A Restaurant’s Approach to Food Waste
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?