Food is money - and it is being flushed down the drain. According to the UN FAO (Food and Agricultural Organisation), one third of food produced is wasted each year. That means that approximately 3.6 million tonnes of food are being thrown away each day (FAO, 2017). Despite the hospitality industry playing a big role in this issue, many fail to acknowledge the problem. The amount of food being discarded in hotels is usually either underestimated or simply ignored. This is because of the assumption that if a hotel’s restaurant is doing well, the amount of food waste is at its minimum - which when under closer inspection is often discovered to not be the case. By simply weighing all the discarded food from both the kitchen and even the guests’ plates, many might be surprised by how high the actual wastage is. Food is money and it is being thrown away!
Minimizing food waste will not only reduce financial loss, but may also become a potential gain. As ambitious as it sounds, it is possible and has been proved so at SO Sofitel Bangkok. After tracking its waste, the hotel identified that meatloaf was being discarded in inordinate amounts. This was an indicator that it was not a popular selection among the customers, so it was subsequently removed from the menu. The ingredients that were originally used to make meatloaf were repurposed to make spaghetti meatballs instead. The hotel has since received positive feedback from their guests. Other ways to deal with leftover food include donating it to those in need or even to animal shelters, or deposit at a food bank. Doing so will both put the food to a good cause, as well as build a positive reputation for the hotel in the community, demonstrating that they take social responsibility seriously.
While putting wastage to good use is important, it is perhaps even more important to prevent unnecessary wastage in the first place. To do so, the root causes must be thoroughly studied. Food waste can be classified by its origins, into two categories: pre-consumer waste and post-consumer waste. (Shakman, 2012)
Pre-consumer waste includes all food discarded from the kitchen due to unskilled trimming, unidentified demand, overstocking, poor production and inefficient storage systems. Kitchen waste is generally given less attention when discussing food loss, as buffet waste is more visible. However, it can contribute up to 50% of all waste. Mr. Benjamin Lephilibert, managing director of food waste consulting firm LightBlue Environmental Consulting, believes that pre-consumer waste should not be neglected.
Given that kitchen waste, as its name suggests, is controlled by kitchen staff, it is easier to reduce when compared to post-consumer waste, which is controlled by the guests. Keeping track of what contributes most to kitchen waste can give hotels an idea of what approach to be taken. For instance, if the amount of trimmings is overwhelming, hotels should consider training staff to become more skilled. Another alternative is repurposing trimmings by adding them in soup.
Due to the unidentified demand, it appears to be almost impossible to precisely predict the customers’ need while maintaining a small amount of food waste. However, hoteliers and staff can learn to become more flexible with their menu by offering cuisine based on the availability of raw ingredients. Doing so will decrease the waste created by overstocking, saving the hotel’s operating cost.
Post-consumer waste is often referred as ‘plate waste’. It is the result of an inefficient service model, inappropriate portion sizes, and customers’ consumption behaviors. Of course, directly shaming guests into wasting less food is not very appealing. Lephilibert suggests that what staff could do instead is to be transparent about hotel’s food waste prevention policy, making them conscious of the food they are throwing away. In addition, guests’ behavior can be influenced by portion and plate sizes. Bread can be served in smaller portions during morning breakfast. Providing smaller plates can also slow down customers’ consumption, making them more aware of the food they are having.
Many things can be done to approach food sustainability. Each hotel’s nature is different and therefore there is no absolute formula for minimizing food waste. Hotels should first identify the origins of the waste, and then come up with an appropriate prevention plan and take the necessary actions.
FAO. (2017, May 22). FAO and partners encourage social innovation to reduce food loss and waste in China’s biggest city. Retrieved from Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: http://www.fao.org/asiapacific/news/detail-events/en/c/887917/
Shakman, A. (2012, June 14). Food Waste Tracking: The Path to Pre-Consumer Food Waste Prevention: https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-01/documents/2_leanpath_shakman.pdf.