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As our recent waste Talking Point theme demonstrated, food waste can be a big issue for hotels. Sometimes just accepted as normal, hotel kitchens can generate high quantities of food waste, but in doing so are often paying for the food three times over. As well as the cost of ingredients and labour costs for food preparation, many hotels have to pay for waste removal, making this often unnecessary wastage a costly expense.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reports that roughly 33% of the food produced in the world for human consumption - approximately 1.3 billion tons - gets lost or wasted every year. In hotels this food has often required thousands of litres of water and quantities of chemicals to produce, gallons of fuel to transport (thereby releasing kilos of CO2), electricity to be stored and natural gas for cooking.
Eager to address this and to conduct its business in a more responsible way, the Sofitel So Bangkok undertook an ingenious Food Waste Prevention Programme designed by LightBlue Environmental Consulting.
After just a few weeks of the initiative, the hotel recognised noticeable improvements in food waste prevention, food cost reduction and practices in its key departments. Upon the successful completion of the programme the hotel will adopt the practice as part of its ongoing sustainable development plans.
The programme was implemented with the support of LightBlue Environmental Consulting Co. Ltd., a Bangkok-based hotel sustainability training and consulting firm. The project consisted of a full week of audit to understand where food waste was coming from, where in the food processing chain it was happening (including spoilage, preparation, and guests), what reasons there were for discarding food, and what main items ended up in the bins.
For seven days, employees sorted, weighed, defined and recorded food waste during breakfast, lunch, dinner and night shifts at each food waste generation point of the hotel, establishing a food waste baseline performance level (in grams of food waste per cover).
Then a dedicated team of staff and managers from Kitchen, Food & Beverage, Stewarding, Human Resources, Engineering and Finance (The So Food Lovers Committee), took the programme over and tested various initiatives for food rescue, food cost reduction and improved practices in key areas.
“I was not 100% convinced in the beginning,” says Gilles Cretallaz, Accor’s VP Operations Luxury Brands, S-East Asia. “LightBlue Environmental Consulting had to convince me first, and the project was presented to the owner of the hotel who understood immediately the potential benefits.”
A First Kitchen Agent Culinary of the hotel said, “At first I thought it was complicated and wasting our working time. We did not understand why we had to separate food waste. But then we received training about what were our mistakes in the past. Now before I throw something away I think twice whether the item could be used again or not.”
“We went through a lot of changes together with LightBlue, and hard work for recording food waste and making chefs and staff change the way they perceive the food and treat the food,” says Paul Smart, the hotel Culinary Designer (Executive Chef).
However, all the efforts proved worthwhile as the hotel managed to save 6,535kg of edible food, coupled with very substantial financial savings.
Actions included, in production: reinforcing the strict labelling system, scrutiny of quality and temperature at receiving (especially for temperature sensitive items like oysters), increasing the number of deliveries, and staff awareness-raising campaigns at canteen, even among staff not working with food.
Additionally in guest-facing services there was improved communication between front of house staff in F&B, and the kitchen particularly around the percentage of bookings already served, as well as tighter portion control on the buffet, additional live cooking stations, more food prepared on demand, and presenting the late night buffet at a discounted price after 9.30 pm.
Chefs and kitchen staff found creative opportunities for re-using food which had previously been thrown away including; Fruit used for carving or decoration was collected for use in smoothies; Cheese from the morning buffet was used for topping on pizzas; fresh seafood on the buffet was cooked and served in hot dishes in the evening.
Concluding the trial period and inducting it into their common behaviour going forward, Cretallaz said, “It is true when we look at our profit and loss report we always think about revenue and food cost but we don’t really think about food wastage. But it’s purely a matter of logic. At the end of a buffet if we see we have unpopular dishes, we won’t produce those the following day. Just by taking those kinds of actions and following a plan and beginning to measure food waste, at the end of the day it’s our money and if we save money here we can offer more somewhere else.
“When we start something new there is always a lot of question marks but we need to remain focussed because there’s no point going for a six month exercise and then just forgetting about it. It’s a long term project because food waste can be a huge saving for us.”
Agreeing, Smart said, “We’ve gone through a lot of changes and hard work recording the food waste. It wasn’t easy at the beginning but after some training everyone seemed to follow the plan. We had to make a lot of changes to the way the chef gets the food and treats the food so there’s no wastage, as well as minimising the food left on the buffet at the end of the night. So it’s been a good programme that we’ve implemented, and thank you for helping us save on the food costs. We held a food waste day in the canteen with zero food waste, so we’ve had really good implementation.”
"Very few similar projects have been implemented so far across the industry. The hotel should feel proud to be part of this pioneering initiative. Within five to ten years most major hotel chains will understand the true cost of food wastage and will be controlling their food waste much more carefully,” predicts Benjamin Lephilibert, Founder and MD of LightBlue Environmental Consulting.