2021. 1:07 PM
[6]. Secondi, L., Principato, L., & Mattia, G. (2019). Can digital solutions help in the minimization of out-of-home waste? An analysis from the client and business perspective. British Food Journal.
[7]. Wang, L. E., Liu, G., Liu, X., Liu, Y., Gao, J., Zhou, B., … & Cheng, S. (2017). The weight of unfinished plate: A survey based characterization of restaurant food waste in Chinese cities. Waste Management, 66, 3-12.
Author: Monica Chang
Director of Ethical Choice
I am passionate about finding amazing sustainable and eco-friendly products and sharing them with more people. Interesting in plastic-free, reduce waste, and DIY.