9 Tips to Reduce take-out Waste in Restaurants

by Caitlin Perry

The topic of waste has been a major concern over recent years. Currently, a massive amount of divertable waste is ending up in landfills, which contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. Waste produced by the food industry is one of the leading contributors to landfill waste.

The amount of food and packaging waste produced by restaurants could easily be reduced with small changes by consumers and foodservice operators. In some cities in recent years, restaurants have reduced the amount of food waste with city-provided compost bins. Dedicated restaurateurs whose city government does not provide this service, pay for it out of pocket. Packaging waste remains a difficult problem to solve, as many restaurant owners try to balance the needs and wants of their customers with reducing costs and environmental footprint.

Here are 9 simple ways that restaurants can save money and reduce the amount of packaging that goes in landfills.

1. Do a survey to see how many of your guests are taking leftovers home with them. If you notice a fair percentage of guests take leftover food home, consider adjusting portion sizes. This will reduce waste, and save on food and supply costs.

2. Many customers actually sit in quick serve restaurants to eat, yet food is automatically served in disposable packaging. Offering "for here" or "to go" dishes and utensils in in quick serve restaurants dramatically reduces waste, yet very few quick serve restaurants currently have this practice .

3. Post signage in your restaurant about your waste reduction efforts to educate your customers. For self-serve areas, ask them to take on the minimum amount of supplies they will use (napkins, etc) or offer only items they need. If customers are taking food home to eat, they likely don’t need utensils.

4. Offer proper waste disposal for the take out containers at the restaurant, such as compost or recycling, and make sure lots of clear signage directs customers which containers to use.

5. Restaurateurs who live in municipalities without city-wide composting can source take out containers and utensils that are compostable in a non-industrial compost facility (ie: can go into a backyard compost), and make sure customers know that they can be composted.

6. Consider a returnable takeout container program. Some campuses and restaurants across North America have implemented these programs with success. Charge a small fee to the guest if they want the take out container ($1 or so), which they get back in the form of a discount at their next meal when they bring the container back. Not only does this encourage reusing and reduce package disposal, but it brings guests back into the restaurant.

7. For cafes, take a page out of the book of LEAF certified Caffe Beano, and provide coffee sleeves only when requested, and reuse sleeves that are left behind.

8. Offer monetary incentives for people to bring their own mugs and/or containers.

9. Encourage guests to stay in the restaurant rather than getting take out. Offer an inviting atmosphere, primo customer service, and comfortable seating.