The hospitality sector in many parts of the world is expected to see signiﬁcant rates of growth in the next few years. This expansion would lead to an increase in waste generated by the industry. This is especially true for the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council and their rapidly growing hotel and catering sectors. The good news is that the industry can easily do something about it by identifying the inputs and actors that contribute to the problem.
What factors determine how much food waste the hospitality sector generates? This question is of relevance to many individuals who work in the industry. While studying at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi, I worked on research focusing on food waste management for the UAE hospitality industry. In this study, we examined the current status of food waste management in the hospitality sector, taking the United Arab Emirates as an example. The findings have been so relevant that they can be applicable on the global scale.
Overall, we found that the factors contributing most significantly to food waste include serving style, type of food served, and the prediction accuracy of the number of expected customers. Here is a more detailed explanation of the top 3 factors that generate food waste in the hospitality industry:
- Type of service
Overall, our research found that buffets are more wasteful than a la carte style of services.
However, the results were different when we analysed the waste in terms of food eaten versus food wasted, and we separated buffets in 2 different categories: breakfast buffet and lunch buffet. In this specific scenario, our data showed that an a la carte event performed better than the lunch buffet but not as well as the breakfast buffet. A la carte events generated about 70% more waste per person served than the breakfast buffet.
The fact that breakfast buffets generate lower amounts of food waste may be due to the fact that most breakfast buffet ingredients, such as cereals and jams, have a longer shelf life and can often be reused in the following days.
- Type of food being served
Through our research at the Masdar Institute we found out that not only different ways of service, but also the nature of food can lead to a variation in the waste flow.
We uncovered, for example, that a menu where only Italian food is served is less wasteful, particularly with respect to preparation waste: only 10% of the ingredients used for the service ended up as preparation waste. A menu where guests could choose from a range of international dishes was found to generate a larger amount of food waste, 20% of preparation waste.
Though selecting what to cook is of significance in terms of designing food waste minimisation strategies, it would not be viable for a hotel, for example, to limit itself to only certain dishes or cuisines in its restaurants in order to minimize food preparation waste. However, what an establishment can do is identify those types of food/dishes which tend to generate less waste during their preparation and try to preferentially serve those dishes.
- Expected versus actual number of customers
Another factor that contributes to waste of food in the sector is the inability to predict the number of guests. Kitchens normally try to be as accurate as possible in their predictions of how many clients to expect, but underestimating the amount of food needed is not a risk most hospitality businesses are willing to take.
The inaccurate forecasting of guest demand leads to significant food waste, and this is inherently connected with the guest show-up rate (ratio of actual number of guests attending a meal/event to the expected/forecasted number of guests). The lower the value of this ratio, the more the food waste that can be expected to be generated.
The above factors provide a summary of areas which can be focused on and where innovation and technology can be used to decrease the amount of food waste generated by the hospitality sector worldwide. Measuring food waste values is the first step in making things better. Not only does it make possible the evaluation of progress by any food waste reduction strategies but it also enables better planning when it comes to menus and inventory.
From the perspective of environmental sustainability, the improvement of the food waste management practices of the hospitality sector should be a pivotal part of its overall green strategy. This issue must be addressed not only by the staff of the establishments working at the different stages of the food service process, but the establishment administration must also draw out strategies which would encourage guests to generate less food waste.
Interested to see how others in the hospitality industry are reducing food waste and increasing their efficiency? Check out our case study video with Pullman Dubai Creek City Center.
Sanaa I. Pirani, Ph.D., is an independent consultant currently participating in a United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) project on the development of member countries’ capacities to address the Water and Energy Nexus for achieving the SDGs from the operational perspective. She is a recent graduate of Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi. Her PhD research focused on food waste management for the UAE hospitality industry, while also addressing strategies that would help minimize the food waste generated. Sanaa holds a BEng in mechanical engineering from NED University of Engineering and Technology in Pakistan.