PLATE WASTE: How to Save the Planet One Restaurant Plate at a Time

by | Oct 1, 2020 | Environment, Food Waste

Every year, more than $7 billion worth of food is wasted at hotels, restaurants and institutions such as school cafeterias. That’s about 13% of all food loss and waste in Canada. 

One of the biggest out-of-home food waste culprits? Plate waste—both in restaurants and at schools. Here’s what that means (for you and the planet) and five helpful tips to reduce your food waste footprint. 

Plate waste in the restaurant industry 

Plate waste is quite literally food left on your plate in a restaurant. It’s not leftovers that you took home. It’s that last bite left behind or the untouched side salad or basket of bread or handful of fries. For obvious food safety and health reasons, any leftover food on your plate has to be thrown out. 

Plate waste in restaurants

Eyes bigger than our stomachs at all-you-can-eat buffets

Plate waste is particularly an issue at buffets. Oftentimes, kitchen staff over prepare food to give the impression of variety and abundance. Diners who can be overwhelmed with so many options, then fill their plates with more than they can eat to get more “value” for their money (even if it’s free). 

5 Tips for diners: How to stop plate waste (and save the planet)

The next time that you’re in a restaurant ordering food or filling up your plate at a buffet, stop for a moment to consider a few things. 

  1. How hungry are you? If you’re not too hungry, try modifying your order. For example, order a side salad instead of the main salad or a cup of soup instead of a bowl. Split appetizers and mains if you’re dining with others. 
  2. Aren’t going to eat something that the meal comes with? If you already know that you never eat your fries (or salad, who are we kidding), then tell your waiter to hold the fries—or replace it with something that you plan to eat. 
  3. Consider the portion sizes. If you know that you can’t eat three slices of bread along with your breakfast order, then say so when you order. Ask about portion sizes beforehand. 
  4. Take leftovers home—and eat them, don’t let them go to waste later. 
  5. Eat-what-you-can buffet. Rather than thinking of buffets as an all-you-can-eat restaurant, try a very small portion of what looks good to you. Then, if you’re still hungry and your plate is empty, go back and eat what you liked the best.  
Plate waste at all-you-can-eat buffets and events

Plate waste at school: Buffet lunches and meal programs

Food waste is a problem at institutions such as colleges and universities, too. This is because many of them have buffet lunch programs—and deal with fluctuating numbers of students at any given meal. While some campuses are looking at composting programs as a way of managing organic waste in the dining hall, reducing food waste at its source can be a better choice.

Here’s how some campuses have minimized food waste:

  • Loyola University Chicago found that a combination of getting rid of trays and reducing plate sizes makes about a 25% reduction in food waste. Having fewer options in the buffet can also reduce waste in and out of the kitchen.
  • Roger Williams University trains kitchen staff to use and re-purpose as much of the meals’ ingredients as possible as well as properly cooling and storing food so it can be re-used.

Take a stand against food waste in restaurants and institutions

  1. Spread the word about Second Harvest’s Food Rescue App: this this free web and mobile app enables food businesses of any type to donate uneaten food directly to local nonprofits.
  2. Back it up with facts: download Second Harvest’s groundbreaking research, The Avoidable Crisis of Food Waste. There are more than 100 strategies for food waste reduction and mind-blowing stats.
  3. Share it on social: Instagramming your avocado toast is such a cliché—why not start a food rescue revolution instead? Show how much you loved your leftovers and tag the restaurant. 

Updated July 2021
Originally appeared: February 19, 2020