Fighting food waste in hotels: How to reduce costs in your hotel’s kitchen

  Posted in How to

Hotels can reduce food costs by tackling waste.

As humans, food represents our most essential connection to the planet and its resources. Environmental researchers often surmise that we place less value on food than we used to. You only have to look at the recent numbers from Hotel Kitchen around food waste to understand their perspective:

  • In the US alone, an estimated 40% of all food is scrapped
  • American hotels serve food worth $35 billion each year
  • It’s estimated that 40% of food in customer-facing businesses, such as hotels and supermarkets, goes to waste

How to control food waste in your hotel’s kitchen

Fighting food waste at your hotel goes beyond feeding people and helping the environment – it also improves your property’s bottom line. Do you really know how much food you throw away each week? Have you worked out its monetary value? Are staff and guests aware of your efforts to be more sustainable and properly manage food waste disposal?

According to Hotel Kitchen, more than 90% of staff say they want to take action on tackling food waste. Guests are also becoming increasingly savvy with 60% of those surveyed saying they expect hotels to be actively reducing waste across their operations.

There may be steps you can take to reduce waste:

Tip #1
Get buy in on food waste from your team

Create a team to take ownership of waste reduction and incentivise them. This should include a cook or chef and a kitchen porter (KP). Your KPs see what gets scraped off plates, while a chef will know how leftover ingredients can be better used in future menus.

Tip #2
Research waste management software to support processes

Conduct a waste audit, by dividing waste into categories and ensuring staff dispose of it in an appropriately-labelled container. There is weight-based software for this: basically a talking bin that records the weight of different categories of waste according to descriptions entered by staff on a touchscreen. The most well-known of these is probably the Winnow system, which its manufacturer claims typically saves operators 3-5% on food costs – a ROI of up to 10 times within a year. The challenges with using a system like this is that, it requires all waste to go into the same bin, leading to congestion in the kitchen or pot wash, and it can take time to input the data.

Tip #3
Assess raw ingredients vs. diners’ plates

If conducting a waste audit manually, you’ll need to at least split waste into raw ingredients and prepared waste that is left on diners’ plates. Almost 10% of raw ingredients are wasted. This includes things like potato peelings and cauliflower leaves, which can be difficult to find a use for. Raw ingredients also covers kitchen prep mistakes. Some 35% of restaurant waste is left on diners’ plates. This is most definitely higher in a hotel restaurant, where diners are less likely to take their leftovers home.

Tip #4
Ask staff for their frequent observations

Raw ingredients and diners’ plates might be the two main categories, but make sure you have as many containers as you have space for. Record the waste, by weight, but also anecdotally. You’ll learn more from staff comments: what did they find surprising? Was there an item plated but not eaten? Is there a garnish that customers commonly leave?

Tip #5
Follow the ‘less is more’ approach

Assemble as many staff as possible to discuss the results, after a fortnight or a month. When it comes to prepared waste, you may find that it’s a result of portion sizes being too large, in which case introduce strict portion controls, possibly using measure scoops that are colour-coded for different items. If lots of butter and preserve is left after breakfast service, consider buying in individual wrapped portions. Keep in mind that, unavoidable post-consumer waste can often be used by farmers as animal feed: all good content for your Instagram stories.

Tip #6
Obsess over food and beverage expiration dates

If you discover that fresh items are going out of date, introduce a strict fridge rotation system and coloured stickers to identify which items to use first. Store new foods on the right fridge and existing on the left to maximise shelf life. Get this ingrained and replicate it in ambient storage areas for rice, herbs and spices, pulses and grains as well. Out of date ingredients can usually be donated to local food banks. Build a relationship with your local food bank operator and post about it on social media to boost your presence in the local community. This may lead to worthwhile involvement in charity events.

Tip #7
Sharpen up your kitchen team’s knife skills

Meat carcasses should always be used for stock. If staff report that there is still a lot of meat left on bones, check that knives are being properly sharpened and that staff are trained to bone items efficiently. If staff lack butchery and fishmongers skills you’ll save on waste by buying, for example, cubed chicken and filleted fish.

Tip #8
Use proper peelers for vegetables

Similarly, are staff prepping vegetables properly? You’ll see less waste using peelers than knives for most fruit and root vegetables.

Tip #9
Allocate some space for composting

Raw vegetable waste can be composted if you have some outside space. A compost area can be simply constructed out of pallets. The resulting compost can be used to improve the soil on site or donated to local allotment groups.

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