Talking Point: Combating food waste with the SRA

The Gate, FoodSave

To kick off this month's Talking Point on food waste we hear from Tom Tanner of the Sustainable Restaurant Association on how to start giving customers what they want via FoodSave.

What’s the sustainability issue that diners most want the restaurants in which they eat to focus on and which, if restaurants tackle could save them upwards of £5,000 a year? Still guessing? We’ll put you out of your misery. It’s food waste.

The scourge of the hospitality industry, but a problem which until recently it failed to acknowledge, as many chefs refused to admit they wasted any food. In fact, the UK hospitality and food service sector is wasting just shy of one million tonnes of food a year, at a cost of £2.5 billion annually. And yet, apart from the immorality and stupidity of this waste, it really isn’t that hard to overcome with a number significant benefits, including customer approval.  When we conducted our annual consumer research in 2013 to find out the sustainability issues that matter most to diners when eating out, food waste topped the poll.

Why refuse the opportunity to do something that your customers want, saves money and benefits the environment? One hotel that has seen sense, tackled food waste head on and reaped the rewards is The Bingham in Richmond. It is one of dozens of food service businesses (also including pubs, restaurants and cafes) participating in a transformative, free programme, run by the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA), for the Mayor of London, funded by the European Regional Development Fund and the London Waste and Recycling Board.

The Bingham, like the other businesses participating in FoodSave has used new, easy to use technology, which for the first time allows food businesses to measure in minute detail exactly what they are wasting, in what quantity and, perhaps most revealingly, its value. During the three-four week programme, using a conventional bin placed on a set of scales attached to an intelligent tablet (the Winnow Waste System) that is loaded with detailed, site specific information about the menu ingredients, the business learns precisely what it’s wasting and at what stage of the process (inventory, preparation trimmings, cooking error, prepared but not served and plate waste). This then allows the SRA to work with the operator to come up with innovative solutions.

Businesses have reduced their waste by an average of 2 tonnes per year and in the process are saving £6,000 annually. A number of sites are saving in excess of £10,000.

The Bingham’s restaurant, run by Head Chef Mark Jarvis, already focused on keeping plate waste to an absolute minimum. The team used FoodSave to focus attention on where waste reduction could be made in the kitchen. The FoodSave team met with The Bingham weekly to review the results and identify actions for waste reduction. The increased staff awareness meant that everyone got involved in identifying opportunities.. By the end of the four weeks they had managed to identify over £7500 of savings annually and reduced their food waste by a very impressive 2.4 tonnes per year. Some of the most effective actions were increasing stock takes and monitoring the fridges more closely to reduce spoilage. As a result of the weekly reports, the kitchen team also reduced its bread orders and started making bread in house so they had a tighter control on volumes.

Mark Jarvis, The Bingham Head Chef, said: “FoodSave really helped us focus on inventory waste. We now pay much closer attention to inventory checks and have made changes such as making bread in house. The project is extremely worthwhile to take part in.”

FoodSave has proved very effective for the participating businesses like The Bingham, but is restricted to London SMEs. For businesses outside of London, or which are too big to qualify for FoodSave, there are simple measures that will help cut waste and save money the SRA also provides bespoke food waste reduction programmes.

Rather than living in denial or putting off tackling the issue, businesses should view food waste not as a problem, but a huge opportunity to save money, reduce their environmental impact and impress customers.

To find out if your business is eligible for FoodSave and to read about how it’s helped operators go to Throughout September Green Hotelier will be publishing content on combating waste in hotels and running a Twitter Q&A on the issue on 25th September at 2pm BST #ghdebates. The International Tourism Partnership and Considerate Hoteliers are running a free webinar for hotels on how to combat food waste on 25th September.

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