The average UK restaurant produces nearly half a kilo of waste per diner

Filed in Blog by on November 22, 2010 7 Comments
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try taking your doggy bag next time you eat out

try taking your doggy bag next time you eat out

When I first launched My Zero Waste I remember meeting a friend in a pub. We were browsing the menu when I found the following dish on offer:

6oz steak, 6oz pork chop, 2 lamb cutlets, 6oz gammon, sausage and fried egg.

I was trying my best to picture how much food this was and tried to imagine what sort of person could possibly eat it all.

Food waste

I then imagined what the kitchen bin might look like after several people had ordered this option and guessed around half of that meal might end up wasted.

According to the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) restaurants, diners AND suppliers are all responsible for the escalating amount of food waste generated from eating out. They placed three food waste bins in 10 restaurants labelled: ‘PLATE WASTE’, ‘PREP WASTE’ and ‘SPOILAGE’. Kitchen staff were asked to collect food waste accordingly over a two-day period.

The SRA Food Waste Survey revealed:


65% of food waste comes from preparation – peelings, off cuts and anything ruined


30% of food waste comes back from customers’ plates


5% of food waste if classified as out-of-date or unusable items

In the end, participating restaurants produced an average of 0.48kg of food waste per diner.

Working together

So what’s the answer? It seems clear we all need to work together to tackle this problem.

In the kitchen:

Skins and peelings can be reused: Potato wedges are a popular choice. Citrus fruit skins could be shredded for marinades and sauces. Parsley stalks can be used in soups and stocks.

Portions can be reduced or different sized portions can be offered to suit a variety of appetites.

Restaurants can work with suppliers to order the correct amount and ensure storage is done correctly to ensure maximum freshness.

On site composting can reduce the amount of food waste sent to landfill. Due to the rise in landfill tax it will soon be cheaper for restaurants to compost food waste on site or have it collected for composting or anaerobic digestion than to send it to landfill.

In the restaurant

Allow customers to use doggy bags

Customers could ask for smaller portions if necessary

If there is an ingredient you don’t like in your meal, ask for it to be prepared without.

Sustainable dining

The SRA has a ‘Friends of the SRA‘ campaign to encourage customers to be more sustainable when eating out.

We know from our zero waste week this year that the avergae family is wasting £50 a month by throwing away food. According to the SRA, if restaraunts reduced their food waste by just 20% they could reduce their food waste by over 4 tonnes per year. Convert this into money and it’s a no brainer, right?

Paying twice

When restaurants consider that they’re effectively paying twice for the food they serve – once for purchasing it and again when paying to have it taken a way for waste – reducing food waste is a big consideration for their bottom line.

I’d love to hear your thoughts – have you ever gone out for a meal and been presented with more than you could eat? What do you think of the ‘eat all you can for £5’ promotions? Any good restaurants to report?


About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (7)

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  1. LJayne says:

    I used to run a restaurant, way before the days of my green thinking, so this bothers me a lot. Because we have kids we tend to stick to child-friendly restaurants as we like to all eat together. Two that I find are really good on this are, if I’m allowed to mention them?

    Pizza Express – the children’s menu comes with a little helping of salad. My local one always asks if we want to bother with it for the very youngest in case they don’t eat it. It’s only a small bit but they would all add up. Always happy to remove ingredients where the dish isn’t totally bought in and cooked without additions. Always happy to give a doggy bag of either pizza or pasta and the boxes are 100% cardboard so can be recycled! When my youngest was much younger they were happy for us to feed her a combination of what was on the plates of the rest of us, rather than insisting – as some places do – that she had her own meal from the menu that would have been far too big.

    Toby Carvery – you can ask for as much or little meat for each person as you want and you put your own veg on the plate. Plus you can have 2nd (and more!) helpings of everything but the meat. So we start small for the kids and then get more if they are really hungry that day.

  2. Julie Day says:

    Definitely. Usually when I go to have a Chinese, there is always something left over, rice and the veggies I don’t eat. I am going out for a birthday meal on Saturday and might be brave enough to ask staff what they do with left over foods.

  3. CarSue says:

    Interesting as always, Mrs. Green! In the states, it’s quite common for restaurants to offer boxes for take-home leftovers, but I have to wonder what the trade off is when one considers that these are, more often than not, styrofoam boxes which must be pitched. If the amount of food you would throw away is smaller than the volume of the box, I say pitch it, or else bring your own container with you. I keep a small container (a reuse from Chinese take-out) in the car and can use it if I get too much food.

    As far as the “all you can eat” idea (and these restaurants are rampant in the U.S.), they are both good and bad (but mostly bad!). I like the idea personally, because I generally prefer a small potion, but I can help myself to whatever I like on the buffet, taking a small bit of this and that. However, I frequently watch as other patrons gorge on their first two plates, only to waste a majority of the third when they realize they cannot finish it because they’re too full.

  4. Jane says:

    Serving up meals before they are put on the table seems to be prevalent nowadays rather than at the table where you get to put as little or as much as you want and go back for more. Nobody is as keen to eat something off someone else’s plate than they are out of the serving dish. Why do we do this when very often it is just as easy to serve up at the table? We seem to be pretending we are in a restaurant all the time.

  5. Hazel says:

    @Jane: I come from a family where serving yourself from the table is the norm, and continue to do that at home for nearly every meal. In DH’s family however, that is deemed as ‘posh’ and on the (few!) occasions we’ve had our Christmas meal with them, even that has been plated up for us, which drove me mad! (I didn’t want boiled potatoes, I wanted more roasted ones, or parsnips!)

    Using serving dishes (or saucepans!) on the table does make using leftovers easier. However, we do encourage the children to finish a siblings food if one is starving and the other has eaten less than they thought. (As long as it hasn’t been mangled and still looks reasonably appetising!)

    In restaurants, we find both sets of inlaws rate places by their portion size- “really good value”. This does seem to be inherent in the British character (and possibly American too) We feel we must be getting value for money and that is most obvious in quantity rather than quality. In those oriental buffet-type restaurants (much loved by my father) I instruct the children to take a little and go back for more if they want it. I then find he’s counter-ordered them to pile their plates up because “it’s already paid for”. I can’t make him understand that that’s not the point.

  6. Jane says:

    @Hazel: “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach” is how we’d be told off for taking more than we could eat. Taking a little and then going back for more is a much better way to eat and I guess it works best when you are all sitting around a table. Perhaps the problem is we don’t have any spatial awareness and can’t work out how much to leave for everyone else? Many people still don’t seem to have realised that flattening cans, plastic bottles, tetrapaks and cardboard boxes reduces their volume.

    Have the same problem with family and large portions. Just because it is a big portion doesn’t make it good value. I think they would have exploded if they had come to the States with us. I have never seen such big portions in my life.

  7. Mrs Green says:

    @LJayne: Really interesting and helpful info Lesley; thank you – and yes name calling (for either reason) is allowed on here!
    @Julie Day: Let us know how you got on Julie and have a lovely Birthday
    @CarSue: excellent point about weighing up food waste vs polystyrene containers; I’d never thought about that. I personally am against the ‘all you can eat’ idea but I can understand your point about taking a little bit of everything …
    @Jane: One way around this, and something I adopt is to call everyone to the kitchen where they can say how much they want. That way everything left over stays in the oven or on the hob where residual heat will keep it warm (it also means I don’t have to cart everything to the dining table or use fancy serving dishes when the saucepan will do and save on washing up 😉 )
    @Hazel: Ack; I really hear you on this about value vs cost; it’s very hard to get people to understand that in our consumerist society

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