How Your Menu Impacts Sustainability

Approximately 1.3 billion tons of food gets wasted every year. This staggering amount of food waste has drawn mainstream attention in recent years due to public outcry, and forward-thinking restaurateurs have been quick to take advantage of this shift in consumer demand. Historically, food waste advocates have been a minority in the restaurant industry. It wasn’t until the last couple years that food waste elimination became the hottest new trend.

Food waste is an issue that affects both businesses and consumers, making it one of the most common inefficiencies in day-to-day life. Restaurants alone waste nearly 635,000 tons of food every week. In an effort to track the food waste recovery programs in restaurants, BlueCart followed 3 celebrity chefs around their kitchen for 2 months in a project they called Zero Waste Kitchen. Over the course of the project, we learned how the typical chef manages procurement, takes inventory, and minimizes food waste. We teamed up with Jehangir Mehta, Tanya Holland, and Tim Ma to study the effectiveness of just-in-time ordering and sustainable practices on the success of food waste processes.

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What we learned was that menus are the centerpiece of sustainable restaurants. There is an immense amount of planning that goes into building a menu to optimize both customer satisfaction and sustainability. For example, Chef Jehangir Mehta favors a menu full of sustainable proteins and healthy grains, he uses vegetables that don’t require excessive amounts of water to maintain, such as mushrooms, and he inspires his staff to internalize the same values he lives by.

In order to measure the impact of their food waste footprint, each chef encourages their staff to keep a careful eye on food usage. Common practices include saving scraps that would otherwise be thrown out to be used to create vegetable stock.

One of the major takeaways from the project was the importance of technology in measuring sustainable performance. There are too many moving parts when it comes to food waste, and implementing a robust procurement platform goes a long way for helping chefs order accurate quantities of food, measure how much food made it off the shelves, and get the most out of each ingredient.

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Over the last century, food has become so commoditized that we view it as completely dispensable. However, this habit has taken a turn for the better as the latest trend in the food industry is sustainability. Restaurateurs are using their sustainable practices for marketing, and progressive consumers are building loyalty based off how involved restaurants are in food waste prevention. This movement finally has a voice in industry leaders like Dan and David Barber, Mario Batali, and even Leonardo DiCaprio who are tremendous advocates for the food waste agenda. If this trend continues, the vast amount of food wasted each year will continue to shrink and restaurant owners will get exponentially more value out of their food dollars.


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