The Importance of Food Waste Management and Sustainability in Restaurants

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The second article in our series covering localism and community details why waste and sustainability in restaurants and other industries are even more important now than ever to both businesses and consumers.

A variety of lush green plants

Food waste in restaurants: waste not, want not

Consumer demand for reduced food waste is set to accelerate; driven partly due to environmental concerns and recent restrictions around food availability.1 Consumers have been looking for new ways to extend stock and concerns around sustainability have boosted growth of ‘imperfect foods’ which look unsightly but are still safe to eat and taste great. 

For restaurants, food waste management has always been a key issue, with the majority of waste coming from food preparation, followed by leftovers on customers’ plates.2

  • Food waste costs the restaurant sector over £682m per year including food procurement, labour, utilities and waste management costs2

Businesses have been taking steps to reduce waste and recycle more in order to see both financial rewards and environmental benefits, traditionally starting with measuring and monitoring the amount of waste to understand where the waste is coming from. 

Training plays a large part in ensuring all team members are aware of how to reduce food waste in restaurants – from reviewing stock management of ‘short shelf life’ food and running food-prep waste training in the kitchen, to reviewing packaging and the crockery each dish is served on to minimise plate wastage. Menu planning is also essential to ensure SKUs are used across multiple dishes and the portion sizes are correct.

  • 41% of consumers blame oversized portions for leaving food2
  • 40% of wasted food is carbohydrates, including potato, bread, pasta and rice2

WRAP’s Target, Measure, Act food surplus and waste measurement guidelines help provide food waste management recommendations for businesses and adopting these along with committing to their Food Waste Reduction Map can help organisations work with their supply chain, clients and consumers to reduce costs and industry waste.

Companies like Winnow have also made the food waste management process even simpler with technology designed to automatically track, measure and reduce waste for more sustainable operations. The technology analyses ingredients during food preparation as well as plates returned to the kitchen to build up data which helps inform purchasing decisions, food preparation and menu planning.


A desire to improve sustainability in restaurants and other food-led businesses

Consumer expectations for food hygiene and cleanliness have risen during the Coronavirus pandemic; slowly reversing the trend towards reduced packaging due to the need to protect food from exposure.  Food and drink brands are currently reviewing solutions to meet both hygiene and sustainability needs as consumer concerns are more focussed on health and protection.1

  • 91% of consumers say it’s important the brand they visit sources environmentally friendly packaging4

As well as environmentally-friendly food packaging, there’s also concern with the sustainability of ingredients in the venues visited.

  • 33% of consumers say how sustainable a venue’s ingredients are has become more important to them vs before lockdown3

Sustainability in restaurants and other businesses is not exactly a new trend. Businesses have been actively working on sustainability for some time and this is likely to continue post-lockdown, with larger organisations prioritising this in particular vs smaller businesses who require more help to resource it.5

  • 66% of food-led businesses say sustainability is a priority they’re actively working on5

Priority areas for the majority are focussed on minimising waste and protecting the environment in particular.

Facts and figures about waste and sustainability post covid 

For consumers, the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ have even greater focus than before. They want to know what companies’are doing around sustainability, how they’re doing it and the reasons why. Clear communication strategies have never been more important to drive engagement; especially ensuring sustainability initiatives aren’t lost in the post-lockdown messages. 

Next, find out how consumer behaviour is changing in a post COVID-19 World.



  1. WGSN Covid-19 Food Change Accelerator
  2. Restaurants taking action against waste
  3. CGA Consumer analysis, April 20
  4. CGA BrandTrack, July 2019
  5. CGA Business Leader Survey 2019