It’s like any other priority in the kitchen: if chefs and managers don’t reinforce the message that food waste prevention matters, staff can easily lose focus. Your daily or weekly pre-shift meetings are one of the best opportunities to reinforce your priorities. Here are a few ways to keep your team focused on food waste.
We’ve all been to a catered event, whether it was a buffet or a plated meal, a business luncheon or a wedding reception, a breakfast line brimming with scrambled eggs and bacon or a break table piled high with pastries. But I’ll bet you’ve never been to a catered event that ran out of food.
Overproduction is a given for most caterers, because if they run out of food, there’s not a kitchen in the back to prep anything more. And more than with onsite dining, the host of a catered event carries more responsibility for their guests’ happiness, and a caterer doesn’t want them to be unhappy. In my years as a chef, I’ve seen events that have half of the food ordered -- or more -- go uneaten.
This type of food waste is the inconvenient truth of running and organizing a catering event. All the chefs, planners and attendees know it’s happening, nobody likes it, but we struggle with how to fix the problem.
Soon after OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital installed the LeanPath food-waste prevention platform in April 2017, Keith Harrington, Riverside Methodist’s production manager, saw they were tossing out a lot of bread at his Subway(™) franchise.
When it comes to reducing the amount of food waste your kitchen generates, prevention is key -- actually having just enough food purchased, prepped, and cooked, and no more. Of course, no matter how well you forecast, there are times you will have food left over. Chefs and kitchen managers need to be able to utilize this leftover product in order to keep their food waste to a minimum and to keep their operations financially viable.
Also, no matter how well you plan, you’re also left with trim. And whether you repurpose that citrus peel or not, you still paid for it. Throwing out trim is throwing out money, just like throwing out an overproduced pan of lasagna is.
Repurposing food is nothing new, but it has to be a deeper part of many kitchen cultures. Utilizing every bit of the food we buy, grow, and prep in our kitchens is critical in reducing food waste and the associated production of greenhouse gasses wasted food generates. Although there is a lot of food lost throughout the entire food supply chain (farm, processing, retail, consumer, etc.), in high-income countries the majority of food waste is generated toward the end of the chain, by both pre- and post-consumer activities. The kitchen staff is literally at the vanguard of reducing food waste, reducing greenhouse gasses, and saving the water that is lost from wasted food. (Yes, prep cooks can save the world!)
There are pockets of change throughout the industry, restaurants that focus on zero-waste, ugly produce programs, food donation programs (a form of repurposing), new menu items that utilize cuts or parts of products that were once considered “undesirable,” restaurants that work directly with farmers to grow exactly what they need, and the focus on tracking and controlling food waste in the professional kitchen are just a few of the noted changes being made. Still, with the much needed changes slowly taking place in the behavior and mindset of the consumers and culinary industry, we need to do more, much more.
We need to retool our brains, open up our creativity, and our palates, change our mindset, and embrace the behavior change that comes with utilizing and repurposing our food. So what does that look like for the consumer and the industry professional? Here are some ways you can change your behavior and refocus your efforts on repurposing food that will minimize your avoidable food waste.
I often get asked, “Chef, how can I motivate my staff to track their food waste?” It’s a good question, and one that comes up often. My simple answer usually is “You can’t.” I am a firm believer that you can’t motivate, but you can inspire. Motivation vs. Inspiration is a well documented topic and one that often leads me back to heated debates I used to get into when I served as the Dean of Culinary.
Culinary leaders and chefs often fail to understand a simple fact of human nature: people are intrinsically motivated beings. My students enrolling into culinary school were ALREADY motivated. When I was a working chef, I realized my kitchen staff would come to work for two reasons: to earn money to support themselves and their family and to make a difference in the lives of who they cook for. Motivating others is an outside-in approach to leadership that is not sustainable over time because people don’t need motivation. They need inspiration. Inspiring people is an inside-out approach to leadership that is entirely self-sustaining, as people strive to reach their fullest potential, whether in be in their personal lives, or their workplace.
My move to LeanPath was one of inspiration as I saw the work that LeanPath was doing to reduce food waste. One of our core values is - We are passionate about solving food waste - and it reads:
“Food is a precious resource. We are here to make a lasting impact in our world. Reduction helps ensure food is available to hungry people, natural resources aren’t wasted, and we’re combating the critical issue of climate change.”
For me, this is inspirational. It’s visionary. It’s the “Why” we are doing what we do. It aligns with an end goal. Motivation, although useful, is also short sighted it looks for the feel-good moment to keep going.
So back to the original question, “how can I motivate my staff to track their food waste?” The answer is, you can’t, but you can INSPIRE them, and here are 5 ways to do that: