Restaurants must embrace technology to reduce food waste

Restaurants need to turn to technology to better understand and combat the problem of food waste, writes Joel Montaniel, CEO & co-founder of SevenRooms.

Food waste accounts for 8% of global greenhouse emissions and costs the restaurant sector £682m a year in the UK alone. And with composting difficult to achieve at a national level, the vast majority of food waste ends up in landfills, where it causes further environmental harm by decomposing and creating methane, a damaging greenhouse gas that is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

However, there is an amazing opportunity that is both good for the environment, and equally beneficial for the restaurant’s bottom line — increasing sustainability increases profitability.

Research has shown that if the average restaurant reduced the amount of food it throws away by just 20% a year, this would not only prevent four tonnes of food from going to waste, but would save an estimated £2,000 a year in avoided food costs, as well as around £1,700 on waste collection.

This is a significant saving when you consider it is enough to buy a new, expensive piece of kitchen equipment, or invest in a website refresh to drive more customers. And the savings can only go up from there depending on how efficient the restaurant can be. There is a clear environmental and economic need for restaurants to reduce food waste — and technology can help.

Almost all restaurants already use an operations platform to manage guest data, reservations, orders, delivery and so on. But far fewer restaurants use their operations platforms to leverage data to provide insight into where food waste can be reduced. With this in mind, we have looked at three ways that restaurants can use technology to tackle food waste.

Use guest data to inform your orders

When it comes to ordering food, many restaurants rely on the same tactics as a family doing a weekly trip to the grocery store; rule of thumb estimates. But whereas a family knows who they will feed every day, restaurants can’t guarantee the number of seats they’ll fill each week, therefore increasing the likelihood of excess food waste.

For example, say a restaurant ordinarily sells 20 portions of their signature lamb dish a day, but, one evening, because more vegetarian guests than usual are booked in, only six people order the lamb. In this situation, 14 portions of lamb could go to waste, incurring an avoidable environmental and economic cost. Yet, with the appropriate technology, this food waste could be prevented.

In the above scenario, if the restaurant used an operations platform that recorded data such as guests’ dietary preferences and previous order history and cross-referenced this with upcoming reservations, the chefs could have tailored their food order to their upcoming reservations.

Upon seeing that more vegetarian guests than usual were dining that night, the restaurant can leverage this data to order less meat and more plant-based options, reducing food waste and ultimately saving the restaurant money.

Monitor diners’ habits to tailor your food by tracking guests’ dining data over time, restaurants can gain greater clarity on what their customers like – and what they don’t.

For instance, if service staff notice that some guests were consistently leaving behind the ice cream in a dessert, they could begin logging this against the dish in an ePOS system, tracking it across their operations and guest management platform. If a trend emerged that showed that most people who ordered the dessert didn’t eat the ice cream, restaurants could leverage this information to stop serving it and reduce food waste.

Similarly, restaurants can track diners’ preferences at a granular, individual level. If a guest mentions to their waiter that they don’t like parsnips, this can be recorded an operations platform on the guests’ personal profile. If this guest then orders a Sunday lunch which includes roast parsnips, the restaurant can preemptively avoid waste by leveraging this guest’s data to not serve them food they won’t eat.

Track leftovers to perfect your portion sizes Overly large portion sizes cause food waste because guests can’t finish what’s on their plates. But how can restaurants tell if portion sizes are too large? The answer, again, lies in clever use of data.

Tracking leftovers can give an indication of portion sizes that may be too large for the average diner. Logging leftovers, no matter how small, can produce insights to inform future decision-making – such as ingredient purchase.

The take-away

If you asked a hundred people how restaurants could help combat food waste, it’s unlikely that many would say technology.

However, operations platforms that allow restaurants to capture and leverage guest data to provide insights into the way food is ordered, prepared and served can greatly reduce food waste. In this instance, technology can not only maximise a restaurants profits, but also ups the brands green credentials.

It’s time that restaurants started to turn to technology to better understand and, therefore, better combat the problem of food waste. With today’s increasingly eco-conscious consumers, choosing a restaurant with the environment at the centre ticks an important box that is likely to get more diners through your doors, more frequently.

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