Roundtable: Minimising food waste

19 December 2014
Roundtable: Minimising food waste

Minimising food waste not only makes sustainable sense, but it also has the capacity to significantly boost the bottom line. Last month, The Caterer invited prudent operators to a roundtable, in association with Kerrymaid, to discuss how it's possible to profit from waste and turn trimmings into turnover. James Stagg reports

In association with

What consideration is currently given to food waste in kitchens? Is it managed or is it considered part of business that there will be wastage?

Carlo Scotto It's on the list, but it's not a priority. You still have to think about standards, and if something isn't up to those standards, we won't send it out. We always try to keep down waste, but it's difficult. The priority is customer satisfaction.

Ian Green Here at Green and Fortune we have the benefit of multiple outlets. If it's not good enough for the private dining room, it's not good enough for the café, but there are ways of being savvy. For instance, cake trimmings are moulded and covered in chocolate and we market them as ‘70p of naughtiness'.

Adrian Coulter There needs to be space on the menu to be creative with things.

Jasper Aykroyd

If something doesn't fit in with that, then people will be aware of waste but not necessarily able to do anything about it.

Does the industry do enough to address kitchen waste?

Tom Tanner I don't think that it is high enough up the list of priorities for an awful lot of hospitality businesses. From our experience running the Food Save scheme, when we have contacted small and medium-sized businesses, the uptake has been quite pathetic.

Chefs don't want to admit they waste food for a number of reasons. Without measuring waste - which is essentially what the Food Save scheme does - you will never know how much you are wasting. However, we have worked with businesses that are doing fantastic things. They've saved between £5,000 and £20,000 a year and reduced the amount of waste sent to landfill. But many businesses say they don't have a problem with food waste. You
can probably count on the fingers of one hand the amount of outlets in the UK that don't have a food waste problem of some sort.

Brendan Hunter To put things into context, I have a few statistics. WRAP research indicates that 920,000 tonnes of food is thrown away by the sector every year, and three-quarters of that is avoidable and could have been eaten. The cost to the sector is £2.5b.

If you imagine Wembley stadium, filled with food up to the arch, you have an idea of what that amount of food looks like.

Effectively one in six meals are wasted, and the cost to individual outlets is about £10,000 - so great savings can be made. Economically we need to do something about it and then there is the moral imperative. It is problem and, in general, it isn't being taken seriously by the industry.

What initiatives are under way to tackle waste?

Andrew Fishwick When we were approached to participate in the Food Save trial, I thought we were pretty good. But it turned out we were throwing away a lot of food. In the fourweek trial, we calculated that if we carried on the practices, we would save £7,000 a year.

Although I actually think it would have been more like double that, because that was purely based on the cost of the food, not the collection and disposal.

AC You've got to serve it at the right price too and you can only do that if you're controlling waste. It's a holistic approach to quality, customer satisfaction and reducing wastage.

AF When you compare this cost analysis to the wage costs, it should be no different. You want to measure the hours team members do, and you should measure how much food you are wasting and throwing away too. If you can't measure it, you can't do anything about it.

Is food waste currently considered part of the cost of doing business?

CS It's not about just what the guys are doing. Nowadays customers are extremely demanding. We send out a plate that is immaculate, but it can come back because the guest doesn't like it. In service it's hard to keep up with wastage - I will never send something that jeopardises my reputation as a chef.

AC In that sense, front of house can play a part in managing expectations and explaining the dishes.

JA It's difficult to get to a customer like that as you'd need a little booklet about one dish, explaining exactly why you've made the decisions in the kitchen that you have. That way you'll persuade them but they won't sit there and read it.

TT What it highlights is that food waste occurs at different stages. It could be spoilage or prep waste - something that has gone wrong in the kitchen on gone off in the fridge - or it could be plate waste - it could just be that the customer doesn't like what they see or they are full.

From our research, food waste is one of the top sustainability priorities for consumers so I don't think they leave food lightly. People at home are recycling their food waste and they think restaurants should be doing the same.

How do you change working practices to ensure that waste is taken seriously throughout by restaurant staff?

AF The Food Save scheme that we trialled is essentially a scale under the bin with an iPad. Every time you throw something in the bin, you have to categorise what it is. Initially, the staff thought it would take hours. The first week was a disaster, but by the end it became a competition as to who could categorise the most waste on their service.

We found we were good on plate waste, which means portion size is about right. The only thing we weren't so good at was the Sunday roast, where it's family-style on a big platter. We found we did have quite a lot of roast potatoes and veg coming back. We tried to reduce the amount we put out and instantly there were complaints. Sunday is one of those dinners where people just want to see a lot of food, whether they can eat it or not.

JA A bare window in retail, or a bare plate in hospitality, is not a good sales pitch. People want that resplendent, feast-type thing. Though in many cases their eyes are much bigger than their stomach. Also, most people aren't taught about dealing with waste in schools or colleges. Knowledge and appreciation of it tends to come the first time you've any degree of responsibility in the kitchen and the head chef is going to castigate you if the pantry section hasn't been managed correctly.

What measures do you take to ensure everyone is following the correct procedure?

IG It's a culture that affects everyone. I want to know my employees are monitoring waste as I'm sitting here - but they're probably not.

Are they likely to admit they've burnt five kilos of something by mistake? Obviously not! We have plastic cases on the walls where the invoices go. I urge the guys to pick up the invoices to see how much produce costs, and then they'll understand why I get upset when things go past their use-by date.

BH Many organisations don't know where to start. When you're running a restaurant you're extremely busy and it's not that you don't think it's important, you just don't have the time to address it. But there is help out there to measure and monitor waste - and once people pay attention to it, things start to happen.

How is it possible to portion and plan dishes so that food does not return to the kitchen uneaten?

BH If about 34% of food waste is plate waste it's more than just fussy customers. Probably it's portion sizes that are not quite right.

JA Time is the real issue. It's not that chefs or customers don't care, it's that these things happen piecemeal: a bunch of onions here, a salad garnish - that nobody eats anyway - there. It has to be measured to be understood. You would care about it if you saw how much it was. It's a time-to-money conversion.

AF Getting our first report from the Food Save scheme was an eye-opener. Simple things like, while the halibut for the fine-dining menu has to be a perfect shape, the trimmings can go into fishcakes for the bar. It gets you thinking.

BH Some 40% of food waste is carbohydrates. These are the plate fillers that people leave after eating the meat. It's the chips that are often left.

TT Many of the restaurants we work with in terms of Food Save have changed their policy when it comes to bread too. More than one restaurant I know of now makes bread themselves rather than ordering it in, and they find that means they can control it much better.

AF Front of house can play a huge part in communicating how much a guest should order, and advise on side dishes.

JA You don't have to make the customer feel they're lacking something. You can always offer more if guests aren't satisfied - but it's extremely rare that after a well-balanced starter, main and dessert is served that people will need more.

How do you get the messaging right to the guest?

BH I don't think it's easy. At an individual level in a restaurant it's possible, but it's like reusing towels in a hotel bathroom. In the beginning, people were confused and thought it was a good opportunity for hotels to save money. But over the years it has happened and if we can get some similar messages, people will begin to understand. Chain restaurants in particular really need to spread some of this consistent messaging more broadly.

JA Often when people are asked what ameal was like they'll answer: "It was fantastic, enormous portions!" People's perception of value is in quantity.

AF It's a tricky one. We do 450 covers on a Sunday and it needs to look generous. It's about managing that. We found that we could reduce the meat quite a lot and people didn't mind that. But veg and gravy, in particular, is always requested - which will generally come back.

Should guests be offered doggy bags?

CS I wouldn't do it at Babbo. It means the quality is out of our control. We have guides to think of and we don't need the stigma of any problems. Michelin don't care if we're throwing food away.

AC You can't guarantee what will happen to the food on its journey home. There is a risk there and you're relying on the customer to treat it as you would.

CS My kitchen is safe and the food we offer is good. But I can't guarantee a guest will take it home and treat it correctly. If they don't, Babbo gets the blame.

IG It comes down to culture. Many hotels and fine-dining restaurants end up factoring in the wastage to deliver perfect dishes. It's horses for courses. Often it's kitchen-led.

Is there a risk that dishes can be too light?

BH In terms of food most people leave food because they were served too much. One of the key answers to plate waste is to have a greater range of portion sizes. So sharing plates have become more popular, which allows people to eat as much as they need.

TT It's a perfect marriage with the other priority of healthy eating.

Should operators communicate food waste messaging on menus?

BH Most people now really do care about food waste. They respond to any messages you can get out there on what initiatives you're taking.

AF But there needs to be a balance. If I go out for a meal and you open the menu and see the calorie count of every dish, the 14 major allergens and food waste recycling, it's too much. You go out for an experiential, fun thing to do. You don't want to be reminded of these things.

JA You don't overbear the customer but have front of house who care enough and are trainedwell enough to advise customers properly and offer real service. Though a way of working in terms of sourcing and care for ingredients and waste will get buy in from customers. They like to think you're being responsible.

IG We source our fish from Chapman's, and their day boats that go out and we buy what they've landed. From a sales perspective that's a challenge, but for event menus, instead of writing pan-fried salmon, we'll have south coast-caught fish. So the guest can book three months out and we'll deliver what's best.

What else can chefs do to reduce waste?

CS If someone comes into the restaurant and has specific dietary requirements not met on the menu, it gives me the chance to use products that might be close to their use-by date. They're still great products, but it's about being open-minded with your stock.

AC All kitchens want to offer the best quality product at the best price, but you can't do that without reducing wastage. That's where products come in that can help portioning. It's about the little things you can do.

BH There will always be exceptions, but we can all introduce processes and systems without making our establishments too process-driven from the customer's point of view.

JA Nobody is saying that in the interests of food waste we should starve our customers, but people should leave satisfied and no more. We have to get to that, but it's about communication.

AF We've all agreed it's a cultural shift that needs to take place in kitchens, front of house and among the customers. But the reason I'm quite positive - and seeing it start to happen - is that we've seen it in other parts of the business. Food provenance - the idea of writing where your beef came from on menus - would have seemed weird 10 years ago. I think the same will happen across food waste.

Food waste roundtable attendees

  • Jasper Aykroyd, executive chef, Meat and Shake
  • Adrian Coulter, development chef, Kerrymaid
  • Andrew Fishwick, owner, the Truscott Arms
  • Ian Green, executive head chef, Rotunda bar and restaurant
  • Brendan Hunter, key account manager, Hospitality & Food Service, WRAP
  • Carlo Scotto, head chef, Babbo
  • Tom Tanner, Sustainable Restaurant Association

Five ways to reduce waste

Be creative with offcuts

At Greene and Fortune they mould cake trimmings, coat them in chocolate and sell them as '70p of naughtiness', while the Truscott Arms uses fish offcuts from its fine-dining operation for fish cakes. Make sure your chefs are using every scrap.

Create competition across kitchen sections

You'll soon find some friendly rivalry over who can produce the least waste.

Reuse everything possible

For instance, some restaurants use old envelopes for menus, which is not only sustainable, but also provides a talking point.

Be honest with yourself

The only way to realise savings is to accurately measure just how much you're throwing away.

Don't overload dishes

Front of house can play a part in managing expectations and ensuring guests are given more if required.

Spreading smart ideas with Kerrymaid

As a brand committed to developing a channel specific product portfolio for chefs, by chefs, Kerrymaid has been engaging directly with many of them through the Spreading Smart Ideas campaign this autumn.

The company is interacting with customers on Twitter, covering everything from managing kitchen waste to engineering the perfect menu.

Over the past few weeks, Kerrymaid has also worked with Lee Maycock from the Craft Guild of Chefs on a series of insight columns. The #speadingsmartideas campaign increasingly demonstrates how Kerrymaid is remaining true to its core brand values of Irish dairy craft, quality and heritage, while remaining relevant to a contemporary, connected generation of chefs.

For more information and hints on helping your kitchen run smoothly, join the conversation with @KerrymaidDairy and start #speadingsmartideas.

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