Just how wasteful are UK restaurants?

Between meeting environment targets and simply needing to reduce costs, businesses across the UK are looking at how to reduce their waste. But in order to solve the problem, companies need to first assess just how much waste they are producing. Here with disposable catering supplier retailer, Inn Supplies, we investigate further…

The amount of waste restaurants produce

Restaurants lost £682 million every year in the form of food waste. Responsible for creating 22% of the Hospitality and Food Service industry’s waste, restaurants produce 915,400 tonnes of waste, including 199,100 tonnes of food waste. Businesses are currently losing 97p from each meal they serve in avoidable food waste.

This loss will impact any restaurant’s bottom line, big or small. Take a pub restaurant for example: according to data from How To Run A Pub, the average spend on a three-course pub meal is £14.48. 6% of this amount (97p) is immediately stripped from this total to account for avoidable food waste, before overheads like wages, utilities and maintenance are removed.

Restaurants do, however, have fantastic recycling rates. Over half (51%) of all waste from restaurants is recycled, with 65% of packaging and other wastes recycled. Clearly then, for restaurants to minimise the impact on their bottom line, they need to implement efficiencies — especially when it comes to waste management and disposal. But is this easier said than done?

Consumer feedback

The first step to reducing waste is to understand your customers. One survey found that more than a quarter of diners (27%) left food on their plate when dining out. Generally, it seems that diners are comfortable with this, as three fifths said doing so was not concerning.

32% of diners admitted to leaving chips on their plate. Vegetables — such as peas and salad garnishes — followed in second place (18%). So why are customers leaving food uneaten? Overwhelmingly, 41% said that they did so because the portions were too big. Other factors can also have an influence. The number of courses ordered can influence how much food is left; diners may, for example, leave more of their main course if they have ordered a dessert. Who we dine with can also influence how much we eat; if we are comfortable with our company, we will usually eat more than what we would in a professional situation.

Food waste reduction

Though customers are the ones leaving the food behind, they aren’t the ones that can change that. This means it is a restaurant’s responsibility to do all they can to reduce the waste their business produces. It can be difficult to know where to start, so here are a few pointers:

  • Cater to different levels of hunger — not all diners will want a huge meal — what about those popping in for a sandwich at lunchtime, for example? Cater for all by including lighter options on your menu, and naturally reduce the cost accordingly.
  • Offer flexibility with your menu — allow diners the option to change the sides served with a particular dish. If customers are not able to change their sides, they may order additional items separately, meaning they will leave more of the original dish. Some restauranteurs may encourage this to boost revenue generation, but it’s important to remember that increased food waste may lead to greater costs, essentially neutralising the aim of this strategy.
  • Push staff to offer takeouts — 42% of people said asking for a doggy bag is embarrassing, yet 74% said they don’t might being offered a carton to take leftovers home with them. Train your staff to ask customers who have a lot of food left on their plate whether they want to take it home with them.

Small savings may not seem worthwhile at first glance. But in a competitive industry with rising costs, any threat to your bottom line needs to be dealt with as a priority.