Top 3 Ways Restaurants Can Reduce Customer Wasted Food

As part of the research I conducted for the Lean Six Sigma and Wasted Food workshop series, I started to pay closer attention to the impact that restaurants can have on wasted food.

40% of all food grown is wasted through inefficiencies in the entire value stream, and a lot of that is wasted at the end of the process during preparation and serving.

Here are the 3 things I feel restaurants could review and have the biggest impact:

  1. Serving size
  2. List all ingredients
  3. Optional garnishes

Serving and Portion Size

How many times have you received food that was MORE than you expected? Let your customer know what size they are ordering by providing visuals.

Even when there are sizes listed (small, medium, large, or 8oz, 12oz, 16oz), it’s hard for many customers to know how much food/drink that entails. Usually those sizes are familiar only to the restaurant, not the average customer.

Here are some images that will help customers select the correct amount of food, so they don’t let it go to waste (or even overeat to finish their plate).

List all ingredients

How many times do you receive your food and it has extra food that was not listed in the description of the item? This is so frustrating, especially when it includes items that I don’t like and will probably not eat.

In the menu below, there is a description of each item. I usually order the Garden burger, but what isn’t listed is that it comes with mayonnaise, which isn’t in the description as shown below. Seems like a simple oversight, but as a vegan, that it’s a big mistake. In fact, the first time it happened, I had to ask for another set of buns because they put the mayo on both the top and bottom. They also don’t mention that the bun is grilled with butter, so I have to remember to mention that I don’t want butter on the buns.

On a related note, I also dislike vague descriptions like “greens” or “vegetable medley” that could mean lots of different ingredients.

The above example isn’t nearly as bad as other menus I’ve reviewed, that offer very little explanation of what you get. I could ask the server, but does the restaurant really want to have their servers explaining everything? Is that the best use of time for customers and servers? Probably not…

Another example I had at a restaurant where I asked the server what was included with the veggie burger (not listed anywhere on the menu), and they said “only lettuce.”

However, you can see below that she didn’t convey the correct information to me. It included onions, tomatoes (not pictured) and a pickle garnish.

Which leads me to the 3rd suggestion, garnishes.

Optional garnishes

Garnishes are a big pet peeve of mine, since they take up space and are rarely eaten, and I don’t care what the side of my dish looks like. I only care about what the actual food looks like.

By the way, if anyone has some estimated data on what percentage of pickles are eaten at a restaurant, please let me know!

From a lean perspective, let’s think about all the wasted steps in the process. Think about how disrespectful it is to have a farmer grow a cucumber, transform it into a pickle, ship to a grocery store or farmers market, transport to a restaurant, cut and serve on a plate, only to have it go to a customer who doesn’t like pickles and didn’t know it was included. What a waste of carbon emissions!

Mozzarella Sticks Appetizer Royalty Free Stock Image ...

Can we finally get rid of garnishes, or at least ask if the customers wants it (the definition of “value”)?

If you’d like to reduce your own food waste at home, check out the 5 R’s of Food Waste from EcoCycle

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