A Restaurant’s Approach to Food Waste

with 5 comments

We’ve talked a lot about our society’s food waste problems. If you want to know how bad those problems are, just consider the fact that as a country we feed landfills as fast as we feed people. Buying in bulk, in.gredients style, gives you better control over food waste in your home – but what about at restaurants? There’s almost always the option of taking any extra food home, perhaps in your own containers – but here’s an example of a restaurant that cracked down on food waste in an extraordinary way (and probably didn’t offer to-go containers): Hayashi Ya, a Japanese buffet venue on Manhattan’s Upper West Side that closed its doors in 2009, added a 30 percent surcharge to customers’ tabs if they didn’t finish what was on their plate. The hope – reported YumSugar, who interviewed Hayashi Ya’s manager Ben Lin in late 2008 – was to reduce waste on the back-end in addition to the front-end. Implementing waste-minimization incentives for customers, Lin thought, would keep Hayashi Ya from carrying a surplus of ingredients in their inventory, which would put them at risk of spoiling good food.

There’s a lot of truth to that thought – but obviously, the charge-for-unfinished-food strategy didn’t fly with customers. This isn’t surprising, considering the better actions Hayashi Ya could have taken to reduce food waste (composting on site and gardening, having compost picked up using a service, encouraging the use of reusable to-go containers, not serving food buffet-style, etc, etc). But the restaurant’s root idea wasn’t wild at all: we care about reducing food waste, and want to inspire (or, um, require) our customers to care too, and by doing so we can reduce our own costs and waste behind the scenes.

So, what do you think of the charge-for-unfinished-food approach? Is it a good idea for restaurants? Or is composting, bring-your-own to-go container, or something else a better approach? Or is building your business model completely around waste reduction the healthiest way (or only way) to promote sustainable living?

Written by Brian Nunnery

September 21, 2011 at 1:20 pm

5 Responses

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  1. I love it, but I think they should have labeled it the opposite. Here is the price, but if you leave no food waste at the end 30% will come OFF your bill. Americans think in terms of savings, not in terms of charges.

    Brian Bailey

    September 21, 2011 at 1:40 pm

  2. If the food is unpleasant tasting to the guest, then they probably won’t finish it. But allowing people to bring their own to-go containers is also not a good practice for buffets as people can just load up extra meals for free and go. Buffets often have the most food waste as people try things or just heap food on their plate because their eyes are bigger than their stomach.

    Lynne Stiller

    September 21, 2011 at 1:43 pm

  3. Once your body is nourished, continuing to eat is a waste of food. The finish your plate strategy yeilds little to no reduction in waste, mostly just a transfer of waste.


    September 21, 2011 at 2:34 pm

  4. Here in Canada it is standard practice at Sushi restaurants, most of which are all you can eat, to add a surcharge if you don’t eat all that you order. As far as I know, it hasn’t hurt business in the least, considering there have been a fair number of new restaurants opening around here lately. I personally think it’s a great idea.


    September 21, 2011 at 2:41 pm

  5. I think bringing your own to-go containers would be a fantastic way to reduce food waste…but also just not over serving. Many restaurants bring a meal out on a giant plate that could feed 3 people. Charging people for not finishing what is on their plate will only anger people. If it is a buffet, and you put something on your plate that you decide you don’t like, they make you eat it anyway? Isn’t that the point of a buffet? To try a little bit of everything, even things you have never tired before?

    Rachel Cruze

    September 26, 2011 at 12:01 pm

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