3 ways businesses can target consumer food waste

Note: This is the second of a two-part series on food waste. The first part is available here: 3 reasons businesses should target consumer food waste.

Americans love convenience, and throwing away unwanted food is very convenient. My recent article describes why businesses should encourage their customers to throw away less food. Next comes the question of how: How can businesses target consumer food waste? Let's look at the options. Note that your business situation and customers are unique, so you will want to use a customized strategy.

Consumer-facing food waste reduction strategies fall into three categories:

  1. Helping customers buy less food.
  2. Helping customers use food they buy.
  3. Helping customers understand the impacts of food waste.

1. Helping customers buy less food  only what they need.

Reducing restaurant food portions can reduce food waste (and overeating) when done creatively. Table 24 restaurant in Orinda, Calif., has two kids' menus: the Middles Menu for children ages 10 to 16 and the Littles Menu for children age 9 and under. They do this to attract families with multiple kids — a 2-year-old does not eat as much food as a 13-year-old, and a 12-year-old does not eat an adult portion. They notice that the portions are right-sized and plate waste is minimal.

Also consider the strategy used by another Bay Area restaurant, The Sunny Side Café, which serves reduced portions of home fries and offers free refills to its customers. Or try cutting portions without cutting prices, as Las Vegas' MGM Grand Hotel did to reduce food waste. Customers perceived good value even though they received less food for their money, and plate waste went down between 15 and 20 percent during an 18-month period.

Buffet settings provide two other food waste reduction opportunities — trayless dining and cook-to-order service. By switching to trayless dining, college campuses throughout the country have reduced consumer food waste by approximately 30 percent (plus achieved big savings in water, energy and cleaning products). And by transitioning to a cook-to-order approach, the MGM Grand buffet, for one, is saving $8,000 a month in food costs, contributing to an 80 percent reduction in food waste and nearly 10 percent increase in customer satisfaction scores.

Next page: Help customers use the food they buy