The Responsible Restaurant

Local restaurants can be a force in food waste reduction.
How to Compost: Start with a layer of rocks for drainage and aeration. Next add a layer of twigs or straw. Then alternate between moist (food scraps) and dry (leaves) layers. Add a nitrogen source like grass clippings or manure. Keep the compost covered and moist and turn over every few weeks.

s the population of those old enough to remember the Great Depression thins, there has been a collective forgetting of their waste-not, want-not worldview. In its place came the rise of the throw-away society. Its perils have grown so great that even Pope Francis has decried it as symptomatic of a larger malaise plaguing humanity.

But addressing waste can produce a hat-trick of benefits: A restaurateur can reduce environmental impacts while improving the bottom line and possibly even providing nutrition to the needy.

Like financial waste, reducing food waste begins with a good audit: What foods are going to waste? How much? By answering these questions, a restaurant can do a better job of ordering the right amount of food for its needs. To do a deep-dive on waste, restaurants can purchase inventory software and equipment. The company LeanPath, for instance, specializes in food waste-tracking technology.

Once a manager gets a handle on inventory issues, the restaurant can train staff to avoid wasteful practices.

Another approach to waste reduction occurs at the front of the house. The National Restaurant Association recommends monitoring the portions offered to customers and “right-sizing” them as needed. It also recommends offering half-portions on the menu and, to reduce packaging waste, ensure that to-go containers are not oversized.

In the back of the house, the association recommends nose-to-tail cooking and using vegetable trimmings, such as broccoli stems and leaves, for other dishes like soups.

Another way to reduce waste is through donations. Donating food can provide restaurants with both tax deductions and the good feeling that comes with acts of charity. The National Restaurant Association offers advice for donations. Among its recommendations:

• Look around your restaurant to find items to donate you didn’t think about, such as unopened cases that can’t be returned or thawed product that wasn’t served and can’t be refrozen.

• Develop a one-on-one relationship with a charity in the community.

• Decide together on a scheduled pickup time and the food the charity can accept.

• Determine how much surplus food you have and the kinds you can donate with ease.

• Determine what is safe and acceptable for donation.

• Only donate food that hasn’t been served. Be sure to follow correct food cooling, storing, preparation and handling procedures.

• Make sure food is safe, nutritious and wholesome — something you would eat.

• Don’t worry about donating complete meals. Chefs at homeless shelters and other organizations that feed the hungry create meals from donated proteins, vegetables, starches and desserts. However, the association points out that prepared food donations fetch larger tax deductions than raw ingredients.

• Track what you donate. Record donations at each pickup on a log or spreadsheet.

Another way to reduce waste is to feed the land through composting. Plate scrapings, coffee grounds, peelings, expired foods and other organic matter are all fair game. Composting may lower your garbage hauling costs. It can also ease the burden on water treatment plants and landfills. Locally, the Composting Network supplies restaurants with compost bins and offers various pickup schedules for a fee. To help restaurateurs track their good work, the Composting Network sends each customer a monthly statement showing how much matter was composted.

One other form of recycling is to donate food to farmers, although the range of foods that are acceptable for animal feed is much narrower than what you can compost.

Finally, as a check on waste reduction, the Green Restaurant Association offers a certification process in which the association examines the restaurants practices, makes recommendations and verifies follow-through.

Did you know?

Wasting Away

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, as much as 40 percent of the food grown, processed and transported in the United States goes to waste. With Americans eating out more and more, the potential for restaurants to serve as a vehicle for waste keeps growing.

Peter Reichard is a native New Orleanian who has written about the life and times of the city for more than 20 years, including as a former newspaper editor and business journalist.


Categories: The Magazine