Minimizing Plate Waste

By Andrew Shakman, Co-Founder & CEO  //  July 29, 2014

Although food waste all looks the same by the time it reaches a compost or waste bin, there are actually two types: pre-consumer waste (such as overproduction, spoilage and trimmings) and post-consumer waste (the food left on guests’ plates after a meal). Most operators have focused more management energy on addressing pre-consumer waste because it’s directly within their control.

This raises an important question: “Who has the ability and responsibility to reduce all that post-consumer food waste?” For many years I believed accountability rested largely with the guest. After all, each consumer decides what to order and elects what to eat (or not eat). I also felt empathy for foodservice operators. They certainly noticed the plate waste but they couldn’t just reduce portion sizes without risking customer disappointment and revenue loss, particularly in a competitive industry where other establishments demonstrate greater value to customers by offering even larger portions.

But my thinking has evolved as the foodservice landscape has changed. Today, restaurant operators and chefs are influential “guides,” helping consumers experience new levels of culinary satisfaction by offering sustainably-sourced products, showcasing healthy options, and addressing the needs of special diets. In this context, we have the ability to nudge guests toward lower waste outcomes without compromising experience. Rather than relying on large portions to attract guests, many innovative operators are instead using “right-sized” and “better for you” menus that have the ability to maximize margins and address consumer wellness preferences. For these reasons, I see the responsibility pendulum swinging back toward the operator, but certainly not to the exclusion of all guest accountability. It’s a balance.

So if those of us in foodservice want to take more accountability for plate waste, what should we do to combat the issue? Start by measuring your current plate waste levels for at least three days. You’ll likely uncover significant opportunities for post-consumer waste reduction by tweaking menus or portion sizes.

Once you have data, there are a range of strategies to explore depending on your operation:

  • Re-examine and “right size” portions
  • Consider adding half portions to your standard menu
  • Transition from self-serve buffets to "served" stations
  • Adjust serving utensil sizes in buffets to encourage smaller portions
  • Adjust plate sizes to give the appearance of a more full plate
  • Partner with social benefit programs like Satisfeito and Halfsies
  • Talk to your front-of-house staff to understand the waste they see most often

After you implement changes, measure total waste again, and see how well your initiatives are working. If the measurement sounds manual and labor intensive, keep in mind LeanPath offers automated systems to track post-consumer waste by itself as well as options that are integrated with our pre-consumer (kitchen) waste systems, making it easy to analyze all of your food waste in one dashboard. We’d welcome a conversation with you about post-consumer waste prevention strategies any time.

In some countries, we’ve seen operations start charging customers a fee if they have food left on their plates. Food for thought?


Wondering exactly how the LeanPath system works? Take a look at this short video!

[image src="http://www.leanpath.com/img/offers/watch-video.png" alt="Click to request your personalized demo on how LeanPath can help you prevent and manage food waste." link="true" href="http://www.leanpath.com/product-video/" type="none"]

Topics: Food Waste Musings, Food Waste Prevention Newsletter