How to reduce kitchen waste – key takeaways from the Better Hospitality Conference

The Better Hospitality conference took place over lockdown, and therefore over zoom! For those of you who couldn’t make it, we’re doing a brief recap of one of the most fascinating sessions, that is particularly topical for restaurants reopening under difficult post-pandemic conditions (she says, hopefully). Reducing waste in the kitchen will not only reduce your environmental impact, but it could also help you make significant savings, which in these tough times when every penny counts, could make all the difference.Dr Johnny Drain spoke to Andrea Zick, CSR lead at the OXO Tower, Vojtech Vegh, a food waste consultant, and Colin Higgs, co-founder of Greenkode, about their experience and advice.

All agreed that it was worth investing some time and effort into the topic as the rewards could be very interesting for the bottom line. An interesting perspective that isn’t often taken into consideration is how much water, power and labour is used when food is thrown away. If a chef has spent time prepping and cooking food, and it ends up in the bin because a portion was too large, it isn’t just the food that goes to waste. The main lines of waste are in prep, plate waste and spoilage, and the lesser thought of sources are water, energy and labour. 

Best ways to reduce kitchen waste

So what are the best ways of reducing kitchen waste?  Vojtech shared his top 3 tips to kick off the conversation:

  • Planning and organising of the workplace/workstation
  • Designing waste out of the system and prevent the occurrence of waste
  • And using the whole ingredient 

All agree that a large proportion of waste is avoidable when planned correctly. A regular audit of practices helps, according to Andrea Zick, who works with the Sustainable Restaurant Association to reduce their impact as much as possible. 

On the packaging side, making smart decisions about use of packaging, dialogue with suppliers to make sure it is minimised on deliveries are two ways of reducing waste. Ultimately, as Vojtech points out, the only way of being zero waste with packaging is to use zero packaging! But plenty is avoidable – or at least recyclable. Later in the session, the subject of deliveries and emissions is covered – it is important to think about reducing the number of deliveries and trips that suppliers have to make to any one site. Supplier platforms such as Tried & Supplied can help coordinate such things through their network of local suppliers. 

Involve the whole team

Another key aspect, according to Andrea, is getting the whole team involved in community projects. Given their proximity to the Thames, the OXO tower team went to do a river clean-up to see what happens to a lot of waste – an eye opening experience and one that really brings home the message. 

Another important factor is understanding where waste comes from. Engage the waiters to look at plates and gently suss out customers regarding portion size. Kitchen porters can also measure waste as they see all the dishes go past, and engaging them in the conversation can bring a great perspective and wealth of information on plate waste. 

The weight of waste

Colin Higgs at Greenkode is developing a system to help restaurants reduce their waste, chiefly by empowering them with the knowledge of what their waste actually is. They separate food waste into streams, and record it, using simple weighing mechanisms. They then produce reports on the different streams and demonstrate how it correlates to money. Savings can then be made based on this information – saving money and the planet! 

Nose to tail cooking

Vojtech is very keen on the last of his 3 key tips to reduce waste – using the whole of an ingredient. Fermenting, pickling or smoking to preserve the longevity of an ingredient also makes it more interesting, adding different textures and flavours to a dish. He is a believer in not giving the consumer too much choice – and that if you explain what you are doing and why, consumers will appreciate the message. For the same reasons, the OXO tower made pork terrine from their pork belly dish, and cauliflower leaf kimchee from the usage of cauliflower in their piccalilli so as not to waste any part of the ingredient – “nose to tail” cooking. 

Black truffle mindset

Vojtech coined the phrased ‘black truffle mindset’ – treat every ingredient as if it were black truffle, and you will soon be much more careful how it is used and how much is wasted! You already have the mindset – you just need to broaden it. He also stresses the importance of getting to know your supplier or producer, so you are aware of what is happening to the rest of an ingredient – if you are only ordering steaks, what is happening to the rest of the cow? Even better is of course to order the whole cow, and do the butchery in house – that goes for all ingredients.  He is also keen to point out how important front of house is in getting the consumer excited about more unusual ingredients or parts of an ingredient. FOH also play a role in figuring out portion size – and could be key in ensuring tables don’t over order. The slight controversy of service charge is that unfortunately it can drive plate waste, as it drives upselling and could lead to over ordering – Andrea is well aware this isn’t a popular point of view, but it is nevertheless true! Astute booking management is another way to plan properly for a service – especially if the team can ask about any special dietary requirements, vegetarians etc, to give the kitchen an idea of how much prep is required. 

Another way to reduce food waste is to make use of platforms such as Too Good To Go – a platform on which restaurants can sell deeply discounted food that is surplus. Ideal for items that are perishing the same day, and it helps cover some of the cost of the waste. 

Although the topic of sustainability is one that consumers are increasingly aware of and care about, once they are in the restaurant, they are mainly there to enjoy their experience, and according to Andrea, don’t necessarily want to hear the ins and outs of how restaurants are making themselves more sustainable. FOH need to make it straightforward for the consumer to make wise choices, both in terms of portions but also in going for those more unusual ingredients – sell the nose, the tail, and the rest!

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