Can we stop talking about Food Waste Management

And start talking about Food Waste Prevention.

Waste Management has become the new buzz word. We must manage waste, we must weigh it and cost it and then send it on its way. What an extraordinary way to do business. Creating the waste in the first instance is the problem and no amount of fancy computerised systems to weigh it will solve that problem. Food waste begins when the menu is being planned. This is the point at which so much potential food waste can be prevented completely.

Covid, while being such a disaster for so many brought an unexpected benefit to the restaurant and hotel industry. It forced businesses to have a long hard look at long, overly complicated menus. It looked like it was going to consign the carvery to the history books, and businesses that had long avoided making efficiencies had the choice to change or go under.

However, like all Disney dreams, this one didn’t last. Long menus have made a comeback, carveries still abound, and food waste is getting worse instead of better.

Poor Menu Planning

The good news is that the restaurant sector food waste is not the worst offender at 23% of total food waste*  (household waste makes up 31%), the even better news is that most of that waste can be prevented.  It is worth repeating and remembering that food waste originates from poor menu planning. There are three types of food waste in a restaurant: Storage, Preparation and Plate Waste.  All studies consistently show that of these three, plate waste is the highest contributor.

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Avoidable Food waste- Stat Source – EPA

Plate Waste

So why do hotels (particularly) restaurants, cafes and pubs consistently give customers more food than they are able to/ want to eat? There were some suggestions that you can give customers the food to take home. Therefore, you are going to get paid for one meal and provide two? Hardly keen business practice.

Here are some of the counter arguments for putting less food on the plate for customers.

The Excuses

‘If the plate comes back completely clean, it must mean that they didn’t have enough’.

‘We don’t want to seem mean’.

‘It’s been costed and factored into the price anyway’- forgetting that food waste adds at least five cost elements to the business.

‘Food waste is inevitable and unavoidable’.

‘It’s being recycled’

The flaw in all of these arguments is that the business has not only paid for the food waste once but multiple times and when bottom lines are so slim, it pays to look after every single cent.

Identify the Causes

Food waste prevention begins with good menu planning.

How do you begin to solve it?

Step 1 – separate food waste from all other waste.

Step 2 – place a clear container at the wash up for food waste only.

Step 3 – after each service, take this container, empty it out onto a sheet of plastic and examine the food waste. Is it lots of bread, salad, vegetables, chips. Head chef, front of house manager to head this up. Take notes each service.

Step 4- Repeat this over at least a two-week period. A pattern will emerge.

Step 5 –Collate the evidence.

Step 6 –Discuss changes that are necessary to fix the problem.

Sales Analysis

  • Combine this information with a detailed analysis over the previous two week period.


  • Make necessary changes to the menu.
  • Spend time on menu planning, argue, discuss, defend every item that is going to appear on it.

*Source- Food Waste Stats

Published by Blathnaid Bergin