Food waste in fine dining

By: Tamás Szallabek

From: VIMOSZ (Hungarian Hospitality Employers’ Association)

The catering industry was responsible for 7% of the generated food waste in 2022 (EPRS, 2022). Fortunately, this share is declining as in 2012 the share of the industry was 13% (EPRS, 2022). Although Europeans are on a promising journey, in the UK the hospitality and foodservice sector is the only one, whose amounts of food waste have grown since 2011 (WRAP, 2020). 

Restaurants, in particular, account for 22% of the UK’s food waste (WRAP, 2020), making them a primary target for waste prevention efforts. Food waste drivers in restaurants can be categorized as business- and consumer-related determinants. Business factors include kitchen procedures, business model, size, and management’s sustainability orientation (Filimonau and Uddin, 2021). Consumer-related factors encompass social, cultural, and demographic elements, such as gender and the type of event (Vizzoto et al., 2021a; Papargyropoulou et al., 2016). The complexity of food waste management in the catering industry underscores the need for restaurant managers to gain a deep understanding of the issue to address it effectively.

In luxury catering the dynamics of food waste are a bit different from a regular restaurant. While most wastage in quick-service and casual dining restaurants occurs on customer plates, top-end restaurants waste excessive amounts of food in the kitchen (McAdams et al., 2019). These establishments apply strict standards to the visual appearance of dishes therefore many “dead plates” can be made during service resulting in huge amounts of waste (Charlebois et al., 2015). The same holds true to the preparatory and selecting phases. Only the best (freshest, most delicious) ingredients are accepted and then trimmed and processed excessively before plating. On the other hand, due to the excellent quality of the dishes and the service very little food waste comes back from the guests. McAdams et al. (2019) points out that meal preparation and cooking account for 74% of food waste in kitchens of fine dining restaurants while the contribution of receiving/storing and holding is less significant. This means that in high-end catering chefs are very much responsible for how much food waste is generated. They are responsible for the design and administration of kitchen processes (Chawla et al., 2020) and these processes account for up to 70% of FW in foodservice provision (Filimonau et al., 2020b). This also suggests that they can play an important role in food waste prevention as well.

The trickle-down effect of innovation in the foodservice sector often comes from fine dining such as farm-to-table schemes, because they have the needed resources and technologies to implement such things first. Unfortunately, the skills for resourceful cooking and sustainable management of restaurants are hard to obtain and/or are not taught yet. Resourcefulness also describes the skills of chefs to re-use surplus ingredients to avoid wastage due to spoilage (Michalec et al., 2018).

For instance, in ‘green’ restaurants, chefs need to know how to make the best quality meals out of seasonal or local ingredients. Likewise, to prevent food waste due to over-stocking, chefs should know how to re-use surplus ingredients.

Along with these skills the technical development of the kitchen can also affect the amount of food waste generated. Physical resources, such as tools and machinery, alongside their providers, such as suppliers and manufacturers that can aid in practice delivery can make huge redactions in food waste. For instance, as shown by Chawla et al. (2020), reliable kitchen apparatus is paramount for wasteless cooking.

The first thing in food waste prevention is waste measurement (Clowes et al., 2019). Filimonau et al. (2023) showed that according to chefs’ food waste measurement practices are: time consuming, laborious and often unnecessary, however research participants well understood the topic and were aware of the economic environmental and social benefits of waste prevention. Participants also highlighted that mostly managers and owners are responsible who apply operational standards and corporate policies where food waste is inevitable, i.e., chefs must stick to the menu therefore they cannot reuse meat trimmings and inefficient storing practices.

We can assume that if restaurant owners and managers were more informed about the consequences of wasting food, chefs would be more motivated to implement practices that prevent food waste. We can also assume that the current food waste measurement technologies are not suitable for a highly dynamic and often chaotic kitchen environment. Hopefully this project, WASTELESS will provide the necessary tools to make a difference in the scene.


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