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Reducing Waste in Restaurant, Bars & Cafés

By Larraine Roulston:

Restaurants and the food service industry contribute a hefty amount to the waste stream. Food waste, in particular, is high on the list. On average, a single restaurant might send as much as 50,000 pounds of edible food to landfills annually.Wasting foodnot only hurts a restaurant’s bottom line, but also is being seenincreasingly as the culprit for a larger societal concern regarding food justice and environmental issues.As reported by the FAO, “if food wastage were a country, it would be the third largest emitting country” for total greenhouse gas emissions, surpassing India, Russia and Japan.

To mitigate this problem, a good starting point is to set up a waste reduction committee with restaurants’ employees. The aim would be to establish a food policy that includes time-based goals and metrics to track progress.

Here are some easy policy ideas to help restaurant owners reduce food waste and improve their environmental “food” print:

  • Create an in-house assessment of food waste to determine customer preferences, and which items and portions are most frequently left uneaten. Adjust menus accordingly.
  • Allow chefs to be creative with stalks of veggies. Turn stale bread into croutons.
  • Establish a connection with a local food charity and/or farmer by donating food and food scraps. Send leftover food and table flowers home with staff. A restaurant located in a large city’s downtown location can set out extra food for the homeless.
  • Update your menu and indicate that you are striving to avoid food waste by offering smaller portions with a discount. Also note any additional vegetarian delights. As well, offer animal-welfare certifiedmeat and “organic” produce.
  • Implement a “first-in, first-out” inventory, and be mindful of various stagesof ripeness and harvest times to avoid early spoilage. Buying bulk producehelps reduce costs and packaging.
  • Investigate payable markets for used fats, oils and greases.

Besides managing food waste, develop an infrastructure of good insulation and install energy-efficient lights. Other policies can include the following:

  • Develop “green” practices. Turn off all appliances and washroom lighting when not in use. Run a fully loaded dishwasher. Turn down the thermostat after hours.
  • Do not use plastic straws; use compostable ones instead, and provide upon request only. Replace photos of beverages with straws.
  • Pour a glass of water only when requested.
  • Purchase reusable coffee filters and replace individual disposable food packets with reusable containers. Avoid plastic stir sticks.
  • Automatically serve beverages in ceramic mugs to sit-down customers.
  • Avoid offering cheap children’s toys. Minimize giveaways such as magnets and coasters from suppliers.
  • Set up color coded, well labeled recycling and organic bins for staff to separate resources. Compost brown paper towels from washrooms or install linen roll towels.
  • Promote your program to customers and listen to any suggestions offered.

Restauranteurs have a visual and personal opportunity to raise the environmental bar by demonstrating that they are sustainable and serve foods that are healthier for both customers and the planet.

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Larraine writes children’s illustrated adventure books on composting and pollinating. Visit www.castlecompost.com

About Larraine Roulston

A mother of 4 with 6 wonderful grandchildren, Larraine has been active in the environmental movement since the early l970s. When the first blue boxes for recycling were launched in her region, she began writing a local weekly newspaper column to promote the 3Rs. Since that time, she has been a freelance writer for several publications, including BioCycle magazine. As a composting advocate, Larraine authors children's adventure stories that combine composting facts with literature. Currently she is working on the 6th book of her Pee Wee at Castle Compost series, which can be viewed at www.castlecompost.com. As well, Larraine and her husband Pete have built a straw bale home and live in Ontario.

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