The Greener Restaurant: Saving More by Using Less

Richard Young, Senior Engineer and Director of Education

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The FSTC’s mission is to educate the restaurant workforce on ways to reduce energy and water consumption so they can operate greener restaurants. Another key component of becoming a greener restaurant is monitoring and reducing food and solid waste so, when the FSTC held their annual Spring Greener Restaurant’s seminar, along with energy and water efficiency, this year’s program focused on how to reduce, reuse and recycle with an emphasis on food and solid waste.

Food waste in restaurants is a huge issue – up to 10% of purchased food may be wasted before it ever reaches a plate. This pre-consumer waste is due to spoilage, excess trimmings, and over-production. One company, LeanPath, has a technological solution to this challenge that includes an innovative approach to measuring and tracking this waste stream.

LeanPath’s system incorporates a scale, an overhead camera, and proprietary software to document the type and the amount of food wasted. By pushing a button, the system records the image and the weight, which is then summarized and reviewed on a local or remote computer. Reviewing the waste allows operators to determine what areas need improvement, raise employee awareness of the issue, and implement training to minimize food waste.

Patricia explains the LeanPath system

During the FSTC hosted seminar, attendees participated in an experiential learning exercise to determine how education and awareness influence behavior. While Chef Nick Truby of Rational prepped the food for lunch, Patricia Kelly with LeanPath demonstrated how the LeanPath tablet-based Zap system could be used to measure and log the 7 pounds of pre-consumer food waste resulting from the trimmings.

Chef Nick preps for his demo of the Rational Combination Oven

Then, while lunch was cooking, Chef Nick demonstrated various features of the Rational Self Cooking Center Combination oven, which was a real crowd pleaser because many in the audience had never seen a combination oven in action.

As part of the classroom lecture on how to reduce energy and water waste in the greener restaurant, the FSTC team asked the audience to join in a brainstorming exercise where the whole group tried to list all the ways a single piece of equipment (a combination oven) influences the energy, water, solid waste and food waste stream. Everyone was impressed with the list of inputs and outputs – few had any notion of just how many ways a single piece of equipment interacts with all the other systems in a kitchen and ultimately how that impacts the environment.

When lunch was served, the guests were told that any food left on their plates would be weighed post-lunch to determine the amount of post-consumer food waste. They were then free to decide how much food they wanted to take.

The FSTC team invites the audience to join in an experiential learning exercise

Would people consciously change their behavior knowing that they were being monitored? Would they take less food because they knew their leftovers would be weighed? It was an interesting experiment because, even knowing that their left-overs were under scrutiny, the post-consumer food waste for all 25 people still added up to almost 10 pounds. Did people change their portions? Yes, many people admitted to paying more attention to how much food they served themselves, taking slightly less. They were also surprised that, even paying attention, there was still so much post-consumer food waste. It was a great learning experience.

Anne and Kimberly with Republic talk about solid waste

So, what happens to all that food waste, and all the other solid waste generated in the kitchen? Kimberly Lam and Anne Baker from Republic Services generously shared their knowledge of solid waste, food waste and recycling – clearing up some misconceptions and giving the audience some real world strategies for starving the landfills.

The FSTC teams’ experiment with experiential learning turned out to be a great success. It took a little courage to mix food, garbage, high-tech equipment and on-line calculators but, the audience gave a big thumbs up and everyone walked away with action items, resources and new strategies for cutting waste and being a little greener.