New food waste realities of restaurants owing to COVID-19

As the economy slowly eases back to normal after the COVID-19 pandemic, the foodservice industry is undergoing several paradigm shifts. In the short term, business volumes will remain low – in the long run, however, foodservice operations will be completely redone, and the overall outcomes remain unpredictable.

In this scenario, food wastage is likely to pose an even more significant challenge as restaurants grapple with serving customers in the new normal. There are, however, significant opportunities in this as well. But first, let us analyse the new normal at restaurants.

The new realities of the food business

Social distancing will dramatically change customer interactions

New restrictions on dining capacity and increased space between tables have already been imposed on restaurants slowly opening their doors for business. This means longer meal periods and increased hours from staff members.

Moreover, many customers will still be unwilling to dine in and prefer grab-and-go or online delivery options. This requires prior food prep and assembly from the kitchen. All of these increase the risk of food waste as restaurants either over-anticipate orders or make mistakes while adapting to a model they are not used to.

Food prep will undergo a revamp

The need for social distancing in restaurant kitchens will alter familiar food prep patterns and increase the risk of waste. Restaurants should now take pains to ensure safety, which means that staff members are more likely to follow the “when in doubt, throw it out” mantra for food products.

There are non-food-related costs to this as well. Buffet counters and salad bars are likely to be taken off the majority of restaurants owing to the high potential for contamination.

While this will reduce food waste to some extent, it will necessitate more staffed service and longer hours for the service team, ramping up operational costs.

Supply chains will run inefficiently, at least to begin with

In the new normal, there is no historical data to count on when ordering supplies and planning menus. Food suppliers might also be operating erratically, which means that restaurants face the possibility of not having standard ingredients on hand when needed.

At the same time, customers could become tired of limited menus and demand more options. Kitchens are thus likely to order excessive amounts to cater to customer demand and to avoid the fear of running out. A big consequence of this is the increase in food waste due to unused ingredients getting spoiled.

New opportunities for restaurants

Tracking food waste

The first and most crucial step is to have tracking mechanisms in place for food waste. This will help restaurants see where food waste is being generated and make modifications accordingly. Staff members should be trained in tools that keep track of supplies and when they came in. Using the FIFO (first in, first out) inventory method will allow for food to be used while it is still fresh and reduce waste. Another essential part of this process is communicating with food suppliers about what restaurants need and when they need it, as well as with customers to share menu plans and accept any suggestions or preferences they have.

Planning menus sustainably

Food waste can be viewed as not just waste but also ingredients that can be used creatively. Several items that were previously thrown away as food waste are perfectly edible and can be incorporated into the menu.

Vegetable peels and roots can be added to stocks, unattractive fruits can be blended into smoothies or sorbets, leftover ingredients can be repurposed into limited-edition items, and leftover spices can be used to make dips and infused oils.

Another option is to reduce the portion sizes of meals and to lower prices accordingly, or to make sides such as rice or French fries an optional add-on.

Becoming more environmentally-conscious overall

The new normal offers restaurants the opportunity to not only reduce food waste but also waste less electricity. Lower energy consumption means lower costs and also reduces the restaurant’s carbon footprint.

Simple steps like switching off lights and equipment when not in use, investing in appliances that use less power and switching to more energy-efficient light bulbs make a big difference.

Restaurants can also invest in innovative technologies like Anaerobic Digestion to dispose of their food waste efficiently and generate valuable biofuel in the process.

Summing it up

No doubt, this is a challenging time for food businesses. Although labour costs and revenues are moving in unpredictable directions, preventing food waste is still in the hands of restaurants. With careful planning and investing in food waste management solutions, the situation can be controlled.

If your food business wants to eliminate food waste, please get in touch with us to find out how our systems can help you.

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