Food For Thought: UK hospitality food wastage - a cultural problem with a technological solution?

Our Sales and Partnership Manager, Paul Berryman brings us another 'Food for Thought' blog. This month he considers one of the hospitality industry's more pressing issues of food wastage and how a combination of technology investment, a cultural shift and customisation could be the solution.


Last month saw the launch of the “Step Up to the Plate Pledge” initiative by Ben Elliot. Since his appointment early in the year, the new Minister for Food Wastage, has met with NGOs, Defra, WRAP and industry all in an effort to construct a workable plan that enables the UK to achieve its UN target of a 50% reduction in food surplus by 2030. But can policy alone sort out the UK hospitality food wastage issue?

Since the charity WRAP released their research findings on food wastage in the hospitality sector, the industry has been under fire to do something about it.  

According to WRAP (the Waste and Resources Action Programme), the food sector produces 920,000 tonnes of avoidable food waste each year. Furthermore, it’s believed that food waste costs the restaurant sector a staggering £682 million each year.

The statistics make for shocking reading. But has there been a conscientious effort by hospitality management teams to take proper action to curb such enormous levels of waste in the sector?  

The exposure that 75% of the wastage in UK restaurants is avoidable and could have been eaten has made it a hot topic. No doubt, many operators will jump on the marketing band wagon to be a reduced wastage hero to avoid being tarnished by unethical practices. But will such initiatives have any longevity?

Cultural transition: Going beyond plastic straws and doggy bags

For too long in the restaurant sector, food waste has to be accepted as ‘the cost of doing business’ or not considered worth the investment. But through simple measures like conducting food waste inventories, training staff on new food handling and storage procedures, and redesigning menus - many of which are easy tasks thanks to built-in EPoS features in any good platform - waste can be reduced considerably. With the added benefit of a seven-fold financial return.

Many businesses within our sector have been at odds with the new consumer consciousness for far too long when it comes to food wastage and ethical sensitivities. It’s not enough to just replace plastic straws with paper ones, promote doggy bags or to launch a short-term idea to donate left over food to a charity.

The entire thinking and culture within many outlets needs to change to become 100% focused on waste management and sustainability. From an operational stance, it’s not just about being a food wastage hero but a strategy to build a brand and product offering more appealing in a competitive market and to close revenue losses for increased profit.

Is hospitality behind the times?: Giving our customers what they want

In nearly every element of our lives there is a big push to stop waste and to become more ethically sensitive. From the introduction of home smart meters; supermarket food waste charity schemes and removing plastic wrappings; local council domestic recycling waste collection enforcement through to the increasing demand for organic food.

So why hasn’t it been happening in hospitality? Today, it really shouldn’t be difficult to reduce waste thanks to a host of tech tools designed to help do just this within our restaurant management systems, such as kitchen management, stock control and order customisation features. And, it’s what our customers want. So why as an industry aren’t, we doing it?

Culture of time and cost cutting

Maybe one of the biggest problems lies within our industry’s culture. Hospitality is ravaged by frantic operations, time pressures, tendency to do things the way they’ve always been done and to dictate to our customers their portion size and side accompaniments.

The result is all too often, a lack of inventory control, fresh food management and customer’s leaving food they didn’t want, or a portion size more than they needed. In the name of time and money, many restaurants are cutting corners on admin and perceived added complications such as introducing flexible menu orders. Simply ordering more stock “just in case” and the “need for speed” is a false economy, in fact it is estimated that gross profit can be increased by 8% by stringently deploying a food wastage strategy.

Ironically, much of the above goes against the grain of new customer desires to reduce waste, consume ethically sourced produce and to have choice with a customisable menu.

The business case for food wastage investment

WRAP’s global study, found that for every $1 restaurants invested to cut down on food waste, they saved on average $7 in operating costs over a three-year period. That’s a 600% return on investment. 

The financial benefits came from a range of things such as reduced expenses from saving money on the food they buy, extra sales from using food which would have been thrown away during preparation in other meals, and lower waste management costs.

What’s more, on average restaurants achieved a 26% reduction in food waste in just one year – which leapt up to nearly 90% within two years. And all sites were able to keep their total investment in food reduction below $20,000 over the three year period.

Every restaurant should be able to considerably cut waste for both financial and environmental gain through three key areas: Technology, Culture, Customisation.

Technology: Stock control and kitchen management

The role of EPoS - To prevent waste, you should always know exactly which foods you have in stock at all times. All good EPoS platforms should have stock control as a standard feature, and many also have built-in kitchen management Apps. Knowing in detail, at any time and in any location, what food you have and the use by/best before dates, is a necessity both for financial and environmental considerations. This should not be a time consuming staff chore but a quick and easy task to make life easier in the kitchen and make waste management effective.

Forecast requirements – Knowing what PAR levels the ingredients are at any time is another easy way to reduce food waste by forecasting food requirements accurately.  Some EPoS platforms have a PAR system built in that will allow busy staff to quickly run a theoretical profitability, which can then enable adding manual forecasts to a weekly financial.

Kitchen culture: Put the heat on to reduce waste

Avoid Over-Buying as a Quick Fix - Change the thinking that stocking up or buying in bulk is cost efficient and quicker than investigating exactly what you need. It’s essential to get staff to really understand the importance of inventory management and stock forecasting – not just opt for the quick order and “bargain supplier deal”. This is old fashioned and a false economy.  

Train to Gain - A bit like cutting the admin when it comes to over buying, another area is making sure your operation invests in training and formal procedures to ensure optimum food life span. WRAP estimates that 21% of restaurant food waste is due to food spoilage, simply because staff are not up to speed or put under pressure to do basic steps to avoid wastage.

This is about going beyond food hygiene training and ensuring your staff have the knowledge and incentive to ensure fridges and freezers are always kept at the right temperatures. Storing foods under the correct conditions is vital for preserving their quality and preventing pathogenic bacterial growth, both of which can quickly lead to food waste. Make sure all kitchen staff our practising regular stock rotation and not just grabbing new stock that is in front of old stock.

Customisation: Designing menus to reduce wastage

Give Customers the Choice and Control - It’s not just Gen Z and Millennials who have a preference for order customisation. People today have become accustomed to having their meals their way, be it choosing side dishes or portion size. And with an increasingly ethical consumer, ensuring your PoS, kitchen management and entire order process can handle order customisation is key. Why give your customers food they don’t want or need? In fact, the WRAP study showed that a quarter of people leave food, with chips/French fries the most likely to be left.

Use your custom build menus as a marketing initiative to attract more customers and make it a central theme of your food waste reduction promotional strategy. Customisation is a win-win-win with you saving money, your customers getting exactly what they want and your operation scoring food wastage brownie points.

For more information on how pointOne’s EPoS solutions provide full allergen disclosure for customers and help staff safeguard customers with food allergies, please get in touch.