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Why Restaurants Must Throw Away Food (& What to Do About It)

Posted by Rafael Garrido on Jan 19, 2020 7:50:14 PM

Take yourself back to the last time you dined in: the atmosphere around you, the company across from you and the plate right in front of you, it all made the moment what it was. But what if we told you that everything was not as it seems? Unfortunately, we live in a world where convenience reigns supreme, and restaurants get the short end of the stick. At the core of a system bent on rubbish, food retailers and restaurants have become the largest contributor to food waste in the world. This pollutes the planet and lets millions of people go hungry every day.

Here's what's led restaurants to throw away food at such a massive degree. For good measure, we'll share how deep the issue really goes, as well as what you can do to change the destiny of nearly 25 million tons of food each year.


How Much Food Do Restaurants Really Waste

There are a few things only folks in the restaurant industry understand. Being in the weeds is one of them, and tossing out a perfectly good plate of food that's gone uneaten is another. We can't help with the first one, but we've got an opinion on the food waste factor. Apparently, restaurants throw out nearly 85% of unused food. Whether it be in the dining room or the kitchen, tossing scraps like yesterday is a part of the status quo. Restaurant managers are only able to donate, compost or recycle a sliver of the uneaten bits.

Get this: A semi-truck can hold up to 80,000 pounds. A single restaurant can produce enough food waste each year to fill 94% of that.

So restaurants may throw out anywhere from 25,000 to 75,000 pounds of food each year, but what does that mean in the language we all speak—money? With 31% of restaurant food supply finding shelter in the landfill, $162 billion worth of food goes with it. Now that's a metric that makes us stop in our tracks. If all this waste was redirected, businesses would see an immediate boost in their bottom line (with their food-waste-saving investment returning sixfold). That extra somethin' could be a lifeline for foodies who rely on the love of flavor to get through the month.


Want to save food from waste while getting amazing deals?

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The Reasons for It All

So we've all come to the understanding that restaurants produce a lot of food waste. But with events like Feedback's Feeding the 5000, which aims to serve 5000 meals made from high-end leftover food throughout NYC, we can't help but wonder why.

In the past, restaurants have feared contributing food donations because of the prospect of liability. But thanks to the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act, these establishments have nothing to worry about. So long as you're not intentionally negligent, your good deed of trying to feed the hungry will never be preyed upon.

Food banks can't take cooked food, so when restaurants over-prepare for dinner, they're cutting soup kitchens and shelters from the equation. Inadequate estimation of food needs is another major contributor to restaurant waste (this includes prepping food just as much as portioning it). Moreover, smaller businesses often don't have the volume to be able to donate (so while chain restaurants and supermarkets are eligible for surplus pickup, these small businesses don't make the cut).

American restaurants' notoriously large portion sizes are a main reason why diners tend to waste their plates. Either they choose not to take their leftovers home or they abandon their leftovers in the back of the fridge—whatever the case, it's just too much food. But cutting portions doesn't have to mean cutting price; having multiple options available is a proven upseller in the restaurant business, and something that chefs and environmentalists alike can bank on.


A Throw-Away Culture is a Food Insecure Culture

You know, there's just something about a throw-away lifestyle that really made us wonder where all this food insecurity came from. According to the USDA, someone who falls under the label of food insecure

  • doesn't have consistent access to food,

  • doesn't have enough food to lead a healthy and active lifestyle,

  • & doesn't have the means to provide their family or household with balanced meals.

So not only does restaurant-sourced food waste amount to a staggering $2 billion in lost profits, but it also robs hungry households from a stable dining room table. By resolving to rescue just 15% of food waste, we'd be able to literally halve the number of food insecure people in the United States.


The Kitchen, the Dining Room or the System?

Everyone plays a role in food waste. But if we had to place the blame somewhere…

Scratch that. We wouldn't. In the restaurant industry, literally thousands of tons of food are tossed in the kitchen, but so too are thousands thrown out by guests in the dining room. At the core of it all, the system has been designed in a way where eateries feel like convenience is their only option.

In reality, using food-saving tactics boosts profits (think a $6 gain for every $1 spent). But wasteful, seemingly convenient tactics are highlighted as the only affordable way to run a restaurant business. Moreover, one study concluded that 47% of people would be willing to pay more for meals from a spot with food rescue measures in place. So the "cheap" and "profitable" status quo is actually fictitious. 


Want to save food from waste while getting amazing deals?

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Will US Food Waste Be Halved by 2030?

Sometimes things seem stagnant, but we assure you...the times, they are a-changin'. Just this past October, the FDA, EPA and USDA banded together for the ultimate coalition. And the goal? To half restaurant and grocery store food waste by the year 2030. 

In partnership with the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, these influential organizations are clearly taking the issue of food waste seriously. Through preventing, recycling and recovering surplus food (not to mention promoting education and communication) they hope to redefine how the country's food system works from the ground up.

When all seems lost, it's news like this that really gives us hope. But as vanguards ourselves, we know that we don't have to wait for the efforts of the government to make change. In fact, there are plenty of methods for minimizing your own food waste footprint, starting now.


Throw Away Food? There are More Options for Your Restaurant

To us, taking action matters, but that requires some knowledge. Here are a few alternatives that prove there's more to life than food waste.

  • Implement a Food Rescue Program

    Many organizations are willing and able to rescue your excess meals. Lovvett in particular has a penchant for premium eats that didn't make it to the dining room, offering merchants a 50% off rate of tasty plates. Letting one of these companies have your back is definitely worth your while.

  • Hire a Consultant to Even Out Your Ratios

    So restaurants throw away food, and that fact is boosted by a number of culprits. But inaccurate food preparation and oversized portions are a couple of the biggest ones. If you can't perfect your ratios on your own, there's no shame in bringing in a consultant to crunch the numbers for you. Eatable is a great resource for dialing in on your food waste, and finding solutions that work right for you. 

  • Link Up with an Industrial Composter

    When it comes to restaurant-sized food waste, a typical backyard compost just isn't going to cut it. But linking up with an industrial composting facility can send your inedibles back to the earth. Many states (including Florida) offer numerous composting solutions for residents and businesses alike. All you have to do is make the transition, and the rest will feel as natural as the soil below your feet.

  • Refer to the ReFED Roadmap

    ReFED is a great resource for food retailers and restaurants hoping to slash their waste. The ReFED Roadmap in particular defines a number of programs that businesses of varying sizes can put in place, ultimately lending a helping hand for restaurants bent on bettering their footprint.


Learn About What You Can Do to Stop Food Waste

Halting food waste in its tracks is more than just something to do on the weekends. Food waste is one of the largest contributors to climate change. As such, transforming our current system into one that diverts organic matter and rescues meals is a must. So do your due diligence to help restaurants and other eating establishments get out of the weeds once and for all.


Want to save food from waste while getting amazing deals?

Download the Lovvett App!


Topics: food waste, restaurants